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Romance and Classical Studies
Newsletter 2016
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Welcome to the 2016 Newsletter! We have condensed all of the information from last year's newsletter onto one page to make it accessible for anyone on the site. Scroll down to see what members of the RCS department were up to last year!


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Letter From the Chair

Dear Friends of RCS,

We welcome this opportunity and venue for contacting you and reestablishing what we hope is an ongoing connection. Whatever language you studied, we hope that you remember the excitement and discovery that come with speaking, reading, and writing in a different language and the identification you gained with the rich culture and history of the peoples who developed that language. I’m now finishing my tenth month as Interim Chairperson and my 15th year as a chairperson of three different departments. Now in my mid-70s, I find this work exciting and energizing for three reasons: the students, the faculty, and the Wells Hall support staff. 

The energy and enthusiasm of students are a constant of academic and social life, and professors rely on it to propel studies forward. The RCS language clubs are active organizations with lively leadership planning and staging interactive events that bring the French, Spanish, and Italian clubs together and separate club events that foster the identity and solidarity of a group committed to a second language. The Graduate Student Association and TROPOS united together under a new constitution in 2015 so as to better coordinate activities and events and to provide for unified leadership. The 16th TROPOS Graduate Conference In October 2016 promises to be an exciting intellectual and social event. Other GSA/TROPOS events have included a live drama with RCS graduate students as the actors and a film series and discussion symposium. With some level of revenues coming to the department from its online courses, RCS is able to support the language clubs and the graduate student organization with more funds, and it has been a pleasure to see them respond with activities and events that have enriched the experiences of their members and the department.

Keeping up with the publications, honors, professional activities, awards and recognition of the RCS faculty is one of the great pleasures of being a chairperson. Department faculty are active and visible in many countries as they carry out research and creative projects and are recognized for their contributions to other cultures and cultural enterprises. I encourage you to check the department website regularly to follow the stories involving faculty and students. The website is kept up-to-date and current, and the department is justly proud of it as a window on our world and a documentation of what we celebrate and acknowledge as important to our vital growth. I encourage you to also read the Vision Statement on the website as it articulates the directions and goals for the future. 

Douglas A. Noverr
Interim Chairperson

Faculty Spotlights

It's not a surprise our student Spartans are so driven and talented when we look at what the faculty who teach them is doing during the academic year. All while instructing an insane amount of classes and inspiring second language and culture acquisition, these faculty members are taking on amazing and exciting adventures that all demand grueling hours of work! From making movies, to writing books, to research that takes them around the world, our faculty prove each and everyday that having them here on the banks of the Red Cedar is a victory for MSU!

First off, we would like to mention 2016 Faculty Awards!

Rocio Award (002).jpgRocío Quispe-Agnoli, Professor of Spanish, 2016 Faculty Leadership Award, College of Arts and Letters Michigan State University. This award seeks to recognize, honor and reward the kind of leadership that embraces collaboration and joint deliberation, facilitates active and deliberate problem-solving, and engages in goal-setting, and consensus development. 


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Valentina Denzel, Assistant Professor of French, 2016 Innovation & Leadership Award for Faculty, College of Arts and Letters Michigan State University.



Safoi Babana-Hampton, French


hmong.jpgIn 2015, Safoi Babana-Hampton led the translational documentary project "Hmong
Memory at the Crossroads," where she filled the roles of producer, executive producer, director, videographer and screenwriter. An MSU production, this documentary was produced in partnership with Humanities Without Walls (HWW) Consortium, based at Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The documentary was co-sponsored by the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, the College of Arts and Letters, the Department of Romance and Classical Studies, Asian Studies Center, the Department of English and the Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities.
Safoi worked collaboratively with a diverse team of established researchers from various disciplines in the US and France, including co-directors MSU professor Swarnavel Eswaran-Pillai and French filmmaker Cyril Payen, researchers from MSU and the HWW Consortium, from the Lansing area, and from the Hmong community in the US and France.
Set in the United States, France and Laos, the documentary tells the story of Liachoua Lee, a Hmong-American from Rochester Hills, Michigan, who revisits his past as a former refugee and son of Hmong veterans of the French Indochina War (1946-1954) and of the American Secret War in Laos (1961-1975). Lee’s story begins in Detroit, Michigan, then takes him to France, a place where he and his family sought asylum before immigrating to America, and ends in an emotional return to the homeland Laos for the first time in 40 years.
By featuring Lee’s journey of remembrance of his refugee history and of the emotional scars left by the war, the film seeks to explore the way the process of remembering legacies of global past conflicts informs and enables present efforts to build more reconciled, just and stronger communities and shape Hmong diasporic identities in the United States and France.


