Sep 12th, 2017, 11:22 PM

Humans of AUP: Susan Perry

By Elizabeth Nguyen Son
Susan Perry, American University of Paris
"The one thing I want students to take away from my class, regardless of whether they end up in law, is empathy for other humans."

"I arrived at AUP in the fall semester of 1988, which makes this my 30th year at AUP. I have taken just one sabbatical. I ended up at AUP by complete and utter accident. I had just gotten married and finished my employment contract in China. I was sitting at a café, just reading the International Herald Tribune at Café de Flore. I remember it was a Thursday and I was looking at the job offerings in Paris. I ended up answering two job ads that day, one as an English teacher for Jacques Chirac and one as a professor at AUP. I got both. And you know where I ended up. I always wanted to be a teacher from a very young age. Most people in my family thought I’d teach kindergarten because I love children. But I think humans of all ages are interesting. I have an incredible range of human minds to interact with in my classes, ranging from the age of eighteen to about sixty."

"Teaching is something I’ve always known I wanted to do. School must have been a very formative experience for me. My father was a scientist when I was growing up. Which was why I am so interested in technology. He trained as an electrical engineer and has patents on printers. Today, we’re using 3D printers based on some of his designs from the 1970’s. My son is 27 years old and is getting his Ph.D. at Sciences Po. He's studying to become an academic actually... He was always very scholarly but I didn't see it coming. My husband has an advanced law degree, so my son definitely grew up in a human rights environment. Human rights were not prevalent in the seventies, but my husband was a dedicated volunteer at Amnesty International, which opened a door for me to a new way thinking. He now runs a small and very ethical business."

"I run eight to eighteen kilometers a week to counterbalance all the reading I do."

"My first year at AUP, I taught Chinese politics, I still do. My Ph.D. research was on the Sino-American trade policy. I eventually decided to pursue an international human rights law degree from Oxford through a program they designed for professionals. I was very busy. I had a kid, chaired the department, and had a full-time job here at AUP, plus a lot of reading—I get up at 6 am every day to read. I was born in Attleborough, Massachusetts in Southern New England, lived in New Hampshire but went to boarding school, which I found really exciting. I was very provincial. I was a voracious, compulsive reader and learned how to read at the age of four - self-taught, and never ever looked back. I run eight to eighteen kilometers a week to counterbalance all the reading I do. I read at least one book a week."

"I completed my undergraduate degree at Brown University where I was able to start my studies on Chinese politics, then spent a year in Paris where I continued with Chinese politics. I ended up at Yale University for graduate school where I did an MA in East Asian studies, before being sent to China for two years. My trajectory at the time was China, but my husband was French so I ended up in France after my time in China. China is where I cut my teeth on human rights, though. I was committed to the rights of my friends and colleagues in my work unit and did many small things to assist people. I was very interested in Chinese law because by 1985 China had signed and ratified almost two international human rights treaties—well, the second one was almost ratified. I had never lived in an authoritarian state so I learned to value democracy. After I had been living in France for 20 years, I wanted to vote, and the only way I could vote on all levels was to take up French citizenship. I learned the language and became a French citizen in 2006."

"I’m interested in the abstract human rights, but also the real concrete quality of life issues—I’m interested in every human count at this point."

"We have set up a small, informal AUP working group of alumni and faculty planning to run for office. One is even considering to run for head of state, while I remain committed to municipal politics as mayor of my borough (6e arrondissement). We are currently putting together an informal working group and it is getting a lot of email interest. Over time, I've developed a large, local contact network from the mairie. I’m also very involved in environmental causes, such as greening the boulevard Raspail by creating a garden walking route. I have learned how to raise funds for a local association that I preside to render everyone’s quality of life better. I’m interested in the abstract human rights, but also the real concrete quality of life issues — every human counts at this point. Every human, even every tree counts in this city, basically. I’m struggling to set up communal gardens for the 6th, for example, I’m getting nowhere but hope to eventually succeed. I would like us to grow food for the soup kitchen. You can’t imagine the political intricacies though. But give us five to ten years and we’ll do it."

"AUP has changed and not changed. It’s irremediably, wonderfully international. The staff has tripled in size since digital technology has required increasing levels of staff support. Student services and campus have evolved in a positive way. The faculty's dedication to their students and the institution has not changed - it is incredible. I see one former student a week for lunch on average. The tie between students and professors at AUP is deep—very deep—and that’s why I’ve stayed; because I think it's exceptional."

"It is a very unstable time globally, but this presents an opportunity for AUP students because they are able to think across boundaries. Everyone’s been impacted by the 2008 recession. If you don’t know what you want to do, get a job any job and volunteer in the sector you want to work in. I often speak to students who are very frustrated. If you are not volunteering, you’re not getting the experience you need to get to the top of an interviewing process. The one thing I want students to take away with them from my class, regardless of whether they end up in law, is empathy for other humans. We all have the same rights, we all share something. How do we balance everybody’s rights in society? You have to keep trying. Polite, civil, and reasoned disobedience is a very important part of citizenship."

"We all have the same rights, we all share something."

"In today’s world, you need one of three tools: law, economics, or science. And, of course, the arts remain primordial to the human experience. Art speaks to our emotions and you need to understand emotions. Art enables us to imagine how to move forward. The rest are tools to implement what we imagine. You need both. With art, you understand the emotion before you understand the logic. It speaks to you immediately. The tools have to be stable and practiced. You need both."

"My craft is teaching. Everybody needs a métier, mine is teaching. I'm really interested in technology and how to use it. How to frame it to use it ethically and safely. My job is to get you to think about that little microwave you carry around in your pockets. What impact does your cell phone have in your life? Do you use it or does it use you? Every instance of use will count. It is cumulative. We have a moral obligation to think about this."