Podcasts, publishing students’ academic papers, new inventive events and more are just around the corner for English students at Montclair State University, thanks to English professor Jeffery Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is beginning the next chapter of Montclair State’s English department. Expected to occur during the Fall 2023 semester, Gonzalez has been given the go-ahead to shift his focus from instructing courses to revamping on-campus English department activities.
Gonzalez, a professor at Montclair State for seven years, has always been a leading force for English events throughout his time here, making him the perfect candidate for heading up the new English initiatives.
“My corner of service was events,” Gonzalez said. “And my hope for doing more events for the English department was to create a feeling of community, belonging [and] give people a place to meet each other.”
Jonathan Greenberg, a chairperson of the English department, explained how Gonzalez aids the department.
“[Gonzalez] brings energy and enthusiasm to the English department,” Greenberg said. “He genuinely loves talking to students, he’s creative and thinks of good ideas, he follows through [on his plans] and attends to every detail. It’s important at a big school that students have belonging, community and connections, not just with the campus but with each other. Accomplishing that [with the new English initiatives] would add a lot to the college experience.”
Before the 2020 pandemic, the English department would regularly host a wide range of events such as spring coffee hours, dialogue about lobsters in outside academic essays and even a symposium about fanfiction, to name a few. However, during and after the pandemic, attendance for English department events dwindled, eventually leading to a hiatus of events.
It was only when Gonzalez had an observation about his Spring 2023 American Literature II class that the spark of event planning was reignited.
“In [their] groups, [the students are] very, very, very talkative,” Gonzalez said. “But right before class [they’re] on [their] phones, and when [they’re] leaving [they’re] on [their] phones again. I was wondering if there was a way to harness the energy in the groups and use it to create enduring relationships between [students].”
Gonzalez set to work, booking the Cohen Lounge and assembling English students for coffee and casual conversation on March 29, the turnout of which was a great success. It was there Gonzalez discussed his plans for the English department with attendees, using the event as a pseudo-forum for students to give input and ideas.
The first of his four-part plan would be the creation of a podcast, hosted by Gonzalez alongside a couple of students, with biweekly guests including faculty, students, visiting writers and individuals within the Montclair State community.
“The idea would be to show the kind of conversations [the English department has] and post them to the English department page or wherever,” Gonzalez said. “And then hopefully instead of just those two students who are working with me, then another professor fills in and [they’re] talking to two of [their] students, and then hopefully it just becomes a student thing.”
The podcast will cover all things English, such as new English classes, chats about books and authors and much more. Gonzalez wants the medium to be a way for English students to connect and keep up-to-date with their major.
Tyler Restucci, a sophomore English major, weighed in on the possibility of participating in the English podcast.
“For me to be able to just talk about the books I’ve read, I think that would be really fun,” Restucci said.
The second part of this initiative is an addition or supplement to The Normal Review, the literary arts magazine for Montclair State, that will allow students to share their critical papers and essays.
“[I want to] change the position of the literary critical stuff [English majors] do from being, ‘I turn it in and then I forget about it’, to being something [students] are proud of, that [they want to] share and talk to people about,” Gonzalez said.
Kyle Velez, a senior communication and media studies major and editor-in-chief at The Normal Review, hopes the addition to the magazine will “further amplify student voices.”
“I think it’s great that there’s going to be an outlet for all the critical analysis we do in our classes,” Velez said.
Each semester will conclude with a conference, enabling submitters who’ve won an award or written a thesis the chance to present and speak about their pieces.
Gonzalez also is planning an increased presence of English events and activities, building back up what was lost during the pandemic, to cater to student interest.
“[The English department needs] to create a culture where those [events] happen and more people come and people can say, ‘Hey can you do the fanfiction thing again? Can we do a thing with anime? Can we do a thing with this movie that everybody’s talking about?’” Gonzalez said. “I don’t [want to] be scared of having a conversation about a genre I don’t really know because at the [events] I’m not [a] teacher, I’m part of the community.”
A bonus to these events and the student-professor socialization that comes with them is making students feel comfortable casually talking to faculty.
Leila Chomski, a sophomore English major, is looking forward to the new opportunities.
“It might be difficult getting people to consistently come, but why not [have the opportunities]? It sounds like a good idea and it’d be nice to have more of a presence [on campus],” Chomski said.
Last but not least, Gonzalez wants more outreach and interactivity with English department alumni, developing a lasting environment that extends beyond graduation.
“I want [students] when [they] leave to feel like [they] don’t have to leave each other and the things that made the major exciting behind,” Gonzalez said. “Create this sense that when you leave [college], it’s not like you have to leave [the community] for good.”
Students interested in taking part in these exciting English initiatives are highly encouraged to email Professor Jeffrey Gonzalez at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Next fall, I’m going to set aside time to meet two to three different times during the week to meet with students who want to create events, who are interested [in the initiative], who want to do the podcasts,” Gonzalez said. “I want to make it fun to be part of the [English] major beyond the stuff [students] do in [their] classes.”