Jan 18th, 2017, 03:51 PM

Humans of AUP: Celeste Schenck

By Zipporah Alcaraz
Image Credit: Emma Wheat
"If there’s any way to achieve world peace, if there’s any way to come to meaningful co-existence with people who are different from ourselves, that’s going to happen through education."

"My father was Russian and my mother was Canadian with an Irish background. They were 21 years apart in age. Both were naturalized American citizens and we moved to France when I was ten. So I was a third-country kid. I think that built into my parents' marriage, and their world view was a citizen-of-the-world thing. Neither of them were religious. They believed in cultivating cultural differences and investing in travel and education and being open to those differences that are interesting between people who are different from one another. They were constantly negotiating with their own cultural differences and so I grew up in a family that, looking back now upon it, set me on this course. It makes complete sense to me that I would end up in France and that I would lead a very diverse educational institution, given the background that I come from."

Image Credit: William Graves

"I was the kind of person who organized all the neighborhood children into this little workshop we had behind our garage and I was teaching before I was even 10 years old. I think that was just in my bones from the beginning, and I never questioned that my path was towards a career in college teaching. To that extent, I’m not like your generation. You’re going to be changing careers five times, six times over your lifetime. I just came out of college at the right moment. There were university jobs for people who hadn’t even finished a doctoral dissertation yet. I think I hadn’t finished my thesis when I started teaching at Barnard College, and I was lucky enough to teach the first women’s study course offered at Columbia and Barnard and to be part of the second wave of the women's movement as it was getting into its rhythm in the academy. So it was a natural progression. Teaching is very satisfying work. It’s very gratifying at the moment, as well as with the years. It’s not like you have to wait a long time to see the impact on students' lives, their confidence, their intellectual curiosity, and so it’s very deeply satisfying work. I miss teaching every day."

“I was invited to a cocktail party, a Christmas party. There were three AUP faculty members there and one of them, Margery Safir, said, “You really should be teaching at AUP.” A couple of weeks later, I started teaching a course on Women Writers and Freud in AUP's Comparative Literature department and I’ve never looked back.”

“When I got to AUP, I completely had to remake myself as a teacher, and I had to unlearn a lot of what I knew about teaching. At Barnard, all my students were exactly like me. They were all sort of feminist daughters of feminist mothers. They had read the same texts. They came from the same backgrounds. It was a very homogeneous body at the time, and when I got to AUP, I was dealing with all these linguistic differences and differences in educational background. So I think that was the really big turning point in my academic life or in my life as a teacher, which was adapting to such a different environment here. I had to try to create a present moment in the classroom; a moment that wasn’t reliant on everybody having read the same background texts, but where people could meet over a challenging literary work and we could find some common ground. So that’s what I really love about teaching in the AUP classroom. I think it’s a gift to those of us lucky enough to teach here.”

Image Credit: The American University of Paris

"There were plenty of ways for us to throw our youthful commitment behind causes that felt really important and it felt groundbreaking to us, and it felt politically really important to us."

"I was lucky enough to be in high school in the late 60's, at the time of the student revolutions. That vast shift in our culture took place around 1968 and brought together the anti-war movement, the student revolutions and the workers' revolutions here in France, and other things that came together in multiple countries around the world. It was a really hopeful time to come of age as a very young person in my first years in college and, of course, that was also the moment when the civil rights movement was happening, when the women’s movement was happening. It would be followed later by other kinds of human liberation movements, so there was a sense of hopefulness."

Image Credit: Luke Shepard

"I and a number of my contemporaries made the choice to be involved in marches and hunger strikes, and in various ways, on our campuses, we were able to participate in that and bear witness to the feeling that our country was on the wrong track. We assembled peacefully and resisted. There certainly were a lot of things associated with the women's movement. The year 1974 was Roe vs Wade, the amendment to the constitution that guarantees a woman's right to abortion in our country. I was in college at that moment, and there were demonstrations and marches on Washington. There were all kinds of ways that you could participate in making your political views felt as regards to a woman's right to her decisions about her own body. We felt we had agency and the capacity to change things."

"When I arrived at AUP in the late 80's, I felt I had come home ... When I got here, I realized this university was filled with people like me."

"I was in the third class of women at Princeton in the early 70's, a time when that institution was actually a rather conservative patriarchal institution, probably more so than Yale or Harvard, which both went co-ed at the same moment. There were very few of us on campus, so there was an even more intense feeling of the women there banding together to do things for the first time; to begin sports teams, to infiltrate the Princetonian, which was the school newspaper, and just to find and occupy our own space. All those things came together to make it a time when I felt I had political agency."

Image Credit: William Graves

"Did I feel that I fit at that university? Probably not. That’s one of the reasons why I talk a lot about finding a university where you fit. I think the fit is the single most important thing about choosing a college. We know that employers don’t really care, a year or two out of college, where you went to school, and they’re not really looking at your GPA either. They’re looking at all kinds of other things. So I think the most important thing is finding a school where you can find your tribe; where you can find people who are inspiring to you; where you can find friends that feel like you’re going to have them for life. I don’t necessarily think there was a really good fit for me and Princeton for lots of reasons. Maybe the fact that women didn’t really have a place there yet. Maybe the fact that at the time it was a more conservative university, and less diverse, than some of the other ones I could have gone to. When I arrived at AUP in the late 80's, I felt I had come home. My loyalty is so much more to AUP than any place where I went to college or graduate school. When I got here, I realized this university was filled with people like me."