What significance is in a comma?

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September 23, 2019

Two students wearing Barrett HatsFor grammarians, this small, seemingly insignificant mark can signify a lot. Depending on how a comma is used and where it is placed, it can change the meaning of a sentence.

In legal circles, a comma in a sentence can change the outcome of a case.

At Arizona State University, the comma has become a symbol of the leading honors college in the nation – Barrett, The Honors College.

You’ll often hear Mark Jacobs, dean of Barrett Honors College and ASU vice provost, say “Welcome to Barrett comma the Honors College” at events, including Freshman Orientation, Family Weekend, Homecoming, and Convocation.

The dean’s delivery of this line often elicits laughter and knowing glances among honors students, faculty and staff. It has become our own inside joke and a point of pride.

You’ll see the Barrett Comma, as it’s called, on baseball caps, brochures, and posters.

“Respect the comma” and “More important than the Oxford comma” have graced t-shirts sported by students around campus.

But, what does the comma mean to the Barrett family and how did it become part of the honors college name and culture?

A little Barrett history:

In 1988, the Arizona Board of Regents authorized the creation of The University Honors College, the first four-year, residential honors college in the United States.

In 2000, Craig and Barbara Barrett gave $10 million to endow The University Honors College. At the time, it was the largest endowment to ASU and a U.S. honors college.

In 2001, The University Honors College was named for Craig and Barbara Barrett in recognition of their support for undergraduate higher education and became Barrett Honors College.

In 2006, Barrett Honors College was formally renamed Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University.

The idea to rename the honors college came from ASU President Michael Crow, who wanted to recognize its status as one of the 13 colleges at the university and have the name stand out more, Jacobs said.

Crow always wanted people to say “Barrett” the way they say “Harvard” or “Swarthmore” and having the name offset by a comma may encourage that, Jacobs added.

Whatever the genesis of the comma in Barrett, The Honors College, over the years, the Barrett Comma has come to represent educational excellence, an inclusive and supportive culture, commitment to service, and a reputation as the best honors college for outstanding undergraduates at a public university.