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October 12, 2000 Scholars celebrate 25 years of straddling French and English cultures



Photo of Marie-Celie Agnant

Writer and alumna Marie-Célie Agnant

by Caroline Plante

Poets, intellectuals and former Concordia students came together over coffee and croissants last Friday morning to celebrate French culture.

“It was to mark the fact that we are francophones in an English milieu,” said panellist and public relations officer Evelyne Abitbol. “We wanted to ask ourselves what it meant to be francophones at Concordia.”

For the occasion, the Études françaises Department held a panel discussion in which seven people expressed their opinions on being a francophone at Concordia.

“I discovered groups of anglophone women who wanted the same thing that I did,” said Fatima Houda-Pépin, a politician who studied at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. “We spoke different languages but we had at least one thing in common: we wanted to improve living and working conditions for women.”

Houda-Pépin said she has always been interested in studying French culture on an international scale. She said she found Concordia to be very open to the world, and that helped her in her studies.

Lynn Laposrolle, who also studied at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, is now a professor at CEGEP du Vieux Montréal. “I would like to thank Concordia for helping me become the teacher and the researcher that I am now,” she said.

Lucie Lequin, chair of Études françaises, said she was proud that Concordia personnel had stimulated and encouraged many francophone students over the years to become professors and writers. For example, Marie-Célie Agnant, who studied under Lequin, is now a successful poet and writer of children’s literature.

But it wasn’t always easy. The speakers agreed that many French-speaking students had occasional difficulties dealing with their English counterparts. “Anglophones were defensive, especially during the referendums,” said Political Science Professor Guy Lachapelle.

Not only did francophone students sometimes clash with anglophone students, but tensions also arose within the French-speaking student population. “Some people called me a traitor,” said Claude Bédard, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research.

However, speakers concurred that having been exposed to other cultures and languages had been an enriching experience.

Judith Woodsworth, a former Concordia professor, said it was exhilarating to switch back and forth from English to French when dealing with students and faculty. “It’s an ideal situation for translation students, who come out of the program better prepared than any other students,” she said. “Concordia offers them courses in English and French, and it makes a difference.

Professionals recognize their abilities when they arrive on the job market.”
Lachapelle is thankful that Concordia has always been a forum for the sharing of ideas, tolerance and understanding of other cultures. “Concordia is the microcosm of modern Quebec society,” he said.