Why I Majored in Romance Languages and Literatures

Joslyn Gardner ’20 (French)

Coming to Pomona, I knew I wanted to be a French major. In the spring of freshman year, I took French Literary Analysis with Professor Virginie Duzer. I noticed that the way in which I approached my analyses was influenced by the Intro to Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) course I was taking that same semester. So, my third semester at Pomona, I took a French course cross-listed with the GWS program. It was called “Adultery in the Novel,” taught by Professor Margaret Waller. At first, I thought this course focused on scandalous affairs in the French novel, but further into the course, I learned that “adultery” made reference to “adulteration”: to render something poorer in quality through the mixing of substances. We considered the forbidden but desired Other’s position in face of the fear of adulteration, or rather the fear of the mixing of race, nationality, religion or class. During my time in this course, I decided I wanted to declare a GWS-French major, which means I concentrate on Francophone literature from a perspective where marginalized identities, power dynamics and resistance are at the center of my analysis.

My studies led me to spend my entire third year abroad. In the fall of 2018, I did the Middlebury in Paris program, and in the spring, I petitioned to do AMIDEAST’s Regional Studies in French program in Rabat. What led me to study abroad in Morocco was a course called “Africa in France,” instructed by Professor Fazia Aïtel at Claremont McKenna College. The class exposed me to transnational francophone literature by authors from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa who narrate stories of second-generation immigrants who find themselves in the “third space.” A space where they are not completely accepted by French culture and not completely accepted by their family’s culture either. I decided to spend my entire junior year studying in Paris and then Morocco not only to analyze more Francophone literature, but also to understand the relationship between the countries and the influence colonialism continues to have today.

After my time in Rabat, I spent a month at the Archives Nationales d’outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence as part of an eight-week research grant through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). I investigated Assia Djebar’s use of narrative and linguistic fragmentation in the novel, L’amour, la fantasia, and its relationship to a postcolonial feminist critique. I originally did this summer research in preparation for my thesis, but upon returning to campus, a course that I am currently taking inspired me to change my topic. “Slavery and its Afterlives” is a politics course cross-listed with GWS, and taught by Professor Roberto Sirvent. The class is rooted in Black feminist thought. We just finished reading Scenes of Subjection (1994) by Saidiya Hartman. I will be using this text as a theoretical framework in my analysis of the French novel, Ourika (1823), by Claire de Duras, to trouble the general acceptance that the eponymous heroine is saved from the “terrible fate of slavery.” I will consider the “afterlives” of slavery, or rather slavery’s continuous hold in the life of Ourika by examining the problem of empathy, white amusement and the myth of inclusion.

Milo Kremer ’20 (French)

The French major is a window to a dizzying array of disciplines that all intersect somewhere in the Francophone world. From courses anchored in critical feminist theory, to postcolonial politics, to art history, my French major has inspired me to explore all corners of Pomona’s liberal arts environment. 

The lessons I learned in the French department were brought to life during my junior year abroad, which I split between France in the fall and Senegal in the spring. And, as a politics double major, it was a fascinating way to understand and critically engage with the Francophone world from the first-hand perspectives of the former metropole and its former colony. I’m grateful for how the French Department equipped me to succeed in such foreign environments.

Beyond academia, my French major has unlocked hugely rewarding professional opportunities – equipping me with useful linguistic and intercultural skills. In France, I was able to work with a global public affairs agency to bridge the work of their francophone and anglophone offices. In Senegal, I was fortunate to intern with a solar energy company, analyzing risk in sub-Saharan markets and engaging with chefs du village in rural areas. 

The major is about so much more than just language mastery; Professors Jack I. Abecassis, Virginie A. Duzer, and Margaret Waller continue to teach me how to animate seemingly abstract theories, write engaging essays, and navigate the world with a more attentive eye. All in all, I feel as if my French major is preparing me for life long after Pomona.