Anna Norris, French

anna link.jpgProfessor Anna Norris offers us an explanation about the research project she and a couple students have been working on throughout this academic year. "This project focuses on the numerous visual testimonies given by French women Holocaust survivors to the Los Angeles based project Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and the Paris based Mémorial de la Shoah. Most survivors were led to various transit camps on the French soil before being sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück, Malchow, Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt, or Leipzig. Those who were not deported worked for various French Jewish Resistance organizations. If these testimonies often reiterate what we have come to learn about deportation, they also shed light on some lesser known facts about the deportation of Jews from France, and little research has been done in the field of Holocaust studies about French survivors. I am interested in the specificity of these testimonies in the context of post-WII France and the gendered view offered by these accounts, an issue that is still controversial among scholars of the holocaust."


Saul Gouveia, Portuguese

Saulo Gouveia (1).jpgMy current research project focuses on contemporary ecodystopian fiction from the three Americas. I intend the final product to be a book manuscript. The topic and the scope of this current project represent an expansion of my primary area of focus on Brazilian literature. Since the project encompasses representations of environmental degradation on a global scale, I am moving away from approaches based on individual authors or on the national/regional origin of each text. In light of this shift, I am organizing this project according to three thematic modules (“History,” “Nature,” and “Science”) as they are represented in the novels in contrast to conventional definitions and representations of such themes. Some of the authors I am working with include Ignácio Brandão, Paolo Bacigalupi, Margaret Atwood, Rafael Pinedo, and Homero Aridjis.

The novels I am analyzing fit loosely into recently coined labels such as “Cli-Fi” or “Anthropocene novels,” as they prefigure a future in which humanity’s impact on the planet’s environment reached a tipping point. Therefore, the concept of the Anthropocene, originally proposed by Nobel-winning scientist, Paul Crutzen, to account for the current status of humanity as a geological force is the most appropriate as a framework for my analysis.

One of the many implications of the Anthropocene to literary criticism is the need for a non-anthropocentric perspective. This requires a move away from conventional, humanistic, representations of history. The widening of historical perspective allows for a reflection on the collision between the short-term human history and the long-term natural history, which in spite of their disproportionate temporalities, become irrevocably intertwined in this new geological epoch. An ecocritical approach to literature that incorporates the concept of the Anthropocene also has to account for nonhuman history. Most of the novels I analyze incorporated this historical concept well before it became recognized and discussed in academic and non-academic settings, thus illustrating how far ahead fiction writers can be of others. These are the central conceptual features and topics that frame my reading of these texts.

Danny Méndez, Spanish

mendez_headshot_01-2.jpgProfessor Méndez shares some very exciting news from his endeavors outside of teaching: "I just completed a chapter titled, “Fictive Identities on a Diasporic Ethnic Stage: A ‘Modern Girl’ Consumed in Dominican Beauty Pageants” that will appear in the fall in an edited collection titled, The Postcolonial World (Routledge 2016) edited by Jyotsna G. Singh and David D. Kim. Find below a brief description of this chapter:

In this chapter Mendez follows the trajectories of postcolonial desires within a global modernity by exploring the ethnic and national identity formations as they are mediated in the embodied practices of beauty pageants: here the curious phenomena of twin or sister beauty pageants for contestants from the Dominican Republic, the Miss Dominican Republic U.S. Pageant produced from and for the large Dominican diaspora, and Miss Dominican Republic Universe pageant held in Santo Domingo, the place of origin. The background to these pageants, as Mendez demonstrates, emerges from the legacy of colonization in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti), accompanied by complex racial, ethnic, and cultural mixing and mixtures, which have spilled over into the large Dominican diaspora in the US. Problematizing “diaspora,” a key transnational term of the postcolonial aftermath, this chapter asks: Who is the real Dominican? What kinds of global desires and criteria for beauty are being produced by these pageants in the two locations?  The body of the Dominican beauty pageant contestant is part of a pageant circuit is paved by global capital within modernity. On the one hand she is the “Modern Girl,” a female figure of transnational desire, who is a “historical agent incorporating elements from disparate locations,” on the other hand, the diasporic beauty contestant must prove her “pure” ethnicity as a Dominican who belongs to the country of origin, the Dominican Republic, whose national credentials are intertwined with colonialism and its aftermath.

Rocio Quispe-Agnoli, Spanish

This academic year I have continued working on two major topics that are finally coming to a meeting point: Indigenous women’s representations in their own writings and visual-literary intertextuality. My recently finished book  (Nobles de papel, in press, Iberoamericana Vervuert), the edition of “Mirrors and Mirages: Woman’s Gaze as motif in Hispanic Letters” a special monographic issue of CIEHL: Cuaderno Internacional de Estudios Humanísticos y Literatura (U of Puerto Rico, Humacao, in collaboration with M. C. André, Hope College), and the publication of two articles on De Bry’s  visual and written representation of Peru’s llamas in the late 1500s (Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana), and oral, visual, and written narratives of Indigenous Elite women (The Cambridge History of Latin American Women Writers) lead the way for my current project: Self-fashioning of Inca Noblewomen through  their writings and portraits. The corpus for this study includes legal documents (petitions, proofs of merits, proofs of nobility, last wills) and personal letters produced by women of the Inca elite and noble mestizas between 1550 and 1800.  The main ideas to be examined include gender roles in Pre-Hispanic Andes; from coyas to doñas: speaking Spanish and thinking in Quechua; Inca lineage and genealogical discourses; motherhood and Christian charity; poverty and misery; and between collaboration and rebellion. [Below: Letter by Francisca Pizarro, noble mestiza (1560s)]

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I also plan to revisit my IAH 203 course “Native Latin America” where I explore with students the development of native societies of Latin America prior to 1492 and what happened with these societies (Aztecs in Mexico and Incas in Peru) when they clashed with European peoples, technologies, ideologies, and belief systems. 

Tianquiztli 1.jpgReadings and discussions focus mainly on indigenous narratives. An IAH-FLC focused on interdisciplinarity this year has opened the opportunity to start a collaboration with MSU Planetarium to develop 2 teaching modules on Aztec and Inca religious beliefs and cosmology.   For instance, Mayas, Aztecs and Incas had a variety of myths to explain the origin and shapes of stars and constellations, and their influence on their daily and communal lives. The constellation known as the Pleiades was revered in all these societies. For the Incas, they were influential in the life cycles of animals and plants. The Aztecs called them Tianquiztli (“marketplace”) and the Mayas based the sacred calendar Tzolk’in on the cycle of the Pleiades. The worship of the stars and seeing the sky through Inca and Aztec eyes are one of the few aspects of Native Latin America that survived the European conquest and colonization.


Bill VanPatten, Spanish

bvp1.JPGThis year Professor Bill VanPatten, who teaches Spanish here at MSU headlined a brand new venture, a talk show, Tea with BVP! The weekly event, which is later archived to be listened to whenever you'd like in the future on SoundCloud, discusses second language teaching and acquisition! Professor VanPatten, along with Professor Walter Hopkins and Angelika Kraemer, meet weekly to discuss specific topics regarding second languages, and hear input from callers alike!


Undergraduate Spotlights


This year, Department of Romance & Classical Studies has been a part of many exciting events. These events are those which help students understand the importance of studying, how to a degree from our department can be used in the real world, and the job possibilities there are abroad! These are some of our favorites!


Unpacking Study Abroad!

unpackin3.jpgThis event brought up the question, "I've studied abroad, now what?" Through sharing their experiences of studying abroad with other students who were also just returning from studying abroad, and advisors, students learned the best way to talk about their experiences that could benefit them in the future. 

individual.jpg'My ATM card got eaten and I was no where near a bank in a country I could hardly speak the language in,' becomes 'I'm resourceful in stress inducing situations and am able to think quickly on my feet.' Any situation can be swung in a direction that an employer wants to hear, and this event helped students understand and learn how to transform the events in their head. As well as offer and fun and insightful environment where you can share and hear adventures from all of the world!

