French Department, Anti-Racism Report, December 2022

How is your department or program addressing or planning to inform students about issues of racial inequality in the content of your major(s)?  Did you or will you revise or create the department’s curriculum and/or particular courses?  Did you or will you initiate or expand lecture series or other department programming to address issues of racial inequality?  Is exposure to discussions about racial inequity required or voluntary for majors?

  • In our gradual updating of the materials used to teach our language courses (FREN-101  to FREN-208) that has occurred since our 2013 departmental review, the French  Department has been attentive to the representation of issues of race and identity in the  materials selected. In French 207 and 208, issues of identity and representation are put  at the forefront, as they are in almost all our courses. 
  • Francophone studies—i.e., the study of literatures and cultures in French from areas as  diverse as the Caribbean, Western Africa, and the Maghreb—have been part of our  curriculum for several decades. The issues of racial inequality, identity, and  representation are natural components of such courses. Among the courses taught by  Professor Sigal, the following focus more directly on issues of diversity: “The Space In Between: Writing Exile and Return in the Twentieth Century;” “Troubled Minds: The Self  Under Siege;” “What’s the Magic Word?” The Power of Literature;’ and “Remember!  Literature and Memory.” Professor Katsaros has been offering courses which address  issues of race and racism in the colonial era, such as FREN-340 “Colonial Cultures:  Images of the French Colonial Empire” and FREN-345 “Introduction to French and  Francophone Poetry.” Professor de la Carrera offers a course titled “Worldliness and  Otherworldliness” that focuses on the notion of “otherness” and the role it played in the development of eighteenth-century thought and culture as well as the repercussions that  this notion had in twentieth-century thought. Professor Nader-Esfahani’s courses on  early modern France also address the persecution of France’s Protestant minority,  xenophobia against Italians in France, and depictions of the “Other” through real or  imagined contact with non-Europeans.  
  • In 2019, the Department updated the reading list for the Comprehensive Examination to  include more Francophone writers such as Maryse Condé and Edouard Glissant. 
  • In fall 2022, the Department welcomed Visiting Assistant Professor Monika Brodnicka,  a specialist in Francophone West African literatures, religions and cultures. Professor  Brodnicka is jointly appointed with the Department of Religion. In fall 2022 she offered  a French Conversation class centered on West African literature. In spring 2023 she  will teach a class on Francophone Womxn Writers, which will be cross-listed with the  Department of Black Studies.  
  • Beyond courses that are focused on Francophone literature and culture, almost all of our  courses address questions of identity in linguistic, social, historical and philosophical  contexts. Thus, while not always centering our courses on race explicitly, our whole  curriculum offers our students philosophical, literary and rhetorical analytical tools that  easily transfer to the effort to dismantle racial inequities in our own time. 
  • Moreover, our insistence on the mastery of a foreign language allows our students to bring to such issues, sources and perspectives that have not been translated into English. Given our focus on cultures outside the U.S., the Department seeks to expand  the horizons of such issues so that our campus perspective might be more inclusive of  the specificities of global cultures. This is surely one of the reasons why our department  consistently attracts a highly diverse group of students and majors. Statistics show that  over the 2018-2022 period, 54% of our majors have defined themselves as non-white  (8% Asian-American, 12% Black, 14% Latinx, 10% international). Over the same time  period, more than two-thirds of our students were women.  
  • We invited Professor Andrew Curran for the 2022 lecture in honor of Emeritus Professor  Jay Caplan. Professor Curran is the author of The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and  Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), a  
  • groundbreaking study of the development of philosophical notions of race and racism in the  eighteenth century, and the co-editor with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Who’s Black and  Why? A Hidden Chapter from the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race (Harvard University Press, 2022). We also invited Professor Lydie Moudileno, Marion Frances  Chevalier Professor of French and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC  Dornsife. Her research focuses on the contemporary cultures of France and the  Francophone world, examined from a literary, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, critical  race theory and decolonial perspective. Professor Curran and Professor Moudileno gave a  public presentation titled “Perspectives on Race and Blackness in the Francophone World” on March 3, 2022. The presentation was recorded and made available to our alumni  through our web page. On April 13, 2023, our Biennial Leah Hewitt Lecture will feature  Kaiama Glover, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of French & Africana Studies at Barnard  College. Professor Glover is a specialist of francophone literature, particularly that of Haiti  and the French Antilles; colonialism and postcolonialism; and sub-Saharan francophone  African cinema. 
  • In the future, we would welcome the creation of a distribution requirement that would  require students to take one class that focuses on Francophone literatures and cultures.  However, such a requirement is difficult to implement given our current staffing issues,  most crucially, the lack of a permanent (FTE) Francophone specialist among our ranks. 
  • Exposure to issues of racial inequality is voluntary for our majors. 

