SFU French graduate students host cross-disciplinary colloquium exploring conflict, identity, and reconciliation

May 11, 2023

What brings together French-speaking graduate students from cities like Oran or Rabat, Istanbul or Nouméa, and from East-to-Western Canadian universities? That was what we were going to find out during the two days of enriching dialogues with our peers from the Francophone world.

On March 24th and 25th, 2023, graduate students from Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Department of French hosted the 5th annual edition of the Colloque en Études Francophones de la Côte Pacifique (CEFCP - Pacific Coast Colloquium of Francophone Studies).

Each year, the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, and SFU come together to organize this event for Francophone graduate students doing research in education, cultural, literary, linguistic studies, or in other fields of social sciences. The colloquium provides an academic platform for the intellectual exchange of knowledge on contemporary issues of the political, cultural and linguistic lives of and in contemporary Francophone societies. As Francophone and French-speaking graduate students ourselves, we were proud to contribute and create spaces for academic dialogue in a minority Francophone community, as both British Columbian society and academia in general, function primarily in English.

This year’s theme was Identities, Alterities, Communities: Between Conflict(s), Claims, and (Re)Conciliation. Drawing inspiration from our own research projects and the global state of affairs, we found a common thread in questioning not only how we define ourselves as young researchers and students of French in B.C., but also how we define others, and how others define us—especially through the lenses of legitimacy and authority. Understood as an intersectional field of reflection, the different dimensions proposed in this year’s theme allowed for a multitude of perspectives to be shared, engaged with, and discussed. Behind the choice of this theme is also an asserted will to collectively build a reflection site around the claims of the right to dignity for all minority groups.

Dr. Gaëlle Planchenault, Graduate Program Chair for SFU French and coordinator for the two-day event, opened the conference with these words, “By choosing these themes for the colloquium, we commit ourselves to open up a space for dialogue, to allow minoritized—and sometimes stigmatised—voices to be heard.”

The jam-packed program began with a plenary conference from Dr. Catherine Levasseur from the University of Ottawa, who presented her latest research on the feelings of belonging of young people who had passed through the province's Francophone schooling system, but who spoke primarily English at home. After this, 18 students presented their work in French, in eight sessions across the two days, with participants joining us from all over the world and across disciplines in the social sciences.

This year, for the first time, two new sessions were added to the colloquium: a roundtable in collaboration with students from the University of New Caledonia and a workshop for master’s (MA) degree students in the early stages of their research projects. With the roundtable session, we sought to better understand each other through discussions surrounding our unique geopolitical contexts, the ways we live our languages, and how we position ourselves as researchers when we also belong to the group that we study. The workshop on the other hand had students present their ideas about their developing work and ask professors about the hurdles in thesis writing and their suggestions for succeeding in graduate school.

The two sessions were added in order to create new opportunities for dialogues, both with peers and mentors, using a more open and informal structure. They were found to be especially important for new MA students, and for all students whose relationship with the French language is not unproblematic. It was through these individual presentations and group conversations that together we came to understand each other, our research interests, and ourselves.

The colloquium wrapped up with a thoughtful session featuring Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui, member of the Wolf clan of the Wendat Nation. Organized in collaboration with the SFU Office of Francophone and Francophile Affairs (OFFA), the session saw Picard-Sioui sharing his thoughts on this year’s colloquium themes. A writer, poet, performer, historian, anthropologist and visual arts curator, Picard-Sioui did not present a traditional plenary conference. Instead, he engaged with us, and with the themes of the conference, through storytelling, mixing his own experiences with his imagination to paint multiple vignettes of how diverse and sometimes conflicted identities could be lived.

The diversity of presentations at the 2023 CEFCP inspired us—encouraging us to dive deeper into the nuances of the ways we interact with the world around us. Using the French language as our starting point, the colloquium has given invaluable opportunities for young researchers to find a place in the academic community and to spark enriching conversations between students who are part of the Francophone world.

To return then to our first question: what can bring such a diverse group of French-speaking students together? For, indeed, we found it was not the French language itself, but rather our unique positions as French speakers, our drive to understand the language we study and most importantly, our shared places in the Francophone world that did, and will, unite us.

About the Authors

Sarah Derasp is a master's student in the Department of French, with a concentration in applied linguistics. Having completed her undergraduate studies in political science and French in the French Cohort Program at SFU, the study of identity politics and the influence of language on the structure of our lives piqued her interest. Although her thesis is in its preliminary stages, she plans to study neo-speakers of French who have come of age in British Columbia and who have a francophone heritage, and their processes of identification in a globalized, post-nationalist world.

Livia Poljak is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University (recipient of a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship). She has a Master's degree in French as a Second Language from SFU, and has been teaching French language courses in the French Department there since 2013. Her doctoral research investigates the unique identity and accent of French immersion students in British Columbia. Livia is interested in the issue of group affiliation among adolescents, plurilingualism in the classroom, foreign language acquisition, Canadian bilingualism, and language and identity studies.