by Ava LUQUET and Jurek WILLE
Director Turpin: It happens that Olivier Chopin and I, on top of working together, were also friends. I knew he would leave at some point, because he is a genuine academic. I was sad when he announced he was leaving, but I was happy for him because he made the very difficult decision to go somewhere else. And so I said I’ll just take my black board, wipe it clean, and try to find someone who shares the institution’s values, my bizarre sense of humor – at least to a certain extent -, who is a tough worker, has the capacity to be the manager of a big team, to deal with complicated situations, has an academic background, knows the institution, and finally who would bring a bit more gender diversity to the campus direction team. Crystal Cordell Paris perfectly fits the profile I described. She is just as thrilled as we are and as I am, I think, to have her on campus.
This Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
TSP: First of all, we would really like to get to know you better. Please tell us who you are!
Crystal Cordell PARIS: I am originally from the city of Boston. I did my schooling and my undergraduate work there. Then, I did a semester at Sciences Po, in Paris. It was the first time that I was able to “see” my own country, and therefore, in some ways, my own identity, from a radically different perspective. I think that experience of questioning my own national perspective, that I was born with, absolutely changed my life.
In terms of my academic and professional background, I am a specialist in the history of political ideas. As the years went on, I did a lot of teaching in political science. Finally, little by little, I extended my own areas of research. I became interested in the study of emotions in politics, as well as feminist philosophy, feminism; I have done some work in the area of women in sport. So I have a varied academic background.
And then, I joined the administrative team in Menton campus – so the Middle-East/Mediterranean specialization – in January 2018, where I was doing administrative work. I have continued to teach as well, which is an aspect of the job I love. And here I am! In Reims, for this new adventure.
TSP: Do you have any family or pets that moved to Reims with you?
PARIS: Yes! They moved with me, I have a son and my husband, they both made the move with me. I don’t actually have any pets. Maybe that will change here.
TSP: Do you think your son will attend Sciences Po?
PARIS: You know, my son is very good at french, he’s bilingual. Smart kid, smarter than I was at his age. But I can tell already he’s all science, like his dad. I don’t see him at Sciences Po, I see him at an École d’Ingénieurs. Maybe MIT.
TSP: Now that you have been in Reims for a couple of months, how do you like the city so far?
PARIS: I’m enjoying it a lot. Very warm welcome. I miss the sea view we had from the Menton campus, which is still in my mind and in my eyes. The climate here is also very different. But I love the historical feel and presence here, on the campus and in Reims itself. For example, the campus itself is typically what I love about France: this mix of history and modernity. Very very top notch, state-of-the-art equipment, and at the same time the original woodwork in the old library. That mix of history and contemporary architecture is what I find so interesting about Reims.
TSP: So you do prefer the Champagne over the French Riviera?
PARIS: I don’t think I’ve ever drank so much Champagne in my life as I have just in the space of a couple of weeks! This takes some training, we’re used to Limoncello, but I think it is something one can get used to.
TSP: Have you had a Champagne tour already?
PARIS: Not since I’ve been back. I did that, I think, 20 years ago, when I visited Reims as a student, as a tourist. And I hope to do it again!
TSP: Well, you should sign up for the Champagne Tasting Club!
PARIS: Maybe I will, this seems like a good idea!
TSP: You said that you are originally from the Greater Boston area, would you consider yourself a Masshole? If so, can you promise to walk to campus?
[Editor’s note: Massholes are reckless drivers from the state of Massachusetts]
PARIS: [laughs] Boston drivers are known for being quite mad indeed, but Boston drivers are so calm and respectful compared to Nice drivers. So I would say on a scale from 1 to 10, I would say I am a 10 in terms of being a very respectful driver.
TSP: RedSox or Patriots?
PARIS: When I was a kid, I followed the sports teams of the area religiously. I actually remember, I was 6 years old and there was a player on the Red Sox called Bill Buckner. During a World Series game, he was a first base man, he famously let a ball go right through his legs. I was 6 and I remember that still. I grew up watching Roger Clemens, and I followed the Celtics as well. Your first time in Fenway park, seeing the Green Monster, that was an amazing experience. So I would definitely say Red Sox. There is nothing that can replace the experience of Fenway park and having your first piece of pizza as you’re watching this game that only Americans can understand. If any students on campus want to understand baseball, you can come to me and I’ll explain it.
