Fall 2017 has come and gone in a flash and 2018 is no longer a new year. MLCS department members have been busy as usual with teaching and research, celebrating collaborations and successes. The department hosted and co-sponsored multiple important international conferences this past term. In October, Dr. Sathya Rao hosted “La présence francophone européenne dans l’Ouest,” a conference on the contribution of French-speaking European communities to the history of Canada. In November, Dr. Victoria Ruetalo and Dr. Zaira Zarza-Blanco, Killam Postdoctoral Fellow in our department, put on “Off Island/On Screen: Cuban Contemporary Migrant Cinemas,” bringing multiple young Cuban diaspora filmmakers to Edmonton in collaboration with Metro Cinema. We also celebrated major grants, awards, and milestones. Dr. Daniel Laforest was awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant to pursue his research on the biomedical body in literature and Dr. Odile Cisneros was awarded the Rutherford Award, one of the University’s highest honours for excellence in undergraduate teaching. A recent PhD graduate of our Comparative Literature program, Dr. Amir Khadem, was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal for his dissertation. Nada Chehayeb won our departmental Jan Chalk Award for Contract Instructors for her excellence in the teaching of French. Two of our department members were recognized for their service to the University of Alberta, Dr. Natalia Pylypiuk for 25 years and Dr. Lynn Penrod for 40 years. This list represents only a selection of events and accolades; keep up with our department members on our news page and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @UofAMLCS, or like our page on Facebook.
We welcomed, and continue to welcome, many new faces to the department this year. Our newly restructured graduate program, which was launched in Fall 2016, saw its second cohort join the MLCS community. We also had many visitors through our doors since the academic year began, including Fulbright Scholar Dr. Shifra Armon (Florida), visiting PhD student Anna Seidel (Münster, Germany), Tompkins Visiting Professor Dr. Tatiana Saburova (Moscow, Russia), and visiting instructor Cormac Ó Feinneadha (Dublin, Ireland). Cormac has come to help us a launch a new partnership with the Irish Canada University Foundation. He will be organizing a number of outreach events this term, along with a week of Irish language celebration around St. Patrick’s Day, in advance of courses in Irish language that will start in Fall 2018.
But MLCS is not a department happy to rest on its laurels. This academic year we have made significant progress toward the realization of exciting changes to our undergraduate programs. We currently offer eight majors in individual languages and in interdisciplinary studies taught primarily in English, plus a selection of honours and combined majors. In January 2018, General Faculties Council, the highest governing body of the university, approved a proposal to consolidate all currently existing major programs into one single major in Modern Languages and Cultural Studies (MLCS), with two routes: language studies and cross-cultural studies. The new major provides a more interdisciplinary approach to the teaching of languages, literatures, and cultures, allows students to engage with more than one area of the department more effectively than they can in the current language-based and compartmentalized majors, and makes it easier for students to study multiple languages. Moreover, the new single major provides a more coherent and clearer structure, leading to a more streamlined time to degree, while offering greater flexibility for students to create their own diverse paths toward global citizenship, which culminates in a capstone course. In the language studies route, the new major will allow students to focus on one specific language (and the literatures and cultures associated with this language) or gain proficiency in two languages. The cross-cultural studies route will allow students to focus on cultural literacy and study several cultures and languages; in both there is a pedagogical emphasis on experiential learning (responding to the University’s strategic plan “For the Public Good” as well as to the Faculty of Art’s academic strategic plan). Students in the language studies route must complement their degree with an immersive experience in their language and culture of study, whether in our many study-abroad programs or locally in a language community in Edmonton. Students in both routes will put their study to practice in the greater Edmonton community through community service-learning opportunities. The program culminates in a capstone course where students will synthesize their learning into a project directed by their unique perspectives and interests. The program better aligns with our new graduate program structure and makes for an overall unified department, showcasing our disciplinary strengths while maintaining our unique excellence in our individual programs. The proposal will now go through the approval process with the Government of Alberta. We expect to welcome students into the MLCS Major in Fall 2019.
A final note in closing: as a department focused on the research and teaching of cultures, we also must be committed to continually educating ourselves on and fighting for equity, diversity, and inclusivity. This fall, MLCS department members crafted a statement to confirm this commitment. Read the English version of our statement here, along with a growing list of translations.
Dr. Carrie Smith
Chair, Department of Modern Languages & Cultural Studies
University of Alberta