Grete Helena Kü​tt ’20 (French)

My journey at the French Department started during my first semester at Pomona when I took, mostly out of curiosity, Introduction to Literary Analysis with Prof. Jack Abecassis. Suddenly, I found myself captivated by the connections we made between the 17th century’s literary world, as depicted by Molière and Racine, and our society as of today. During the following semesters, I naturally included a French literature classes in my schedule - it is as if I had developed an intellectual need for those aha moments that I experienced during our French class discussions.

What I consider special about the French major, is the level of attention dedicated to the individual and their interests. The fact that there is an average of 10-12 students in my French classes does not only contribute to the quality of instruction, but also motivates me every day to be the best of myself. My French professors have always been available to discuss ideas developed in class and beyond, or to simply have a cup of tea.

French major is not about getting the “r” in “Bonjour!” right. It takes you on a fascinating journey through politics, cognitive science, history, Francophone cultures, mathematical models, art, music, film - the list goes on. This exploration continues while studying abroad: during my semester in Paris, the proficiency I gained at Pomona enabled me to enroll in Computer Science and History courses taught in French by professors from local universities. A good example of the interdisciplinary nature of the Pomona French major is my senior thesis that focuses on the philosophical and ethical implications of the widespread use of artificial intelligence applications in our society. It is absolutely wonderful to be able to combine my two majors, computer science and French, into one intellectual pursuit.

Isabelle Rogers ’20 (Spanish)

I think a Spanish major is a fantastic choice for anyone who's interested in literature, creative writing, global understanding/cultural analysis, history, intersectionality or empathy. I'm sure I've left some things out there, too—oh, like improving your Spanish! As the fabulous Professor Susana Chávez-Silverman says, “If you're interested in an English major but want to read and write skillfully in Spanish, why not join the Dark Side and become a Spanish major?”

Personally, I had a bit of a jump on the Spanish major experience; I took AP Spanish Language and Literature with an inspiring Spanish teacher in high school and wanted to continue the journey. But after taking a few Spanish literature classes at Pomona, I realized this was no quixotic journey—unlike Don Quixote, these courses would bring me closer to my goals. Although, from another perspective, this was a quixotic journey—like Quixote and Sancho, these classes would transform my perspective and character. As you can probably tell, I loved the metaphorical, emotional and cultural complexities that we discovered in Don Quixote in Professor Cartagena's "Don Quixote and Cultural Identity" and won't stop talking about the class. But I also adored Chávez-Silverman's approach to "slow reading," or unpacking symbolic meaning line by line in literature and poetry; discussing literature in her classes felt like a magical ritual to uncover hidden truths.

I'm an aspiring playwright, so analyzing literature has taught me a lot about the mechanics of creative writing, and introduced me to so much literature I never would have encountered before. Although it's not common, my double-major pairing of Spanish and theatre has been a perfect fit for me. This major also gave me the skills to join el Aula de Teatro de la UAM, a theatre group in Madrid, while on the Middlebury study abroad program, where I also performed in my first play en español. Feel free to ask me anything about the dynamics of the Spanish major or my particular double major!

Ian Poveda ’21 (Spanish)

After I took AP Spanish Language in high school, I was certain I wanted to at least minor in Spanish when I arrived at Pomona. But, after I took the introduction course to Spanish literature with Professor José Cartagena-Calderón (SPAN101), I knew I had to major. It’s one thing to admire the literary work of an author; it’s quite another to communicate what you’ve read to other people. It was clear to me that a Spanish major would help me critically think about what I was reading and challenge me look beyond a literary lens.

Outside of the Spanish major, I’ve primarily pursued STEM-focused coursework because I want to attend dental school after college. Taking Spanish classes has allowed me to improve my writing and oral skills in addition to reading comprehension– issues I value deeply, but am not able to focus on as much in my science work. My decision to study Spanish is certainly rooted in a love for literature, but I also perceive it as an excellent opportunity to refine my Spanish-speaking skills, with the desire to better communicate with patients in the future. It was clear to me that a Spanish major would help me critically think about what I was reading and challenge me to look beyond a literary lens.