TSP: What are your hobbies outside of Sciences Po? Apart from baseball of course.
PARIS: So I actually don’t follow sports anymore. But I do love sport, running, hiking, nature in general. I also really enjoy the experience of listening to music live. I have a pretty eclectic taste in music, from classic to contemporary. I also love to cook. If I have to cook, it means I’m doing pretty well at work because most of the time I don’t have the time.
TSP: Have you cooked with Turpin yet? He is also an avid cooker.
PARIS: Not yet, but I think that will be some team building material.
TSP: Students are always happy if you bring something to campus.
PARIS: I make a mean banana bread, but I would be happy if students bring me something as well.
TSP: What is your biggest pet peeve?
PARIS: My biggest pet peeve? I don’t know if this is a pet peeve but I sort of have the hangry symptom. So I guess it’s a pet peeve for me when I don’t have access to food when I need it.
TSP: What did you want to be when you were little, and then our age?
PARIS: When I was little, I wanted to become a lawyer. I almost did, but then I discovered political philosophy and that was that. When I was your age – during undergraduate – I was starting to realize that academia could be a career. When I was a sophomore, that’s when I started understanding that it was probably for me.
TSP: You also graduated summa cum laude, just like Mr. Turpin. In our interview with him last week, he said that he did not follow a vivid student life. Did you, and if so, do you remember any story in particular, or is it all a blur?
PARIS: I was a very serious student, so I was one of those ones that was writing for the student newspapers and in the honors program. When you’re an American, an experience that is sort of very formative and that you remember is when you turn 21. I was pretty sage, so I still remember when I turned 21.
TSP: You said that you really liked teaching in Menton, will you continue teaching here in Reims?
PARIS: I will be! I might take this year off as I begin the new position, which is a big challenge, but starting next year I would love to teach.
TSP: What is your vision as deputy director for this campus, what do you want to achieve, being here?
PARIS: I think that the role that I have as Deputy Director – specifically in charge of academic affairs – is a critical role, because my job is to be in contact with the Director of the campus, the academic team in its entirety, the students, the instructors, our colleagues in the administrative team in Paris, our partners, our partner universities… I’m at the interface of all of these different pieces. So my objective is to move forward on all of those different fronts.
And I really want to make sure that I maintain a strong link with students. One way of doing it is to teach, of course. Another way to do it is to just be involved in campus events and student life.
We also have this amazing opportunity, which is to have different geographical specializations: Europe-Africa program, Europe-America program, and exchange students. This is a specificity among the university college. One of my objectives is to really build bridges between programs, and encourage students to think about themselves as students of the Reims campus of Sciences Po. The idea is really to encourage the most dialogue and the highest quality dialogue that we can manage to accomplish on our campus.
TSP: You talked about the importance of being in contact with students. How do you plan on interacting with students, and make sure you get to know them even though the current situation makes it more complex?
PARIS: I’ll start by saying the extent to which we are thrilled to be able to see students again. Even with a mask, just seeing them in the amphitheater or in the Cour des Pères is fantastic.
Our experience last semester told us a lot about how we can maintain the link with our students, even in a situation where we can’t physically see them. But what we also learnt is that we have to reinforce the frequency and the intensity of our contacts with our students. That is to say, we have to be proactive, create phases of dialogue, make sure that they know that we are still mobilized. I am going to try to think of specific ways of making sure that there is a dialogue with students. If you have any suggestions, let me know!
TSP: You also talked about the bridges and links that had to be done between programs. As the Director of Academic Affairs here, you are responsible for two programs: EurAm and EurAf. You are American, which may lead you to relate more to students from the EurAm program. What will you do to ensure that the decisions you make won’t undermine the EurAf program?
PARIS: That is something that I really want students in the Europe-Africa program to understand. The way that I approach this position of Deputy Director is certainly not as an American. That is not what I am here to do. When you say ‘you can probably relate with the Europe-America students more’, that is probably true in the sense that I have that cultural background, and once you have that background, it stays with you. However, my job here is to be the Deputy Director of the campus in its entirety. So I encourage all students to think with us, bring ideas to the table about what we can do as a community to favor this dialogue, this integration.
