Earlier this year, the Department of World Languages and Cultures, formerly known as Foreign Languages and Literatures, made its official identity change.
Jim Michnowicz, head of the Department of World Languages and Cultures, said the new name more accurately describes the scope of the department’s role and their goals.
“The idea of ‘foreign’ doesn’t have the same exotic call to adventure that it once had,” Michnowicz said. “We realized that all of these languages are spoken by millions of people in the United States. And so they’re no longer foreign; these really are American languages just as legitimate as English. … We want to recognize the fact that this isn’t just an overseas language. … You’re gonna go into downtown Raleigh and hear these languages being spoken.”
The hegemony of the English language runs deep into our culture, and the change in name of the department reflects a change in the values held.
Ruth Gross, former head of the Department of World Languages and Cultures, said changing the name didn’t happen overnight, but was a process that had been in the making for two years.
“We just felt to be more of a department of what we really represent, which is equity, inclusion,” Gross said. “The process was that we had to go through a lot of steps in the year ‘22-‘23 to get all of this, and once it was proposed to Michowicz, it was fast tracked. By February of 2023 the name change had occurred, and then since February we’ve been dealing with really getting it noticed.”
Part of the process of getting it noticed is hosting events that highlight the new name and goals among students, faculty and staff. On Nov. 8, it held an event that featured cultural food and tabling from student organizations and sub-departments, which allowed the community to celebrate its new identity.
Shelley Garrigan, a Spanish professor, said the event was also an opportunity to interact with other students and departments.
“What we’re hoping is to hear from people,” Garrigan said. “We want to know how we can benefit students from other departments within CHASS and beyond. What sorts of courses and disciplinary focuses, what sorts of themes they want to see from us, so this is also a data gathering event as well.”
Garrigan also mentioned some of the ideas the department is currently working on to expand their scope.
“We’re exploring more micro-certifications between our department and other departments,” Garrigan said. “We’re looking to offer broader courses that prepare students for a variety of professions. We’re also utilizing 21st century technologies and technological skills and merging those with the various languages that we offer.”
Different professors talked about the inclusion of micro-certifications and specific classes and programs in the future. Among the options the department is considering are combined minors like Spanish and legal professions minor and Spanish and agriculture minor.
The department has also expanded how language is explored and learned as languages such as Spanish and Arabic have become more ubiquitous in the community.
Gabriella Micheli, a fourth-year studying computer science and Arabic studies, said learning languages furthers her development in STEM and beyond.
“As an engineer it’s very important … to take humanities classes in general to get the communications side of things, and so you’re not just the tech person in the basement kind of thing,” Micheli said. “And learning a language is a step above that. You develop that empathy; you develop those communications skills of how languages work, how to communicate with people of different cultures. … Even if you take a semester of language, it’s very vital, very helpful.”
That’s the direction the department hopes to take, showing the community the importance of languages in understanding different cultures worldwide.
“Foreign is just not a word that has positive connotations anymore,” Micheli said. “It’s used to exoticize and distance yourself from other people, and that’s not what learning languages is all about. Learning a language is all about connecting with people, and at this day and age, especially with technology, we are a global community.”