Dickinson Students Visit Paris During Pension Reform Protests

Over spring break, a group of Dickinson students led by Associate Professor of French Adeline Soldin traveled to Paris amidst social and political unrest in the city. Recent legislation raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 sparked anger toward French President Emmanuel Macron, prompting huge street protests. 

While their trip was largely uninterrupted by the current wave of protests, the controversy gave students a first-hand glance at contemporary activism in Paris. “I had a great group of students who were really engaged and eager to learn and explore,” Soldin said. 

Soldin said the group had a wonderful visit despite the ongoing protests. “We actually left at a good time to avoid some of the sort-of violent protesting that took place the week after we left.”

Because of the strikes, which include the city’s trash collectors, Paris’ streets have been piled with bags of debris for weeks. One of the students on the trip, Emma Rodrigues ’25, said “There was a lot of trash on the street in general. That was something our professor told us to expect.” She remembers the trip fondly but said that it was “pretty stinky… the smell was a lot at times.” 

Rodrigues did witness one protest first-hand. On the very last day of their trip, a group of students visited the Eiffel Tower by themselves. “On our way, we changed subways, and when we got off at the station to change lines, there were a bunch of people on the platform chanting,” Rodrigues said. This protest was nonviolent but unsettling for the American students. Coming back that night, Rodrigues says “there was graffiti all over the place and they had ripped down the posters inside of the tunnels.” One tunnel read “anticapitaliste,” which translates to “anti-capitalist.”

Rodrigues and Soldin agreed that they were generally treated very well by the local Parisians. “For the most part, people were nice. The people who were rude to us were not necessarily rude to us because we were American,” Rodrigues said. One night, the group attended a cabaret show. Soldin said the performers were excited to see a group of American students in the audience. “I think they thought we were gonna help them make it to Broadway,” Soldin said with a laugh.  

This was many students’ first time visiting France, so they experienced several cultural differences. Rodrigues said the biggest shock was the lack of cold water. “They don’t consume water like we do in the U.S., and I was literally always thirsty.” Unlike in America, there are few public water fountains for thirsty tourists to fill their water bottles. While some aspects of Paris life took some adjusting to, there were also pleasant surprises. The students were very happy with the abundance of crepe and waffle stands. “They know how to do dessert,” Rodrigues said. 

The trip was a part of a globally integrated course called “Sex in the City of Light: Early 20th Century Women in Paris.” The course content centered around women’s historical work in Paris and contemporary LGBTQ+ and women’s activism. On the trip, students walked in the footsteps of the influential women they had been studying all semester. This immersive experience was meant to provide the students with a deeper understanding of women’s cultural productions in Paris.

The group visited monuments like Le Panthéon, the Père-Lachaise Cemetery and the Passy Cemetery. They saw the graves of writer Gertrude Stein, dancer Isadora Duncan and actress/dancer Loïe Fuller. They also went to museums, including Le Musée Carnavalet, Le Centre Pompidou and Musée national Picasso-Paris. 

At Le Musée Carnavalet, the group was led on a women’s history tour, which Soldin called “remarkable.” The museum displayed Gertrude Stein’s writing table and a full-scale recreation of jeweler Georges Fouquet’s Art Nouveau store.

This trip will be offered again next year. Applications for the Spring 2024 program will open in May.