And I really want students to understand that, for me, both programs – as well as the exchange program – are part of our identity on this campus. They have equal weight and importance. It is vitally important to understand not only where the African continent has been, but also where it’s going. We need to be looking around us in a very wide sense, in terms of development, of economic time, of geopolitics, of balance of power. Sciences Po is very attached to understanding the role of Europe in terms of historical approaches to the colonial period and neocolonialism. We need to be able to understand common questions and challenges in this increasingly globalized world. The pandemic too is this opportunity for us to think about what it means to be in a global community. It is a sort of wake-up call. We need to tackle these challenges as a community and we need to make sure that we understand that our destinies are linked to each other.
TSP: Nonetheless, a Franco-American, and a German and British colleague at the direction of campus, might not personally understand the academic needs or interests of students in the EurAf program. What would you do personally to ensure that, as an academic director, you know how to address the needs of the EurAf program?
PARIS: The key to understanding those academic needs is being in dialogue and being open to recognizing the importance of scholars that are specialized in these areas. My work is trying to bring that expertise to the table, meaning the research that is ongoing today about the African continent. We have the great honor of having amazing scholars that teach on our campus already.
What we aim to do in the undergraduate college is maintain spaces within the academic offering for the specificity of the program. I had the experience of working on a campus where the specialization was extra-European in Menton. We can do this through courses, such as the language offering, which is actually really important. For example, it is quite rare to study Swahili. I’m working with the two academic program managers to make sure that we are maintaining that, which isn’t necessarily easy to do. Developing and maintaining partnerships with universities on the continent are both very important too.
TSP: Another concern is the Black Lives Matter movement. Many students have been personally affected by that. Do you believe that racism or any other form of discrimination is present on campus, or at Sciences Po as an institution, and if so, what do you want to do as Deputy Director change this climate on campus?
PARIS: I’m new to Reims campus, so I can’t really speak of the existing climate. What I can say however is that Sciences Po – like any academic institution – is to a certain extent a reflection of a part of society. So, we will inevitably be confronted with these issues.
We need to defend academic liberty when it comes to our instructors and students, as well as make sure that the climate on our campus is a climate of respect and openness, and that students feel protected and are not being subject to any form of discrimination whatsoever. We have specific rules : students will be sanctionned if they engage in any form of discrimination. So we have a common framework, which is very important for students to be aware of.
Within that framework, we need to be able to send the message loud and clear that we are here to engage in an intellectual, scientific enterprise as well as having a political and engaged way of thinking. That doesn’t mean that everyone will have the same conclusion on these issues, there is not one truth. But there is a scientific exploration that needs to take place. We give students the tools to be able to analyze their opinions, their fellows’ opinions and to hold that as a standard – the standard of the study of social sciences. Those tools give students the possibility of really starting to think critically about themselves, about their own opinions.
Part of what I think Sciences Po specifically has to offer is this reflection about what it means to be an engaged citizen. We have a Civic Learning Program integrated into the academic requirements of a student’s program which is really a way of sending a message as well: we are here to form and train citizens that are responsible. So there is this ethic of responsibility, of engagement. This is part of the general training we are providing in terms of being and becoming a citizen.
I think that students also should take this opportunity to look back at history as well, to see at what moments we become aware of these issues. It is true that this year was one of those crucial turning points, I think, in terms of raising awareness and realizing that these issues are still present.
TSP: Some of the research papers that you have written were about feminism, but even more of them were about emotions, and the role that emotions play in politics. How did you first come to like this subject, as it is not a subject that is very commonly taught in social science universities?
PARIS: I came to study the role of emotions through the study of rhetoric in ancient and contemporary political thought. I did some work on the question of rhetoric in democracies, as well as populism. That sort of brought me to thinking about the role of emotions in politics more generally, and the manner in which citizens are actually influenced by their emotions – sometimes unwillingly – when it comes to making decisions, whether it be voting, prioritizing, or framing issues during a political campaign.