Language Works!

IMG_0806.jpgThis exciting event was held in October and had a group of Alums return to share where their degree from CAL has gotten them in the employment world. Including Lea Hiliker, BA in Spanish, and Jordan Rotter, BA in French. This event offered a short discussion where panelist briefly described their jobs and how their degree helped them get to where there are today. 


This was followed by opening the floor up to questions where students in attendance were able to pose questions either to a specific panelist or all of them in general about the job market, about how to market yourself with a language degree, and other topics the panelist had plenty of experience in!



Teaching Abroad!

abroad.jpgThis February event once again brought together Spartan Alums who studied a language on the banks of the Red Cedar. This event was more specific to those wishing to Teach Abroad at some point in their lives or to know what valor teaching abroad would have if their end goal wasn't teaching. The panelist format was used once again, and this time we were lucky enough to Skype in Joe Cornacchio from CIS Education which is a company that helps place language teachers around the world! The panelists offered a variation of advice and experience which was very good for all of the attendees to here whether their future goals involved teaching or not! 


International Coffee Hour & The Amazing Race!

This year, the department helped our three main language clubs, Spanish, French & Italian, host two events. One in the Fall semester, the other later in the Spring semester. In the Fall, International Coffee Hour offered a relaxing environment where students and faculty alike gathered over snacks and drinks to get to know each other.

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In the Spring, the clubs were brought back together and held an Amazing Race event. At this event, each club at booths set up with culturally inquisitive tasks for the participants who, if completed the tasks on time, would receive a ticket to put into the drawing for Starbucks gift cards! The fast paced event was fun for faculty and students alike!

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Student Awards

Award Recipient
Dr. Johannes Sachse Memorial Award (Graduate Student) Lucie Lecocq-Aussignargues
Dorothy Carr Houvener Memorial Scholarship (Undergrad Student)  Patrick Kegan Cochrane, Alissa Lyon, Ashley Davis, Emma Dunn
Hermann H. Thornton Award 
(Undergrad Student)
Joshua Steffes-Golnick
Outstanding Student in French
(Undergrad Student)
Dan Dapkus
Outstanding Teaching Assistant in French (Graduate Student) Sophie Brunau
Laurence Porter
(Graduate Student)
Jack Weyhrich


Award Recipient
Arthur & Huguette Sirianni Award
(Undergrad Student)                  
Ky'onna Anderson, Colin Craddock, Pietra Herrero-Pincinato, Anthony Mandalari, Ryan Naughton, Desiree Quinn, Julian Quiroga, Lina Wang
Outstanding Student in Italian
(Undergrad Student)                                                    
Aaron Louis Oom
Gamma Kappa Alpha-Honor Society in Italian
(Undergrad Student)
Aaron Louis Oom, Andrew James Pomaville, Kenneth Crotty


Award Recipient
Outstanding Student in Portuguese
(Undergrad student)
Yun Zhang


Award Recipient
Dr. Johannes Sachse Memorial Award
(Graduate Student)
Claudia Berrios-Campos
Ella Cowles Award
(Undergrad Student)
Jordan Jennings
Mary F. Klapperich Memorial Scholarship
(Undergrad Student)
Kyle Latack, Emma McGinn
Outstanding Student in Spanish
(Undergrad Student)
Garrett Zuk
Outstanding Contributor Award
(Graduate Student)
Osvaldo Sandoval
Outstanding Teaching Assistant in Spanish
(Graduate Student)
Jonathan Montalvo


Language Clubs

We are very proud to have an active student body here at Michigan State. Community outreach, fundraising, and sharing of a new culture are all some of the activities these clubs accomplish throughout an academic year. Participating in clubs helps students get a wider variety of experiences in their new languages with other students and faculty they have been yet to meet! Here are some of the highlights from the year!


