Remembering Susan Montez: professor, poet, activist

BY NATALIE ACCARDI

Professor Susan Montez, a long-time professor in the English Department, died March 8 after struggling with an illness.

According to close friends, she died of cancer that metastasized. Montez was not only a professor at the college for 23 years. She was also a member of the Connecticut Congress of Community Colleges union, chair of the Norwalk chapter and chair of the statewide Finance Committee, according to Professor Steven Cohen, a close friend of Montez and a faculty member in the English Department.

Montez was a published author as well. She wrote a collection of poems called, “Radio Free Queens.” The Southern Review wrote that Montez, as an author, “isn’t for librarians, pastoralists, or conservatives of any persuasion—unless they burst with a secret, unexpressed, snazzy character that is as much costumed as revealed.”

Cohen said Montez was an “institutional force of nature” and among her many talents, she could make English grammar “sexy.” According to Cohen, Montez encouraged student growth.

“One notable example is her famous, ‘Were you smoking crack when you wrote this?’ response on a student paper. Her humor, wit, and willingness to help students led to the notable, ‘Montez Rules!’ feedback she received,” Cohen said.

Professor Susan Steiz, a close friend of Montez and faculty member in the Business Department, said Montez was well-loved by students and faculty alike. Steiz said Montez was an irreplaceable member of the community.

“She was very direct, which could be intimidating. But once you got to know her, you would find out that she was a real softie inside – with a giant heart and loving soul.  I miss her terribly. She will leave a gap in NCC that will never be filled,” Steiz said.

Professor Carol Randel, a faculty member in the Developmental

Department, said Montez deeply cared about her students.

“She was creative in her approaches toward helping her students read and write well. It was extremely important to her that her students be successful,” Randel said. “That is what made her get so frustrated at the ones who didn’t do the work, but she was always willing to give second chances.”

Professor Cindy Casper, a close friend of Montez’s for 20 years and a faculty member of the English Department, said Montez’s “fierce intellect, dedication to her work and passionate commitment to making NCC a great institution was limitless.” Casper also said Montez was able to tackle complex issues.

“You always knew where she stood, and her ability to cut to the heart of any issue was a thing to behold. She was my colleague and friend for 20 years, and I will miss her terribly,” Casper said.

President David Levinson said Montez had an immense impact on the college and that she had the “kind of personality you want in a colleague.”

“She’s someone who was very outspoken. I think she was a very revered, dear colleague. She made herself known in a very good way,” Levinson said.

Rushean Bradley, a 21-year-old General Studies major, said she made learning fun.

“She wasn’t your typical English 101 teacher,” Bradley said. “She called on every student in class when we read. She left nobody behind.”

Bradley knew Montez out of the classroom. During his English 101 class, Montez had the students share something about themselves. Bradley said that he worked at the Darien Car Clinic and Montez said to him that she had been going there for over 20 years. According to Bradley, after Montez found out that he worked there, she would only have Bradley work on her car.

Catherine Brackett, a friend and faculty member of the English Department, said she had Montez’s students write notes to Montez while she was in the hospital.

“She didn’t want me to say anything other than what was actually going on and I had them write notes. And the last thing she actually addressed to me in a text was ‘Please tell my students that I want to write back to each one of them individually for sending me those notes,’ I had a great deal of difficulty going in the day after she passed, telling them that,” Brackett said.

Professor Ernest Wiegand, faculty coordinator of Archaeology as an Avocation, said Montez did not shy away from difficult issues or difficult questions.

“Once she was questioned about her input in a discussion and I’ll never forget her response, ‘I’m Sue Montez and I’ll say anything I want,’ She truly brought the energy and vibrancy of New York City, where she lived for many years, to Fairfield County and we were the richer for her presence,” Wiegand said.

A memorial service will be held on April 13 at 2:30 p.m. The exact location has not been decided. Her courses are being taught by adjunct professors Catherine Brackett, Lori Andrews and Meira Rosenberg.

Professor Christine Japely, a friend and faculty member of the English Department, said Montez was an outspoken individual who the college was fortunate enough to have as a professor.

Japely said, “It is fitting that Professor Montez passed on to a different reality on International Women’s Day! She was a strong, vibrant, and idiosyncratic force for free-thought on this campus,” Japely said. “NCC is very lucky to have been blessed with her forceful, humorous, and indomitable presence for the past twenty-three years. I hope that students look up her volume of poetry: ‘Radio Free Queens,’ and buy it. It is delightful, and it gives us her voice permanently.”

Professor William O’Connell, chair of the English Department, said that Montez reserved the majority of her passion for her students.

“Professor Montez taught literature and writing to [many] students at NCC, but what she really taught, and what could never be quantified, measured or graded, was conviction. This is the trait I, and countless students and faculty members, carry with them whenever we think of Montez,” O’Connell said. “She wasn’t just a teacher; she was an institution, the likes of which none of us will probably ever see again.”

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