Droit de réponse: French and Francophone Studies Speaks Back

By WILLIAM POULIN-DELTOUR

Last week’s Campus – the last issue of the academic year – contained two disturbing articles concerning the Department of French and Francophone Studies here at Middlebury College, of which I am currently chair. One, a “news item,” dealt with our study-abroad program in Yaoundé, Cameroon, a program our department has enthusiastically supported since its creation. The other, an opinion piece, had to do with what the authors perceived to be a lack of Francophone-related courses offered by our department.

Both articles contained unsettling and misleading claims about the department that were never brought to our attention prior to publication.

In the article about our program in Yaoundé, Nick Garber ’19 (the journalist) alleged, via an “anonymous source” (female), that a male member of the Middlebury French department (never identified but referred to as “he” in the article) had discouraged her from attending the program in Cameroon because of the poor quality of French spoken there. The “professor” had allegedly told her it would hold her back professionally should she take on an African accent in French.

This is a serious allegation against our department, especially given that we were very actively involved in the planning and inception of the program in Cameroon that remains to this day Middlebury’s only study-abroad site in Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, we established the program to foreground the College’s commitment to Francophone Studies and to counteract damaging prejudice against French spoken outside of France, be it in Yaoundé or Montréal. To implicitly—yet publicly—implicate our department in promoting such prejudice without notifying us was wreckless and potentially defamatory. That The Campus didn’t understand this prior to publishing the article demonstrates a lack of journalistic ethics and calls for a response that goes beyond a “teachable moment.”

As for the opinion piece criticizing our curriculum and its purported dearth of Francophone courses, Zorica Radanovic ’19 and Charlotte Cahillane ‘19.5  made several incorrect and inflammatory statements. Contrary to their assertions, we have had, over the past 22 years, a well-known specialist of Francophone Literature who has almost every year, unless on sabbatical leave, offered an advanced course on the subject. The authors—incredibly—erased her from the department’s history, a baffling and tactless omission! With the addition of a new faculty member last year, two of our four literature specialists now focus on Francophone literature.  We have also significantly globalized our lower-level curriculum. In our first year courses, we include authors from the Caribbean, North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, la Réunion, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Viet Nam. In FREN205, professors teach works by Maryse Condé, one of the best known authors writing in French today from Guadeloupe, to introduce our students to textual and cultural analysis. Condé’s texts deal in important ways with the question of race and racism, between the “colonies” and the French “métropole.”

Might I add that the department’s last two invited speakers were from the African diaspora: Gisèle Pineau (acclaimed author from Guadeloupe), and Pap Ndiaye (renowned historian from Sciences-Po who works on Blacks in France).

That the authors of this piece overlooked our attachment to Francophone literature and culture is dismaying, perhaps most of all because they both took advanced courses in French and Francophone Studies and studied abroad in Cameroon through the department.

William Poulin-Deltour is an associate professor and chair of the Lois ’51 and J. HarveyWatson Department of French and Francophone Studies.

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