On May 9, 2016, following a brief and unexpected illness, we lost our colleague Conseula Francis. An associate provost, founding director of the African-American Studies Program at the College, and professor of English, her gifts in the classroom and beyond were unparalleled. Though one couldn’t ever hope to teach and mentor as well as she did–not just impacting students, but changing lives–one could be proud, and point to, the ideal she so fully and gracefully embodied. Our collective grief in light of her untimely passing was compounded by the loss of another dear colleague, and Conseula’s close friend, Alison Piepmeier. Associate professor of English, and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the College, Piepmeier passed away on August 12, 2016 after a seven-year battle with brain cancer. A gifted scholar and dedicated activist, Alison shared much of her personal and professional life through her frequent columns in the Charleston City Paper and on her blog, Every little thing.
Conseula and Alison have been deeply missed, and their passing has inspired an outpouring of remembrances and reflections, many of which are excerpted below. We invite you to read, reflect, and remember these remarkable women–teachers, scholars, colleagues, creators, wives, activists, mothers, friends.
“Missing Conseula,” Glebe Street Hacks, Julia Eichelberger
I want to remember her that way. I don’t want to dwell on how sad I am, how much sadder her family and close friends are, how stupendously wrong it all is. I want to think of times Conseula laughed at something I had said, which made me feel a lot funnier. I love recalling the way she sometimes put her hand on your arm when you’d made a point she agreed with (“See!”) or when she got to the eyebrow-raising part of the story: “And I’m thinking, oh, NO, we don’t do this!” “And Julia, what he said was . . .” I liked catching Conseula’s eye across a meeting table, sometimes even across the street. Once we each saw someone dressed in an outfit that neither of us approved of. I saw Conseula notice the outfit, across George Street. I looked at her, my eyebrows raised, jutting my chin forward. She mouthed an indignant “Yes!”
“College Remembers Beloved Professor Conseula Francis,” College Today, Ron Menchaca
Patricia Williams Lessane, executive director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, was very close to Francis as a friend and faculty colleague. ‘Conseula epitomizes Black girl magic,‘ said Lessane. ‘She was a lover of the magic we as Black women wield with our pens and the sacred whispers, secrets, and incantations that our foremothers have used throughout the ages to keep our families safe, to lift up one another, and strengthen the ties that bind us together. She was sweet, humble, kind, and brilliant. She was and is my sister and my friend.’
Scott Peeples, professor and chair of the Department of English, said he was awed by Francis’ innate ability to connect with her students. ‘Conseula’s humor, her candor, and her dedication to students inspired us all in the English Department and across campus. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a teacher whose classroom instincts were as strong or who had the kind of impact she had on students. I can’t tell you how many times I heard or read the words ‘changed my life’ in reference to Conseula’s teaching,’ said Peeples. ‘The word ‘passion’ is a little over-used these days, but Conseula had more of it than anyone I’ve ever known, for her students, her family, her friends, and for life itself.’
“The College Remembers Beloved Professor Alison Piepmeier,” College Today, Erin Perkins
‘Alison Piepmeier was a remarkable scholar-teacher, an incredible fighter and an amazing spirit on this campus,’ said College of Charleston President Glenn F. McConnell ’69. ‘Professor Piepmeier’s devotion to her students and her passion for important issues such as women’s rights inspired us all and established a legacy that will live on for many years. Alison’s very public fight with cancer touched numerous people in Charleston and around the country and serves as a reminder to all of us to live our lives to the fullest and be our very best selves. Alison will be deeply missed, and my thoughts are with Provost McGee and the rest of Alison’s family.’
“Our Wonder Women: The Legacies of Conseula Francis and Alison Piepmeier,” CisternYard.com, Courtney Eker and Justine Hall
Fierce. Magnificent. Activist. Inspiring. Badass. Family.
If you could sum up the legacy of two vibrant, passionate and influential women in one word, what would it be?
Alison Piepmeier and Conseula Francis were more than colleagues of the College of Charleston faculty. They were friends — family. They spent weekends and holidays with each other and their children. They published together. With their third counterpart, political science professor Claire Curtis, they formed what Curtis called a “smug writing group.” They made an impact on the College of Charleston campus community through their courses, their involvement, their compassion and their activism for social and racial justice.
“Conseula Francis, Beloved CofC Professor and Provos, Dies” Post and Courier, Adam Parker
Francis was a self-described geek who embraced ‘Star Wars’ culture as fervently as any superfan. A warm and outgoing person, she won many fans and friends at the college. In 2011 she received the school’s Distinguished Teaching Award. ‘She was a formidable intellect who could make a hard day shorter and a difficult meeting easier,’ McGee said in a statement. ‘There was no burden she could not lighten, no path she could not straighten, by applying her unique combination of good humor and keen insight.’
“Dr. Conseula Francis: The Best of Us,” Just Visiting, Inside Higher Ed, John Warner
The first time you meet Conseula, you are bonded, thanks to her. For me, it was at a faculty writing retreat, where we shared our fondness for James Baldwin and I learned about her scholarship of Baldwin, but also science-fiction, and comics, and romance novels. Conseula is a fan, an enthusiast and does not create hierarchies in her fandom. If she loves it, it is worth loving, and if you do not, you are missing out.
She teaches that learning is the exercise of joy.
“Conseula Francis,” Every little thing, Alison Piepmeier
What does it mean when someone–someone I know, someone I love–is gone? I don’t believe it. I’ll see this picture of her and think, “Damn–she looks really good! I’ll tell her the next time I see her.” I’ll sob, but, later, I think, “I need her feedback on my writing.” When I had the latest challenging experience with my own body, she offered for us to be have bagels and talk. And now she’s gone.I can’t believe it. I can’t see her as gone. How does this happen? How do I reconcile myself to a world she doesn’t inhabit? Is it fair for me to have those thoughts?
“Thank You For my Beautiful Life,” Charleston City Paper, Alison Piepmeier
What does it mean when the rest of your life may be measured in weeks? My brain tumor is growing. I am in hospice care. I am surrounded, constantly, by family and friends.
There are too many acts of kindness to report. People send me meals, cookies, and delicious treats from Charleston and all over the country. I receive prayers and poems. There are volunteers teaching Maybelle to ride a bike, because I can’t. Maybelle, Brian, and I have more loving offers of support than we can possibly accept.
Of course, I know what’s up. All this amazing generosity is, sadly, another sign of my imminent death. How can I exist in this place, where I’m so grateful and so sad?