by RYAN GORHAM
The communication and digital studies major will become its own department, separating from the Department of English, Linguistics and Communication.
Recently, a plan was submitted by the Department of English, Linguistics and Communication to the provost about creating the new department and moving all classes in the department to the creative writing mansion on 1201 William St.
The plan to create the communication and digital studies department has not been finalized yet, as it still requires the approval from the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. If the plan is approved, the provost will determine when the transition will take place.
Gary Richards, the department chair for English, Linguistic and Communication, said, “The original date hoped for was July 1, to coincide with the start of a new fiscal year; however, the University now has to handle so many other issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, this new department and the move of faculty offices may no longer be priorities.”
According to Anand Rao, head of the communication and digital studies (CDS) program, the decision to turn the major into its own department was due to the popularity of the program and the success students have in finding jobs after graduation.
“The plan for a new department to house CDS is largely driven by the success of the major. It has grown rapidly, and has proven to be appealing to students as well as to employers and graduate programs,” said Rao. “We currently have 190 majors, the most we have ever had. Our graduates have been successful in finding jobs in a host of areas, and we have placed graduates in top graduate programs across the country, many with teaching assistantships.”
Richards believes the creation of a new department will allow students majoring in communication and digital studies to have a stronger identity and the benefit of having their major-specific needs accommodated.
“Those students stand to be better served and have a better sense of disciplinary identity, as do students in the programs in English, English: creative writing, and linguistics, if there are two departments,” said Richards. “Moreover, ELC has become 28 full-time faculty and, depending on the semester, ten or so adjunct instructors, which is considered very large for UMW.”
The creative writing mansion was chosen as the location for the new department because as a house it is large enough for creative writing break-out spaces as well as promoting a sense of community, according to Richards.
But the new location does not come without problems of its own. “The space is not high-tech, which is what faculty in communication and digital studies would prefer,” said Richards. “We are strategizing ways that creative writing faculty and students can still have a sense of unity that was promoted by the space at 1201 William Street. This includes putting those faculty’s offices together in one hall of the third floor of Combs and allocating existing spaces to be turned into break-out spaces and a poetry library reserved for creative writing students.”
Students currently working towards a communication and digital studies major will not be affected by these changes.
“The development of a new department will have no immediate impact on anyone currently majoring in CDS, or taking courses in the CDS program,” said Rao. “The major itself is not changing at this time, and our faculty remain committed to working closely with students to help them be as successful as they can be in the major.”
New courses are being offered to students in fall and summer semesters in hopes to provide students with more opportunities and choices.
“This semester, Dr. Emily Crosby offered a new special topics course, COMM 370U: Sports & The Digital, that looks at sports communication, with a focus on digital communication tools. Dr. Brenta Blevins also offered a new course this spring, DGST 301E: Virtual and Augmented Reality, providing students with the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology,” said Rao. “Next fall, Dr. Adria Goldman is offering a new special topics course, COMM 370V: Hip-Hop Culture, which is a wonderful addition to our coursework in media studies and popular culture. And this summer, we have a host of great courses being offered, including two newer additions in digital studies, DGST 301A: Creative Coding, being offered by Dr. Zach Whalen, and DGST 301F: Documentary Film, being offered by Dr. Jesse Stommel.”
Rao is optimistic for the future of communication and digital studies and ensures that the development of the new department will be beneficial to all students.
“Our faculty have developed wonderful opportunities for our students to learn about state-of-the-art topics in some of the most interesting and engaging classes that I have seen offered at any institution,” said Rao. “We hope that the development of a new department for CDS will help support this outstanding work from our faculty, ultimately benefiting our students.”