Dr. Jordan Bessette ’12

Jordan Bessette graduated in 2012 with degrees in French and Spanish. He went on to complete a M.A. in Romance Studies in 2015 and a PhD in Romance Studies in 2022, earning the title of Doctor. Learn how Jordan became a more critical thinker with the Honors Program, which helped him create an amazing dissertation.

Tell us about a favorite memory from your undergrad days. What do you think of the Honors Programs and your time at URI?

I really just enjoyed spending time in Lippitt where I made many friends with people from different disciplines! A favorite course was Dr. Walter Von Reinhart’s “Dwarves and Elves: The World According to Tolkien” class! The Honors Program really was an integral part of my time at URI – not only did I learn a lot, but through the Honors Program I developed strong relationships with professors I greatly admired, spent time with other curious and motivated students, and gained support that I would not have had elsewhere at the university.

Tell us about the work you are doing today. What is your job, title and responsibility?

I hold a PhD in Romance Studies from UNC Chapel Hill with a focus on late nineteenth-century French novels. I am currently a university instructor of French and an academic researcher. In my recently published dissertation, entitled “Novel Masculinities: Making Queer Space in Nineteenth-Century French Fiction,” I look at the role of novels in making space for readers to contest heteronormative perceptions of masculinity during an era where French educators, social reformers, and doctors were codifying gender and sexuality around conjugal heterosexuality and procreation. I show how novels by authors Émile Zola, Pierre Loti, Rachilde, and André Gide anticipate more contemporary understandings of gender and sexuality, such as toxic masculinity, gender fluidity, and the disassociation of gender expression and sexual desire. These representations of gender and sexuality, I argue, push against the national discourses on gender and sexuality that support the nation’s futurity and, through this queer resistance, allow readers to imagine their lives beyond conjugal heterosexuality and procreation while also paving the way for twentieth-century LGBTQ+ literature. My research also connects to contemporary concerns related to the rise of conservative discourses here in the USA, such as those related to LGBTQ+ book-banning, the revival of “traditional masculinity,” and the “Don’t Say Gay” bills.

What did the path to your current role look like? What are some interesting jobs or experiences you had along the way?

After completing my undergraduate degree in 2012, I participated in the TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) program and taught English in French middle/high schools in Blois, France (in the Loire Valley). Then, I started my Masters degree in 2013 and went directly to my PhD in 2015. During my PhD, I spent the 2017-2018 year in Montpellier, France as an exchange university lecturer of English. I also have had some fun summer jobs! I taught French at the North Carolina Governor’s School for several summers and, more recently, worked as the Site Coordinator for Duke University’s Duke Engage – Boston program. While working in Boston, I realized how much I missed New England, which led to me moving back up here permanently in September of 2022.

What would you like to highlight about your post-grad experience that you feel URI and the Honors Program uniquely prepared you for?

One day, a professor I greatly admire said: “Honors classes aren’t harder, they’re just better.” It’s true! Each of the honors classes I took at URI focused on original and critical thinking, different perspectives, and an exchange of ideas. I attribute the Honors Program for making me the critical thinker I am today, as well as for my strong identification as a Humanist thinker.

Are you open to students reaching out to you?

I would love to be in touch with any undergraduates who have questions or want to be in touch. I would prefer that students email me at jordan.bessette@gmail.com

What advice do you have for current students?

The advice that I want to give to all students is: don’t be afraid to have original thoughts! That is what undergraduate education is for – exploring ideas, becoming strong thinkers, and having informed perspectives and opinions. It is absolutely essential that undergraduates develop these skills in order to become strong leaders and problem solvers.