New French professor to bring French Indigenous literature to campus

On the same day Julien Defraeye successfully defended his PhD dissertation, he accepted a job offer from St. Thomas University.

Defraeye completed his PhD at the University of Waterloo in April and started as an assistant professor in the French Department in the fall.

“I was just, talking [with] friends, enjoying a few beers after the defence. And then I just got the email from St. Thomas saying, look, ‘You got the job. You want it?’ That’s a good day.”

While teaching at STU, Defraeye said he’s trying to find time to work on his research about Indigenous French literature in Quebec.

“It keeps growing, it keeps getting more and more attention, and I’m trying to see what we can learn from Indigenous literature and their representation of the natural world through literature.”

He said his research is in the early stages but he hopes to be able to offer a course on Indigenous French literature in the fall of 2021.

“It takes a lot of thinking as well and preparing, because as a white male, I’m going to be teaching about Indigenous literature and most likely, women authors. That too is something to think about, the way to approach it.”

He said STU is supportive of his research and they gave him funding which he said is an unexpected surprise.

“It’s really good to see the amount of support and the amount of financial support that we can get from such a small university.”

Defraeye said after teaching at larger universities throughout his academic career, coming to STU was a big change.

He’d previously taught classes at universities around Ontario such as Brock University, the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier.

“You’d have 75 to 80 students and you’d try to get them engaged in what you’re doing. You’re supposed to get them to talk but when you’re teaching a class that’s an hour and twenty minutes and you have eighty students, if you let them speak that’s one minute per student. That’s impossible.”

He said engagement at STU is much easier. He’s able to hold class discussions and he finds the students are involved.

Since coming to STU, Defraeye has helped some of his students form St. Thomas University’s French Society.

The society had its first event last week which included food, dancing and practicing French language skills.

“I wanted to start something but it’s their club. We started it and I tried to just help them with finances, rules and writing the constitution and all that was a fair bit of paperwork just to make it official.”

Defraeye said the biggest challenge he’s had since coming to STU is teaching both Anglophone and Francophone students.

He said finding a way to teach something interesting but not too challenging for the Anglophones while ensuring Francophones are engaged and learning something new can be difficult.

“The dynamic between those two groups is a big challenge, when you’re teaching French in New Brunswick, but it’s going well. I think students are amazing here.”

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