Michigan State French Club


This year, the French Club has had their hands full with many thrilling events! Kicking off the year, we held a welcome back picnic for students and faculty, and introduced ourselves to incoming students who were interested in French Club. Throughout Fall Semester, we held a crêpe making night where French Professor Anne Violin-Wigent came to show our club how to make a proper french crêpe. We also participated in the departments International Coffee Hour with the Spanish and Italian Clubs, where students and faculty alike mingled and got to know who all was in the department! After the devastating attacks in Paris in November, we held a memorial service at the Rock on Farmington Ln to commemorate everyone effected. As the semester ended, we held a final member meeting where those who had received enough points to become an official French Club member were inducted! This Spring semester we have had a movie night with Graduate student Virginie who 12247868_1019262918095868_5139001637393860833_o.jpgpresented the work of Michel Ocelot. As the semester came to an end, we had a fundraiser with Velvet on Grand River! It's been a very exciting year and we're looking forward to another one next year!



Michigan State Spanish Club

12935366_888188607958887_1691652683_n.jpgThis year, we had a lot going on. We started with craft nights in which we made various traditional crafts, like paper cut outs for day of the dead in November, we also had a scavenger hunt in Spanish where the students had to find various places around campus based on instructions given in Spanish, and even a movie/ study night before finals to get everyone together and relax or work on homework together.

dance.jpgWe also had a volunteer event at Pinecrest Elementary where we went and worked with the students on crafts as a club, we had a Tango night where we had the students in charge of the club come in and teach our members the basic steps, and we also had traditional food night where we took our members to the Cancun Mexican Grille in Okemos, as well as having out own cooking nights.



Michigan State Italian Club

The MSU Italian Club meets once a week to practice their Italian and learn about the culture of Italy. They have hosted showings of Italian movies, Bocce Ball tournaments, a fundraiser and game nights. They also helped to organize the Amazing Race event this semester with the French and Spanish clubs. Most of these students have studied abroad in Italy or plan to in the future, and many of them are pursuing a Minor in Italian.



Student Experiences

Leah Brzyski, Study Abroad in Valencia, Spain

Leah Brzyski.jpegThis summer I was fortunate to spend over two months in the beautiful city of Valencia, Spain. Having never traveled outside of the country, it was an incredible first-time experience for me, and one that I will surely never forget. In Valencia, I lived with a host family and took daily Spanish classes covering topics such as poetry, current issues, and peninsular literature, and truly fell in love with the beauty of the Spanish language. My daily 40 minute walk to the university allowed me to not only explore the vibrant city life of Valencia but to also feel completely immersed in the Spanish language and culture. Speaking more Spanish than English for the first time in my life, my proficiency improved exponentially, and upon returning to MSU I was able to pass my fluency test to be able to teach.

group.jpgWhile in Valencia, I also performed with the Eastman BroadBand in the opening year of the VIPA festival and premiered several pieces of composer and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon. Through this experience I was introduced to so many talented musicians and to the exciting new world of contemporary music. Over the several days of rehearsal at the Conservatorio Superior de Musica de Valencia, I was able to coach with Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and conductor Tim Weiss and was overwhelmed with their insight and incredible musicianship. Finally performing for the VIPA festival at the Centro Cultural del Carmen on my last day in Spain was the perfect ending to my study abroad experience, and hopefully just the beginning of my travels to Spain.


Sarah McCabe, Study Abroad in Tours, France

sarah m.jpgThis Spring Semester, sophomore Sarah McCabe is studying abroad in Tours, France at L'Universitée de François Rabelais. Sarah says "I wanted to study abroad because it's always been a goal of mine to go to France and I wanted to experience the language and learn it as it purely is and not secondhand."  Since being in France, Sarah has had to opportunity to experience it, seeing landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the art works in the Louvre, as well as getting to experience the accessibility of travel in Europe by going to the Swiss Alps! No doubt Sarah is showing France how to live like a Spartan! 


Study Abroad in Ecuador

This past year, some lucky RCS Students went on MSU's study abroad in Ecuador. Some of these students were Skylar Taylor, Lauren Russell, Abbey Gruber, and Andrea Thoman. We could tell you how much fun they had, but why don't you just click the video below and see for yourself!


2015 Study Abroad Essay Contest

The RCS Family proudly claimed two victories within the 2015 Study Abroad Essay Contest. Now alum, John Nowack (pictured on the left), and double major in Spanish and Music, won first prize for his on essay on his study abroad in Santander, Spain. And in second place, French Club President, Jackie Guzman (pictured to the right with President LouAnna K Simon) won for her essay about her study abroad in Costa Rica.


Click here to learn more and read John and Jackie's letters!