Modifying monikers: two department names hit the SAC

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 7:28pm

When LSA senior Sophia Georginis interviewed for a summer job at Comedy Central last year, then studying screen arts and cultures at the University of Michigan, she was asked was to define her major. Georginis explained she studied film, television and media and ended up getting the job, but realized her department’s name presented a significant obstacle to employment.

“Screen arts and cultures to a lot of employers didn’t really mean much because it was a bunch of words strung together that didn’t mean a lot to people in the industry,” Georginis said. “If they didn’t really know what we were studying, in a pool of thousands and thousands of kids, it was just difficult to be like, ‘Yes, this is film, television and media,’ if they look at your major and they don’t even know what it is.”

However, on Sept. 1, the department changed its name after 14 years. Georginis, along with all other formerly-called screen arts and cultures students, became Film, Television, and Media majors. Georginis said she was pleased with the change.

“The new name change makes a lot of sense because it’s just so forward,” she said. “I think that’s the thing –– there’s no need to make the name fancy if it just gets to what it’s talking about. What we are studying is film, television and media, so might as well call it that.”

According to a press release from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the SAC name was initially adopted to be adaptable to the changing technologies of the industry. Department Chair Yeidy Rivero, however, heard many stories similar to Georginis’s from students, parents and alumni.

“Students didn’t know how to find the department. Parents of students didn’t know what their children were studying. Donors — many of them from Hollywood — didn’t know what ‘screen arts and culture’ meant,” Rivero said in the release. “I look forward to the day when students find the department not by chance, but because they came to Michigan deliberately to study in the Department of Film, Television, and Media.”

Rivero expressed her excitement for the name change in the release.

“Finally their employees will know what they studied!” she exclaimed. “‘Screen Arts and Culture’ — it’s, like, what?”

Business and LSA sophomore Andrew Armstrong, an FTVM major, agreed the new name better encompasses what the major actually involves and said attracting more students was likely part of the department’s reasoning.

“The real reason I think they changed the name was just so that they could try and get more people into it, because I think a lot of people are most interested in television than, say, film, or more interested in digital media,” he said. “People are more likely to sign up for a major if it’s very explicit, like history, English, mechanical engineering. You hear that and you know exactly what you’re getting into. Screen arts and culture is a little more vague.”

While the Film, Television, and Media Department has changed its name only once, other departments are on their third, or –– in the case of the formally-called Department of Near Eastern Studies, now the Department of Middle East Studies –– their sixth designation.

The department effectively began in 1889 under Carl William Belser, an assistant professor of “Oriental Languages” who taught Hebrew, Assyrian and Arabic. Since then, the department has been known as the Department of Semitic Studies, the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures, the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, and now the Department of Middle East Studies.

As with previous changes, this most recent change is in keeping with the parlance of a large majority of students and faculty. In a departmental press release this month, Department Chair Gottfried Hagen noted how few people still use the term Near East. 

“‘Near East’ for a long time was used for the same region, in contradistinction to a Middle East and a Far East, denoting South and East Asia, respectively, but with changing perspectives, Near and Middle East came to mean more or less the same, and today, as a quick Google search will show, Near East is becoming obsolete,” Hagen wrote. “No name is perfect. ‘Middle East’ still smacks of Eurocentrism, for instance. But are we ready for ‘Department of West Asian, Southeast European, Caucasian, Iranian, and North African Studies’?”

Public Policy junior Nadia Hakim is minoring in Middle East studies and agreed changing the name will probably reduce confusion both for those studying it and those who are not.

“I kind of had an idea (of what Near East meant) but it was kind of this weird gray area, like, what is Near East referring to?” Hakim asked. “Whereas because we use Middle East more, it’s more concrete. I think the Middle East as a term also can be problematic, but I think it makes more sense. ‘I'm doing the minor in the Middle East.’ It just makes more sense.”

However, Hakim said, the name was nothing more than a tagline to her studies.

“I think the name itself is not the biggest thing that could change,” she said. “For me, it’s more content of classes, how they're approaching the Middle East, what type of framework they’re applying to classes and stuff like that. The name itself, I think, is just a reflection of how we don’t really use the term Near East more than anything.”