What anti-racist pedagogical strategies have the department and/or individual faculty members utilized to create inclusive classrooms, labs, and other learning spaces?

  • We have included more content by under-represented minorities in the readings and films  for classes (see above). 
  • We have incorporated assignments of a more personal and autobiographical nature so  as to create the conditions for a more student-centered learning experience. 
  • In our syllabi and in our pedagogical practice, we clearly articulate and define course  objectives and classroom discussion guidelines.
  • We provide concrete models through sample assignments or in-class workshops; low stakes or non-graded first assignment (to allow students to learn the ropes and receive concrete feedback); use of grading rubrics distributed in advance. We also take into account student progress over the course of the semester as part of the final evaluation.

What steps has your department taken to address equity and access for students who want to take courses or major in your department or program?  This could include the creation of student groups, changes to the system of advising majors, changes to curricular requirements, and/or supporting students who wish to pursue honors theses.

  • Since we offer all levels of French from French 101 Elementary French to 300-level  classes every semester, students can enroll in the French program during any semester,  at the level that meets their needs. We also schedule our classes in such a way as to  make switching from one level to another as easy as possible. For example, FREN-205  and FREN-207 are taught at the same time so that a student who finds FREN-207 too  challenging may switch to the lower-level class, and conversely. 
  • In our experience, the transition from 200-level classes to 300-level classes can be  challenging for some students. 300-level classes are literature and culture seminars which  require good reading, writing, and speaking skills. As a consequence, we have been  planning to add a new class to the curriculum to help with the transition from 200 to 300  levels. Tentatively numbered FREN-299, it would serve as a gateway to advanced classes.  FREN-299 would offer an introduction to literary analysis and critical thought in French.  Such a class would also be instrumental in building community among our students.  
  • Regarding advising, we have been encouraging students to look beyond France as part of  their Study Abroad experience. To this purpose, the Department met with Dr. Arianne  Ngabeu, Director of the Middlebury School in Cameroon, to find out more about the  program and how it could expand our students’ intellectual and personal horizons. We  have also been encouraging our students to look into the APA programs in Martinique and  the Wells College Study Abroad program in Senegal.  
  • We hold an information panel for our junior majors in the spring to support students who  plan to write theses. We are also planning a “Thesis Showcase” event which will highlight  the work of our current thesis students and serve as an inspiration for students who are  contemplating writing a thesis. However, we should note that since 80% of our majors (on  average) are double majors, many of them choose to pursue a thesis in their other major,  so that we have a low number of thesis writers every year (ranging from 0 to 3).

How do you plan to make your department more inclusive and welcoming for new students and to create community among majors?

  • In August 2022, we mailed welcome letters to all admitted students who had listed French  as one of their academic fields of interest. This letter contained detailed information about  placement in French classes for first-year students. 
  • In September 2022, we held a “Welcome/Welcome Back” party for new and returning students. We plan to hold this event every year.  
  • In order to make our classes and our major more accessible to new students, we updated our website, notably the “Pathways to the Major” web page, in collaboration with Roberta Diehl  from the Communications office.  
  • We encourage the systematic use of peer tutors and maintain our peer tutoring list. As faculty  members, we often facilitate the process of requesting a tutor.  
  • We are planning a spring Alumni Panel which will showcase the professional and personal  trajectories of some of our recent graduates, and the diversity of our student body. We also  hope that this panel will highlight the creative ways in which our alums have used their  background in French in their careers.  
  • Ideally, if the campus had a language resource center, it could host a drop-in facility for peer  tutoring on the model of what is currently being offered for the sciences. This would be a  great way to make language resources more accessible and to build community among our  students.