Published February 21, 2020 by Hanétha Vété-Congolo

The Francophone Studies Program Welcomes Back its Very Own: Madeline Bedecarré ’09

One of the most sensible rewards for an educator is to witness the growth of her or his student and see them ultimately thrive. The culmen of this is even more meaningful when this student becomes a colleague and effects a return to the sources just to enrich and consolidate the latter.

If some of you wonder whether being an educator bears meaning, whether it is at all rewarding in this age that consecrates fake information and sees knowledge as a disposable good, whether learning a foreign language and its affiliated modes especially French stands for anything, I suggest that they ask our graduated students currently leading striking careers in a myriad of strategic professions where speaking French or a foreign language is instrumental. I also suggest that they specifically ask Dr. Madeline Bedecarré who could tell them how relevant knowledge and the way you conceive and treat it are, how important studying the world, culture, literature even more so in a foreign language is and, how strikingly pertinent is all of that when transmitted by our Francophone Studies Program.

When, in 2006 Madeline sat in my beginner’s level French grammar class as a sophomore, the reserved characteristic of her personality transpired through. Yet, at no time has that been in the way of her eloquent will to embrace the challenge of becoming a French major and subsequently discover in the upper-level courses, new and complex questions that encompassed colonization, enslavement, race, culture, identity, Africa, the French Caribbean, Francophonie and France. Madeline was a class leader. By the time of her fourth year when she took a senior seminar that I taught, “Eyes on the Prize: Promoting French Culture in the Age of the New Millennium,” her intellectual leadership had long been confirmed. As far as I can remember, this class was made up but with strong intellectuals. The course considered the French literary world, its prize culture and the quasi-magical and assuredly political mission it subtly assumed (inter)nationally.

Madeline was more than interested in the sociological questions concerning the way the French literary structure has, via an established prize system, organized a paradigm that complexly relates literature to politics, is implicitly charged with the task of declaring cultural power and that involves underpinning political questions in turn encompassing critical issues pertaining to colonization and, hierarchicalized identities and cultures. Her intellectual curiosity was profoundly aroused by the political reality of Francophonie as an institution and its more “natural,” lived and people-governed manifestation, francophonie, that seemed to be prominent paradigms in the world in French. She was literally invested.

This course was so impactful that it provided her with questions the deepening of which she subsequently undertook to achieve through a PhD. Where did she choose to carry out her intellectual and scholarly investigations? Well, in the very country that had brought about the sensitive and relevant questions: France. Madeline obtained a PhD in the Sociology of Literature from the EHESS, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, in Paris. The impact continues through the intellectual framework of her book project, Prized Possessions: Institutional Francophonie & the Recognition of Francophone African Writers.

Therefore, when after these years spent in France, drawing on the knowledge Bowdoin had offered, strengthening her understanding of the world and becoming a full-fledged college professor, Madeline started her career as such with us, we were elated and, at the very least, proud. We were indeed proud to welcome her as the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Francophone Studies for two semesters, teaching in the very place where she began her college career. This is not to be taken lightly because, thanks to her lengthy and extensive experience in France, Madeline has a genuine insider’s and outsider’s perspective on what she teaches. She was most appropriate and prepared to teach a literature seminar, “African Immigrant Voices” and a culture course, “Contemporary France Through the Media.”

Madeline does not hesitate to share what she felt when, for the first time, she stood up in front of her first class as a professor at Bowdoin: “It was really special to come full circle and stand on the other side of the classroom as a professor. As a student the gap between myself and my professors seemed impassable. Returning to the very classrooms where my intellectual curiosity blossomed and where I felt inspired to pursue graduate school, felt like a huge accomplishment. It was powerful reminder of how far I have come: from a sophomore who took a 101 class to a scholar of French.”

Her contribution has been neither limited nor negligible. She has right away denoted her identity as an intellectual and teacher by embracing and serving concretely the community at large, offering her students the opportunity to work with French-speaking African expatriates from Portland and attend insightful translation workshops.

But it is perhaps what her own students, such as Vivi Daniels, think of her as an educator that translates the most satisfactory nature of the overall experience: “Professor Bedecarré is one of my favorite professors I have had at Bowdoin. At the beginning of our class, she told us her door was always open and we were welcome to drop in and chat whenever she was around. She really meant it. I spent more time in her office before class than I did in any other professor’s office who did not require I come to see them. …, being not so far removed from her own study abroad experience, Professor Bedecarré had lots of amazing contacts in Paris and was happy to share them with her students.”

Madeline’s trajectory is one that gives explicit and living meaning to the relevancy of the knowledge we dispense and exponential growth we foster in the Francophone Studies program. When she arrived at Bowdoin, her linguistic proficiency in French was non-existent. Her awareness about the complexity of French history comprising colonization and enslavement, of the French outlook on French as a language, the political stance on the term, “francophone,” the notion of French Blackness, the relationship of France with other French-speaking parts of the world, the monumental ethnic and cultural diversity of Africa, the incredible vitality of the French Caribbean literary creativity and thought production was limited. Her knowledge acquired, awareness more emancipated, she graduated in 2009 with a determined project, a steady intellectual, career and personal direction none of which would have been brought to fruition without her own genuine contribution, disposition and excellence. Madeline makes credible the reciprocal dynamic at the heart of the learning and teaching paradigm based on a give, take and even give back again pattern. This drastically energizes our desire to propose to our students stronger and effectively striking educative contents and methods to grow and actively partake into the contemporary world’s development and the definition of the one to come.

Madeline is now on to a lecturer position in the French and Francophone Studies department at Bates College. She will shine there again and make us in Francophone studies prouder and undeniably grateful for inspiring our students, providing them with a great example for perseverance and dedication and for reminding us in this living way one of the reasons why we are pedagogues and scholars.

Thank you, Madeline!