Fabienne Doucet answers 5 questions from the We Are Human campaign

This month, we chose Fabienne Doucet as our featured PACH member. Fabienne is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education and Urban Education in the department of Teaching and Learning at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. She is currently on leave from NYU while serving as a Program Officer at the William T. Grant Foundation.

How does your work foster a common humanity?

Whether in my research, teaching, mentoring, or other professional work, a humanizing framework is at the center of all I do. My work is anti-racist; it subverts and disrupts hegemonic ideologies that would insist the humanity of some is superior to the humanity of others, and because of this, it demands that I honor and acknowledge my own humanity in its complexity, vulnerability, and resilience. Thus, threaded through every manifestation of my work is a call for people to first see themselves in their humanity, and from there to see others. For example, I am working on a book for early childhood educators on building authentic relationships with families. As a researcher of immigrant children and families, and the relationship between home and school, I have witnessed the mistrust and misunderstanding that can grow when people relate to each other under the constraints of particular roles—i.e., a good teacher looks like thus and so; involved parents behave in these specific ways. I argue in my book that when we constantly relate to others like actors playing a part, we don’t see those others in their full humanity, we don’t connect to our own humanity, and thus we are unable to engage in relationships that are authentic and organic, respectful and affirming, mutually constituted, and responsive. When I teach a course, I invite my students to join me on a journey on which I fully expect to learn just as much as I am able to impart, and I make myself vulnerable to hold space for the vulnerability of others. So when we read texts that challenge the deeply entrenched ideologies that have informed and shaped us, and these texts make us uncomfortable, centering the idea of our common humanity helps us to traverse territory that can feel dangerous and frees us to reimagine, rewrite, and reposition ourselves and others without the constraints imposed by stale notions that the humanity of some is more worthy than the humanity of others.

What is one of your favorite childhood memories and why?

I grew up in Haiti until the age of 10, raised by my great-aunt-mom, great-uncle-dad, and three cousin-brothers, while my single mother lived in the U.S. with her sister and sister’s family. I was lucky enough to see them regularly, as I spent my summers with them in New Jersey, but one of my favorite memories from those years is the smell of her suitcase on her visits to Haiti. As soon as it opened, I smelled her scent, the aroma of chocolate from our favorite Kit Kat and Twix bars, the cardboard smell of boxes of cereal, like Capn’ Crunch, that were too expensive to buy in Haiti or that we didn’t have at all, and traces of the house in New Jersey where my other family—my aunt, uncle, cousin-brother, and cousin-sister lived. This suitcase smelled like my other life; like mom, memory, and summer, and joy. And when, once living in the U.S., I would open my own suitcase from Haiti after a summer’s visit, the smells holding all the love and nurture and flavor of that home could instantly transport me there, too.

What is one of the best things that has ever happened to you and why?

I have found motherhood unspeakably joyful, so one of the best things that has ever happened to me is becoming a mother. As my children have grown from nearly helpless infants, to intrepid toddlers, to dynamic big kids, to increasingly independent adolescents, I have learned that our intimacy also grows and changes in nature and texture. I enjoy my children as people so much. I find them endlessly fascinating and miraculous. The lessons motherhood has taught me about myself are too numerous to name, but they are also an important part of why becoming a mother has been so transformative and healing.

Whom do you trust the most and why?

As someone who is lucky enough to know and love many people, I don’t think the answer to this question would be the same every day, but today I would say the person I trust the most is my therapist. Anyone who has as much dirt on me as she does, who has called me out and challenged me on the ways I sabotage myself, but who still manages to see my light—even when I can’t—has proven herself time and again to be someone I can trust.

What do you fear the most in life and why?

What I fear most is losing someone I love without having had the chance to say goodbye, or to remind them how much I love them. As my family members age, the reality of life’s inevitable end becomes increasingly present, and a lump starts to form in my throat when I think of losing them. In 2016, my great-aunt-mom died in Haiti. My husband and children and I had just spent two weeks visiting her and our other relatives, and about two weeks after we returned to the States, she took her own trip to the other side of the veil. I have never stopped being grateful for the opportunity we had to see her one last time. Losing her, though, triggered a sobering realization. The flip side of having been raised and adored and cherished, and of attaching to and loving so many moms and dads is that I have that many more moms and dads to lose.

What do you most desire in life and why?

There are two things I desire most in life. The first is love. I don’t take for granted how incredibly lucky I’ve been to have grown up in love, and to be able to give and receive love. One of my favorite quotes, one I feel I could have written myself, is from a piece written by bell hooks about her conversation with Thich Nhat Hanh on building a community of love, and it’s simple: “Love is always the place where I begin and end.” hooks’ book, all about love, Antonia Darder’s Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love, Gabriel García Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera…these texts, and so many others, from the scholarly, to the prosaic, and to all the iterations in between speak to me deeply about the impossible possibilities of love. And I can’t help but respond. My other great desire in life is laughter. I am quite certain I would not have survived some of the most difficult and painful chapters of my life without it. I truly believe that a fundamental need of every day is at least one good, deep belly laugh. I also truly believe that the ability to laugh at oneself is a balm for the ego that too many forego but that all should imbibe. Like the levitating Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins, I love to laugh loud and long and clear. Love and laughter connect me to my humanity and to the humanity of others—and so they are essential to my life, to my work, and to my very existence.

More about Fabienne

Fabienne Doucet, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Education at New York University. Dr. Doucet brings an interdisciplinary perspective to her research and teaching in Early Childhood Education, given her training in human development and family studies, which stands at the crossroads of developmental psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Her program of research examines how immigrant and U.S.-born children of color and their families navigate education in the United States and how taken-for-granted beliefs, practices, and values of the U.S. educational system position children and families who are linguistically, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse at a disadvantage. She is committed to addressing inequity and injustice in education, and to bringing the educational experiences of marginalized groups to the center of inquiry.