International Languages & Cultures’ Centre Francophone: Off to an Auspicious Start

Webster University French students read children's book -- in French --to students of St. Louis Immersion Schools.
Webster student John Davis reads a children’s book — in French — to students of St. Louis Immersion Schools. John, along with fellow students Nora Benedict, center, and Fatou Thiam, were volunteers in an after-school program.

One of the directives of the Jane and Bruce Robert Endowed Professorship in French and Francophone Studies is that the holder of the professorship should promote French and Francophone culture at Webster University and in St. Louis.

It’s a mission that Lionel Cuillé, the inaugural Robert Professor, embraced wholeheartedly on his arrival at Webster University and the Department of International Languages & Cultures in fall 2012. In cooperation with French Professor Emily Thompson, Cuillé started making plans for the Centre Francophone. He engaged graphic design students to create a logo; he used professorship funds to schedule speakers and to co-sponsor French films; he arranged to take his knowledge—and that of Webster’s French students—into the community.

Centre Francophone logo
The Centre Francophone logo was designed by Webster University graphic design students.

Logo designed by Webster students

The Centre Francophone logo is the work of Webster students Kelly Goode and Katelin Hull. Members of Associate Professor of Art Noriko Yuasa’s fall 2012 “Advanced Graphic Design” class, the pair took part in a competition to design a logo for the new center.

Cuillé said the winning logo captured the vibrancy that he hopes will become a hallmark of the Centre Francophone. The logo’s colorful, convex lines represent Air France flight patterns coming out of Paris, he explained, and also suggest the St. Louis Arch.

“The students even created their own typeface,” Cuillé said. “Everything they did was thought through.”

Cuillé said the purpose of the logo is to help create a sense of community among Webster University French students and St. Louis area residents who want to learn more about French and Francophone culture. The same is true of the center’s Facebook page.

Highlights from the center’s first semester

Highlights from the center’s first semester include French anthropologist Michel Agier’s Oct. 29 talk, “Humanitarian Government as the Postcolonial and Compassionate Side of Globalization,” and a Nov. 1 presentation by memory expert Pascale Michelon on increasing brain health and boosting memory. The center also co-sponsored two French films during November’s St. Louis International Film Festival: The Other Josephine and Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os).

Lionel Cuille
Lionel Cuillé

The Centre Francophone also provided the means for French students to be guests at a French restaurant and to see a French movie as well as a French play, “We try to spoil our French students at Webster,” Cuillé laughed.

However, students also gave back to the community by reading children’s books — in French — to young students of the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools. The project continues in 2013.

Cuillé, too, is taking his talents into the community. Last semester, he conducted a workshop on Jacques Prévert’s poetry for area high school teachers (Sept. 26). This semester, he will participate in a panel about French painter Georges Braques at Washington University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (March 7) and again will present a workshop for local teachers. In addition, he contributed to a pending dual-credit partnership in French with a local high school.

Cuillé and Thompson will also continue noontime French conversation hours for staff and faculty. The discussion groups are held each Wednesday in the Emerson Library. (Check at the reference desk for location.)

Leila models tee-shirt.
Leila Mana, French teaching assistant, models the new Centre Francophone tee-shirt.

Upcoming schedule includes talk by Pascal Quignard

The Centre Francophone schedule for the first part of 2013 includes the March 1 launch of the Literalité website, which will review contemporary French poetry, and talks by French writers. Novelist Arno Bertina will speak on March 5; Pascal Quignard, considered the greatest living French writer, will speak on March 23 in Moore Auditorium. (Details will be available soon in Webster Today.)

Still in the planning stages are a short-term study abroad course for summer 2014 and Cuillé’s fall 2013 course on human rights from a French perspective. Cuillé said the course will help fulfill the human rights component of the Robert Professorship — as did the October 2012 talk by Doctors Without Borders member Michel Agier.

Cuillé noted that Webster University has given him freedom to be innovative in his new role. Along with the Robert Professorship’s financial assistance, that latitude has allowed the center to accomplish much in a short time.

“Our hope is that the Centre Francophone will continue to enhance the intellectual lives of our students and to enable us to reach out to the surrounding community,” said Cuillé. “In fact, we hope the best is yet come.”

For more information about the Centre Francophone: