Megan Tinsley

I entered Wellesley in 2003 as an International Relations and French major whose ambition was to work for the European Union. I graduated in 2007 with the same majors, but with a newly discovered passion for postcolonial theory. For that, I credit (or blame!) the French Department.

The first French class I took at Wellesley was The French Press, with Professor Gunther. This was in spring 2004, and during that semester, the French government banned “overt religious symbols” in the classroom. We followed the debate in the French newspapers as we learned about their role as highly politicized reflections and shapers of public opinion. It struck me then that there was something unfamiliar and compelling about the way that religion in general, and Islam in particular, was discussed in the French media. I wanted to know more.

In fall 2005, I took Professor Prabhu’s class on French and Francophone Literature, which broadened my understanding of France as a political and cultural entity tremendously. I learned that there was one island in particular, La Réunion, that was legally French, but where the racial, religious, cultural, and even linguistic signifiers of Frenchness were remarkably different from the metropolis. 

The following semester, I joined the Wellesley-in-Aix program, where I used my free time to talk to my French peers—and it seemed that everyone was talking about the racial and religious boundaries of France. This was only a few months after the uprising in the Parisian banlieue, and there was something in the air: suddenly, everyone was aware that Frenchness was a contested idea. 

I took two wonderful classes that shaped my academic trajectory: one on comparative decolonizations at the fac des lettres, and another on the institutional framework of La Francophonie at the IEP. Upon my return to Wellesley, I undertook an independent study with Professor Datta on the purposes and paradoxes of La Francophonie—as a bulwark against global anglophone hegemony on one hand, and as a means of making marginalized creoles and pidgins invisible on the other. 

The more I learned, the more I became fascinated by the role of the colonial past in shaping the highly fragmented, contested, postcolonial French nation. So, after graduation, I decided to pursue a MSc in Race, Ethnicity, and Postcolonial Studies at the London School of Economics, where I wrote my thesis on the French language and national identity in postcolonial Guinea. 

The next year, I moved to La Réunion to work as an assistante d’anglais because I wanted to know how a former colony—and a highly diverse one—negotiated the relationship between its past as a colony with an economy built on slavery and its present as a fully French département d’outre-mer. 

Ultimately, I ended up back in Boston, as a PhD candidate in Sociology at Boston University. My specialization is postcolonial British and French national identity. I hope to build a career in academia, and I am certain that France will remain a major component of my research agenda.