Two Macalester professors, Joëlle Vitiello and Françoise Denis, recently received the Palmes Académiques award for excellence in French scholarship. They were awarded by Vincent Floreani, the General Consul of France. Floreani travelled from Chicago to the Twin Cities to present the awards at a ceremony at the University Club on Summit Avenue.
According to French Department Chair Juliette Rogers, the award is rarely given out in Minnesota. “Macalester Professor Emerita Virginia Schubert also received the Palmes Academiques,” Rogers said. “That was probably twenty years ago, so it’s a rare event.”
The French government presents the award to distinguished academics and cultural figures. The prestigious award dates back to 1808, when it was instituted by Napoleon as a way to honor those who were promoting French culture. First presented only to French teachers in France, it is now also awarded to scholars in other countries where French is taught.
“It’s a very prestigious award,” Rogers said. “It’s celebrating and honoring faculty who have this great passion for continuing to turn other students on to [the French language and Francophone culture.]”
According to Rogers, the award is given to scholars who go above and beyond the minimum requirements for teaching.
“It’s really for people who have been doing a lot of things, not just in the classroom,” Rogers said. “[Recipients] have been doing things in the community and helping work with [other] teachers.
Rogers said this was definitely the case for Denis and Vitiello.
“For example, Françoise Denis taught French for many years at Macalester, but she also taught at a high school in Minnesota,” Rogers said.
“She taught in Northern Africa, and she taught in her native country of Belgium, so she has taught on three different continents and has taught at all different levels of learning. She really truly wanted to spread the word about French culture, and about Francophone culture too,” Rogers said.
“The same thing is true with Joëlle. She’s worked with Haitian literature and she’s worked with North African literature. She also studies a lot of French culture, so she’s also worked on many continents and has spent almost her entire career here at Macalester. Additionally, she is the president of the American Association of Teachers of French, so she works with high school teachers in Minnesota quite a bit.”
Along with Vitiello and Denis, Christina Selander Bouzouina, of the Alliance Française Mpls/St. Paul, was also presented with the Palmes Académiques. The award recipients went through a rigorous nomination process, which involved letters of recommendation that were sent to the French Embassy in Washington D.C. and then on to the French government, which had the final say in who would receive the honors.
“The award ceremony was really very nice,” Rogers said. “I’m so glad that [Professors Denis and Vitiello] were recognized by the French government because they have really been doing quite a bit for a long time.”