“Refreshing and Inimitable”: Régine Jean-Charles Leaves BC, Heads to Northeastern

Régine Jean-Charles—who spent 13 years as a professor, mentor, and colleague at Boston College—accepted a position as a full professor at Northeastern University this summer.

Jean-Charles first came to BC in 2008 after receiving her Ph.D. from Harvard University. 

“I remember when she was first hired right out of Harvard, as a new Ph.D. who was filled with energy and enthusiasm,” Akua Sarr, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs, said. “We were so excited to get her and she has never lost that energy that she came to us with.”

Jean-Charles co-taught the first-year Complex Problems course “Where #blacklivesmatter Meets #metoo: Violence and Representation in the African Diaspora” with Shawn McGuffey, associate professor of sociology and African & African Diaspora Studies (AADS). She also taught a summer course in Paris, called “Paris Noir,” and various courses on Black feminism, rape culture, and Francophone feminist literature of the African Diaspora. 

The #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo course delved into race- and gender-based problems of sexual violence in both the U.S. and the African Diaspora. The two professors also brought in filmmakers, activists, and authors to further educate their students, Jean-Charles said. 

The students also conducted labs in the class that consisted of working with organizations such as the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Association of Hatian Women in Boston, and Violence in Boston. Other students conducted a sociological survey and constructed a mural that can be found in the AADS office. 

“I think what’s so powerful about that class … is that you get a group of first-year students to care about a topic that for many of them is personal,” Jean-Charles said. “We know the statistics of one in five on college campuses and one in three in the world of people that are rape survivors and so it’s really personal for people.”

Taleah Pierre-Louis, president of the L’Association Haïtienne/Haitian Association club at BC, said she was greatly impacted by the course because she got to see Jean-Charles teach about topics she was passionate about, such as Black feminism. Pierre-Louis, MCAS and Lynch ’22, was also an undergraduate research assistant for Jean-Charles.

“That’s still my favorite class of all time that I’ve ever taken at Boston College,” Pierre-Louis said. “I know students who have taken her class and she has been able to at least inform their opinions, and have people acknowledge their privilege in a lot of things, which is something that can be rare especially at a place like BC.” 

Burt Howell, executive director of the intersections staff, said that Jean-Charles’ teaching is greatly woven into her research. 

“What and how she teaches is influenced by her writing on Haitian literature, Black feminism, violence against women, and the injustice of racism,” Howell said. “It introduces an ethical dimension to her classroom work by helping students develop their character while increasing their knowledge.”

Jean-Charles was not only an impactful teacher, Pierre-Louis said, but also a loving mentor who prioritized the well-being of her mentees.  

Kyrah Daniels, assistant professor of art history and AADS, said Jean-Charles is unique in how strong of an advocate she is for her students. 

“I think that one of the things I have found very exciting is that she doesn’t tell her students what they should protest, but she wants to encourage both the creation of safe, brave spaces and also inspire them to feel empowered to take action,” Daniels said.

Daniels said that Jean-Charles’ response to the racist vandalism that occured on the Multicultural Learning Experience (MLE) floor last year as an example of this type of mentorship. After the incidents, AADS held a listening session focused on giving the residents on the MLE floor a place to talk and communicate their needs. 

After hearing that the residents felt they had not been able to express their own version of the events in the listening session, Jean-Charles told them to write down their stories and helped connect them with a local media outlet. 

“That, to me, is a great exemplary model of what her activism looks like,” Daniels said. 

As she departed BC, Jean-Charles said that she encouraged her mentees to continue to use their voice in times of disappointment and frustration. 

“When they would say, ‘We’re so disappointed and upset with the administration, that this is their response,’ [I would say] ‘What should be the response?,’” she said. “That’s really the work. The work is using the resources, the tools, our creativity, our minds, and our intellect to imagine a world that is more just, more safe.”

Jean-Charles cited multiple reasons for her move to Northeastern University, including its supportive culture and the leadership opportunities that come with the “full professor” title.  

“Everyone keeps saying, ‘Northeastern is very agile and nimble and like if you have a good idea you can run with it,’” she said. “I loved the idea of being at a place where your ideas are really valued and financially supported.” 

The move is also a promotion—the position of full professor is the highest rank a Northeastern professor can have. 

“The numbers are crazy with Black women, it’s like 2 percent of the full professors in the United States are Black women,” she said. “It’s very much about power in the university rank, so if I want to be a dean someday or if I want to be a provost someday, it’s good to have that full professor status.”

While faculty and students are sad to see Jean-Charles go, many of them expressed excitement for the opportunities that await her in her new position. 

“I very much enjoyed working with Régine,” James Keenan, vice provost for global engagement, said. “‘Fun’ is not a word that faculty use to describe their colleagues, but there is in her way of proceeding a joie-de-vivre that was refreshing and inimitable.” 

Howell said that he will miss seeing Jean-Charles on campus. 

“I will not stop learning from her,” Howell said. “Her new position gives her an important platform to influence public thought.”

Sarr expressed similar thoughts. 

“It’s bittersweet really—it’s a big loss for our community and selfishly, I hate to see her leave,” she said. “But, on the other hand, this is a wonderful opportunity for Régine and a great career move.”

Having now left BC, Jean-Charles said that she wishes for her mentees to not lose hope in their fight to end racial justice inside and outside of the University community. 

As an example, she said students should continue fighting for an anti-racist institute or building on campus.

“It might not happen in four years but guess what, it could still happen in six years,” she said. “So you also have to think about not only your convenient needs, but think about building for the generations to come.”

“Think about the long game, I guess, is what I want them to do,” Jean-Charles said.

Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor

September 5, 2021