Suzanne Crosta reflects on 33 years at Mac

‘Every site here has a memory,’ says former dean of Humanities Suzanne Crosta, who retires this month.

Professor Suzanne Crosta, who was dean of the Faculty of Humanities from 2007-2013, retired this week after more than 30 years of teaching, research and administrative service to McMaster – although her connections to the university go back even further.

Before she was dean, before she was associate dean, before she became a professor of French and Francophone studies, and even before she was a student here, Crosta used to take the bus to campus, sit on the hill where L.R. Wilson Hall is now located, and dream about coming to McMaster.

One of four children, Crosta and her family had moved from Québec to Ontario in the 1960s looking for better economic opportunities. It was in Hamilton, put into a class with other children who didn’t speak English, that Crosta learned the importance of language in bridging different cultures.

“The school placed those of us who had immigrated or were not fluent in English into a class together so we’d speak English to each other – but they didn’t put any English speakers in there!” she laughs. “So we learned each other’s languages. After all, bonjour, buon giorno and buenos días are all a lot closer than ‘Hello,” and ‘amour, amore, amor’ are easily understood in all three languages.”

Growing up in a multilingual neighbourhood, teaching her parents English and speaking French with her family, Crosta also took every language course she could when she got to high school: Latin, English, Italian, Spanish and French. And while she initially became a nurse after high school, her love of languages drew her to McMaster and then to the University of Toronto to complete her PhD in French.

Finding solutions to move forward

She was the first in her large Québécois family to go to university.

“It seemed like a pipe dream at the time to pursue a graduate university education,” she remembers. “My family and friends  were asking, ‘What are you doing in school all the time? You could be a teacher by now!’ But I continued with it.”

Eventually, she found herself back at McMaster, first as a professor, and then in various administrative roles, including dean of the Faculty of Humanities from 2007 to 2013.

She also held administrative positions outside the university: two terms as vice-president of research policy for the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, one term as Directrice Générale of the Conseil International des études francophones, and two terms as university auditor for the Quality Council of the Council of Ontario Universities.

As dean, Crosta oversaw the launch of nine new undergraduate and graduate programs and three new research institutes and centres. She piloted new undergraduate programs in the cognitive science of language, music cognition, fine arts, justice, political philosophy and law, and professional communications. She also helped establish the MSc and PhD in the cognitive science of language, the MA in communication studies and new media, the MA and PhD diplomas in gender studies and feminist research, and the PhD in Francophonie and diversité.

Under her leadership, the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History in the 21st Century, the Ruth and Lewis Sherman Foundation for Digital Scholarship, and the Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest were created and approved.

“My emphasis was on getting people excited about humanities, about the different kinds of programs we could offer, and how we could best serve the students and society at large by offering these new programs that respond to social needs,” she explains.

“It’s not about focusing on the problems, as it is about finding the solutions to move forward.”

Teaching and research also provided inspiration. As a nurse, Crosta had worked with patients who were dying, and listening to their stories helped strengthen her love of literature. At Mac, her work focused on contemporary African, Asian, and Caribbean literatures and cinemas in French – which led to life-long connections to Francophone scholars, thinkers and artists around the world including Hédi Bouraoui, Aimé Césaire, Maryse Condé, Raphaël Confiant, Édouard Glissant and many more.

“I was very blessed to have met so many post-colonial thinkers – people who really thought about racial, cultural and linguistic diversity,” she says. “There is movement now towards work on racial and cultural diversity, but there isn’t as much work on linguistic diversity – which is unfortunate, because there’s an instant kind of connection that is created with knowing a language and knowing how to reach another person in their language.”

So many memories of Mac

And though Crosta has travelled and lectured extensively across the world, including France, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Sénégal, China and South Korea, among others, there’s no denying the strength of her memories at home, at McMaster.

Her husband Lino, who passed away last December, proposed to her in a seminar room in Chester New Hall while they were studying for an exam. (She still passed the exam, although she says her concentration was “not the best.”) They had many of their classes in Togo Salmon Hall, University Hall and Kenneth Taylor Hall.

Her younger son, Daniel, studied kinesiology and played for the Marauders.

Her older son, Philip, and his wife, Amanda, took their wedding photos on campus, and a memorial scholarship for graduate students in French now bears their names after their untimely deaths a few years ago.  She cherishes their two children, both born at McMaster Children’s Hospital and now in her care.

Reflecting back on her 33 years at Mac, Crosta shares the life lessons she’s learned.  “Act with integrity all the time, be true to yourself, follow your passion with courage, allow your creativity to flow in your life, embrace the unforeseeable and forge ahead no matter what and even if.”

And now, it’s time to make another change.

“Every site here has a memory,” she says. “But the timing is right to retire. I can still write, and I’ll still publish, but at my own pace, on my own timeline. It’s time to start a new chapter and sow seeds of hope and wonder in the next generation.”