I was very interested in studying one particular emotion, which I find is extremely explanatory when it comes to what we are seeing in politics today in terms of the rise of populism: indignation. That particular variation of anger is justified from the perspective of the person that experiences it. It is very explanatory when we look at both ends of the political spectrum: indignation is made part of the manner in which a particular political movement justifies itself, sometimes in a very exclusive way. My work on emotions was trying to analyze what seemed like radically different political phenomenons that sometimes had this emotion as a common root.
TSP: You gave a Ted Talk in 2017 about populism narratives. If you were asked to give another one today, which subject would you choose to speak about?
PARIS: The Ted Talk I gave was prompted by the election in the US and I felt kind of a need to address that and react to it in a reflective manner. If I gave another one – and it would be lovely to do so – I would need to bring in the subject of gender. And I think the question of emotions is very gendered, and is one of the aspects that is very important to focus on. So I think something relating to the gendered aspect of emotions, such as the question of the hierarchy between rationality and emotion. That is actually extremely essential in politics and in the ways in which authoritarian forms of politics are constructed.
TSP: Women have been historically underrepresented in academia. While Sciences Po might not be very research-oriented at the undergraduate level, will you do anything to try and change this imbalance?
PARIS: That is obviously an important issue, it is also one that is systemic to a great extent, and is a function of the academic discipline. We see differences across disciplines. My professors were all men. That was actually one of the reasons why I became interested in feminism.
We currently have a very interesting academic offering when it comes to gender studies, and we are going to develop it. The question of legitimation of these issues also depends on breaking down the wall between gender studies as an academic discipline and other disciplines. That’s the most challenging part. So, one of my ambitions is to start discussing with instructors ways of bringing in issues of gender and race in courses that are not necessarily focused on those issues. That is the most complicated part, because in academia today there is this idea that if I am not a specialist of gender studies, I should have nothing to say about that field. If you go into a course and you see no women authors in it, you need to talk about it and address it because it starts there. And again, a lot of times these issues are simply not seen, they’re invisible. We have a model in academia, and it’s one of hyperspecialization, so it’s a challenge but something I definitely want to work on.
TSP: The covid pandemic disrupted university business drastically. Where do you think we can find the greatest challenges, as well as opportunities, in these circumstances?
PARIS: Obviously the biggest challenge this poses is making sure that we maintain the academic community in the fullest sense of that term, despite the constraints and the distance. What I’m confident about is the fact that we do have the necessary resources. When I say ressources I don’t just mean technological resources, but also human resources in terms of resilience, adaptability, willingness to overcome constraints and really focus on what it is we’re here to do, which is fundamentally to form human minds.
I think it is an opportunity for us as a global community to realize that we are vulnerable, and that everything we take for granted can be in danger from one moment to the next. A lot of people have been talking about the connection between the pandemic and the ecological crisis. I think it makes us aware of the extent to which we are not omnipotent beings, we need to feel that vulnerability at some point and be aware of it, as well as take responsibility for what impact we are having. I think that’s the opportunity we can take advantage of, and I think a lot of us are realizing what is truly important: human relationships, human connections, solidarity, reaching out to those who are most in need. I think the opportunities are actually numerous. I am fundamentally very optimistic about human nature. I’ve read a lot of Hobbes, but I really do think people are good.
Last semester, I was able to see it first hand. I saw instructors that were in the most difficult of circumstances in terms of confinement, being with small children, and having extreme difficulties in connecting with their students, and they were still extremely determined to teach despite those difficulties. People have a true mission and devotion for what they do, in this community, on this campus and across the campuses. That was extremely inspiring for me to see. So I have every confidence that we as a community are able to get through the challenge and grow as a result.
TSP: You’ve spoken about a lot of projects you want to put in place, but those will take time. We are wondering how long you are planning on staying, and if you want to take over as campus director at any point.
PARIS: [laughs] I am planning on staying for as long as I will be useful here on the campus, and Tilman is a fantastic director, I think he is perfect for his job, and I don’t have any intention of taking his position, no.
TSP: Do you have any last words for students?
PARIS: You know, the students I’ve met so far are really lovely. It is a pleasure to interact with you, it really is. We met with some representatives the other day, I’ve been meeting students on campus, and they’re all lovely. Stay that way. Stay open, smart, and humble.