It is no secret that our President now prefers our school to be referred to as “Montclair” in an attempt to add a modern and progressive flair to the institution. And it is absolutely not a secret at all that the student body is very unhappy with the change.
I would argue that we are annoyed even, as seen through this article titled “Montclair State’s Rebrand Is President Koppell’s Most Out-Of-Touch Move Yet.” And I would consider that a fairly tame headline.
While there arguably are more pertinent subjects to discuss, there is a small detail in President Koppell’s addressing of the changes being made that I would like to discuss:
“And it is easy to remember and pronounce, an advantage when communicating to those who do not have English as their first language,”
While I understand that at first glance the sentence above may seem unproblematic and progressive, it raises concerns for me as a first-generation student, a first-generation Dominican-American and a proud Spanish speaker.
My first concern is more about what would occur if I were to talk about Montclair State University, the location, as just “Montclair.” If someone who does not speak English hears me, how would they know that I am referring to the University and not the city? And with the added fact that this change is being made to benefit international students, how would they know the difference if they have not visited either place yet? How would communicating with friends and family abroad, assuming that they have never been to the United States or have only come to visit, go?
Logical and conversational arguments aside, I believe that shortening the preferred name for the University with the intention of assisting non-English speakers—while not directly stated—almost portrays them as helpless victims who need a white man in power to save them.
Allow me to make it very clear. Immigrants do not need your pity. They do not need your performative acts of PR. They do not need a phrase to be shortened or anything to be watered down or sugarcoated for them to succeed in the United States, because they will do so anyway with or without your help.
Nothing needs to be “dumbed down” for them to understand or to be able to pronounce anything.
English is often a language that is taught as an extracurricular class in schools all over the world, and thanks to the impact of the internet, many non-Americans are able to consume American media. At a university that champions the School of Communication and Media, which houses many students from all over the world, it would be less than common sense to assume that the president who oversees the entire university would be aware of that.
According to the Pew Research Center, 37 countries were surveyed to determine the percentage of people who followed or had an interest in American news. A median of 48% of people in countries like Japan, South Korea, Kenya, Venezuela, India, Brazil and more said they closely followed United States news. Though this was conducted in 2017, we can only imagine with streaming platforms and social media, this number may be a lot higher.
On the entertainment side of things, “Barbie” (2023) made more than $1.38 billion dollars worldwide, despite it being considered a very “American” movie due to references from films like “Grease” (1978) and “The Wizard Of Oz” (1939). There is a lot of interest in English-language media, and where there is interest, there is money. Making the assumption that foreigners do not already interact with the English language in their everyday lives is not only an ignorant one but a costly one as well. Just something to consider.
While I understand that the new changes may have been done in good conscience and with genuine intentions, I respectfully suggest that there are other ways to truly support immigrants, non-English speakers and international students.
For example, Hudson County Community College, a county known to be a safe haven for immigrants and first-generation Americans, features English, Spanish and Arabic in both their Jersey City and North Bergen campuses. Their website allows you to select any language to read its contents in, a feature that is lacking or not easily accessible on the Montclair State website.
If that is a change that can be seen as too drastic or costly, then I suggest adding alternative names to cater to the demographics on campus or the ones the university wishes to bring more of. For example, we have a large Hispanic/Latine community here. Why not have “Universidad Estatal de Montclair” as an approved alternative name?
If Montclair State could see that its diverse population is an actual community that needs care and not a statistic to boast about, then perhaps non-English speakers could see how great the university is for themselves with their own intelligence and decision-making skills and not via soulless PR moves and marketing. Because truly, who does the label “Majority-minority serving institution” and “Hispanic Serving Institution” actually serve?