Grisé looks to boost French language, culture on campus

February 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 4
By Carol Thorbes

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Yolande Grisé is thousands of kilometres away from the home and career she spent 25 years building as a French language and literature professor at the University of Ottawa.

But the Montreal native and graduate of Laval and Sorbonne universities feels at home within Simon Fraser University's predominantly English-speaking population.

Grisé's experience nurturing the growth of French language and culture in predominantly English Ontario has honed her for her appointment as the director of SFU's new Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs (OFFA). Grisé will shepherd the university's growth into a West Coast bastion of French culture and post-secondary education.

“I adore a challenge,” says Grisé, a former high school teacher, the former director of the University of Ottawa's centre for French Canadian culture, and a former chair of the Ontario Arts Council. Grisé has also researched and published the complete works of early French Canadian poetry.

Grisé's five-year term at SFU includes a joint appointment as a professor in the French department and the faculty of education.

Her immediate goal is to triple, by next year, the number of students in SFU's first Francophone program in a discipline other than French. The new bachelor of arts program in political science was launched in the fall with eight students.

The cultural climate is right, says Grisé, for SFU to compete for top-notch Francophone and Francophile students in different disciplines, worldwide.

“French interest in Canada is not limited to Quebec. SFU represents a dynamic new turn for Canada toward the Pacific. To Francophones worldwide, B.C. is linked to building relations with China, India and other Asian nations.”

Grisé wants to capitalize on B.C.'s growing profile by developing exchange programs with universities in eastern Canada and France.

“Bordeaux is a centre for Canadian studies, and for political science. It would be a natural place for SFU students. The University of Poitiers would be another natural partner for SFU, given its widespread interest in Canada,” notes Grisé, who has a second home in France's Poitou-Charentes region.

OFFA's associate directors, Claire Trépanier, Danielle Arcand and Cécile Sabatier, recently visited several high school French and immersion programs in B.C. to promote SFU's expanding offerings in French.

Grisé and her colleagues will formally celebrate the opening of their new office in UniverCity's Cornerstone building atop Burnaby Mountain on March 2 at 11:15 a.m. The opening will launch a week of French cultural events at SFU.

“The opening of this office not only reaffirms interest in Canada's other official language, but creates an important milieu where academics and members of the community can engage in and enjoy French culture and activities,” says Yseult Friolet.

The director of La Fédération des Francophones de la Colombie-Britannique approached SFU several years ago about creating programs to accommodate B.C.'s increasing number of high school graduates from Francophone and immersion programs.

Many want to stay in B.C., but leave in search of a French university.

With a playful laugh, Grisé says she dreams of a day when Francophones and Francophiles camp outside SFU's admissions office to secure their chances of getting in.

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