Column: When your name says who you are

By Elio Leturia, Associate Professor in the Communication Department

Interim Provost Louise Love collaborated with associate professor Elio Leturia to help highlight Columbia’s international faculty in an edition of Wanderer magazine. Courtesy of Elio Leturia.

Louise Love. As someone who translates everything in his head, her name appeared as “Luisa Amor.” Unusual, since I have never heard of Love as a last name in Spanish.

I used to see her at the monthly College Council meetings, the collegewide faculty body prior to the establishment of the Faculty Senate. I was a member for several years and became its vice-president two years before it was dissolved.

Louise always came across as approachable, smart and polite. While on tenure track, at some point, I had some disagreements with a supervisor. Columbia being my first college job in the U.S., I was still learning to navigate the often times choppy academic waters. The American education system had clear differences with the Peruvian one, where I had worked prior for a decade. Not only academic roles but also interaction among faculty were quite singular.

A colleague suggested I should talk to Louise. I was reluctant. What about if I say something “wrong” while being honest? But feeling I didn’t have much recourse, I approached her saying that I was going through a “situation” and needed advice. “Let’s go for lunch, and we can talk there,” she said to my complete surprise. In my 16 years at Columbia I can count on one hand the times I have had a spontaneous lunch with a colleague.

We went to the Eleven City Diner, right after the College Council meeting. Louise asked about my background, and seemed genuinely interested, but most of anything, she listened to what I had to say. I didn’t feel rushed. “Let me see what I can find out,” she said.

At the end of the following College Council, a month later, I approached her. She said she was able to learn there were some issues going on. She didn’t tell me I was misunderstanding things, or that what was happening was my fault, or that the situation was all in my head. She did believe my story. She did not second-guess me.

Louise was able to see through people, and was a real advocate for faculty.

In 2012 I asked for her support to help my students secure interviews with international faculty at Columbia for a magazine project. In coordination with Gigi Posejpal, then director of International Student Affairs, Louise sent an email asking instructors, full and part time, to volunteer for an interview. We wanted to highlight Columbia as a college that supported international education and foreign-born faculty. Twenty-five instructors from 21 countries in five continents shared their lives with the Columbia community. And 27 students left the Visual Journalism course with a published printed magazine to add to their portfolio.

We kept in communication over the years. I was surprised to learn Louise was leaving Columbia since I was expecting her to become our provost. I wanted to show my appreciation for making me feel part of the College, and sent her a Peruvian silver spoon as a good-bye present. I thought, she might remember me when she uses it in her sugar bowl. I received a beautiful thank-you note that I still keep.

Amor. An unusual last name that so clearly describes who she was, a caring leader.

Elio Leturia is an associate professor in the Communication Department and the Fulbright Scholar Faculty Liaison.