College Questions | Names really matter – Times-Standard


One way to get someone’s attention quickly is to say their name. Say it softly or loudly, gently or rudely, and they’ll pay attention.

A long time ago, a colleague asked me a simple question: “Why do you always say “Junior”. when you say your name or when it is announced? It was an honest question and I was happy to explain. For me, it’s a question of “honor”. I was honored to have my father’s name, and every day when I wake up, I try to honor that name, my family, and the pride of that name through my work and my interactions. My father and my mother were my heroes.

It’s actually deeper than just being “junior”. I am also “Thomas” the fourth. The first Thomas was the first person in my family to be freed as a slave. Yes, there are a lot of things related to my name, what it means to me and how I represent it on a daily basis.

Names matter. We know this from the workplace, where we appreciate being remembered or recognized by name. We know this from social gatherings, where it can be a relief to find someone who knows your name. Some of us know this from the show “Cheers”, where “NORM!” always enjoyed a warm welcome.

In education, the best instructors know the importance of learning and using student names. This is one of the tips that aspiring teachers learn early on. There’s even research that backs this up, with students reporting they feel more valued and invested in a class when the instructor knows their name.

In two different and surprising ways, names have been in the spotlight at Cal Poly Humboldt in recent months. We had a new name for our student activity center Gutswurrak as well as a name change for our institution.

We recently celebrated the nomination of the Gutswurrak Student Activity Center with a fun and inspiring event on campus. The name represents a very deliberate effort to bring Indigenous culture to the forefront on our campus, and we are very proud that Wiyot Tribe President Ted Hernandez was the guest speaker. He shared his gratitude for the denomination and to the students who initiated the naming effort.

Gutswurrak (pronounced “guts-wuh-dock”) is a Wiyot word meaning “many people gather together”.

The name was chosen carefully, with students suggesting the idea and a formal request being made to the Wiyot tribe. One of the greatest honors is to receive a name. This name was chosen from suggested options to recognize the importance of the student union to the campus community as well as Cal Poly’s location on traditional Wiyot lands.

“Gutswurrak” has become part of the daily vocabulary of the campus community. A QR code on the wall of the building now provides a link to a recording of speech spoken by adults and young Wiyot.

Earlier this year, we also marked an important milestone when the name of our institution was changed to “Cal Poly Humboldt”.

Of course, this name change means so much. It is a positive affirmation from our University community of the type of institution we are and the type of educational experience we offer. It highlights, among other things, our hands-on education, our foundation in the liberal arts, and our strong focus in areas such as science, technology, and engineering.

This all matters because changing the name of a university is never simple or easy. People are deeply attached, especially the elders and the local community. It was a bit of a bittersweet moment when the name was changed on the campus entrance gates. The name is important to all of us for various reasons. The name and the higher expectations that come with it are also important. There is a renewed expectation that we will be better as a campus, more engaged as a campus community, more collaborative and collegial as a workforce. And, above all, that we will be representative of what it means to be among the educated citizens of this planet.

For clarity, “Cal Poly Humboldt” is the new, shorter, informal name that we use most often. It’s like using “John” instead of “Jonathan”. We have a new set of names that we use consistently:

Official name: “California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt”

Informal name: “Cal Poly Humboldt”

Secondary references: “Humboldt” or “Cal Poly”

It’s also okay if, like me, you sometimes say “Humboldt State” or “HSU”.

Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.

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