By the time she was 6, Alison Rice had already noticed that women were absent from lots of visible careers.

Men coached the college basketball games that her father took her to. Men held political office. And on TV, men delivered the nightly news. About men.

Throughout childhood, she wondered about what that meant for her own future — and she wrote a book about a girl who pretended to be a boy, and went to school as vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro for a dress-as-a-famous-person day.

“I was attuned,” said Rice, chair of Notre Dame’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and a professor of French and Francophone studies. “I had some feminist moments pretty early.”

“I was attuned. I had some feminist moments pretty early.”

She still does. Throughout her career, Rice’s research, writing and teaching have amplified the voices and experiences of women, including those from underrepresented communities, on campus and around the world.

That’s particularly evident in her recent project, Francophone Metronomes, which showcases her filmed interviews with 18 female authors who span generations and countries of origin, from Senegal to South Korea.

Initially, these women spoke and wrote in the language of their native land. Now they live in France and publish prolifically in French. The authors’ compelling works of literature are informed by experiences with colonialism, racism and sexism.

Hearing their voices, seeing their gestures and expressions and reading the transcribed interviews provide a rich and impactful learning experience for viewers, including students and educators, said Rice.

“It is interesting that this project really echoes, much more recently, some of those same concerns I had as a child,” she said.

Rice transformed the filmed interviews, which she conducted in French, into a 2021 scholarly book, “Worldwide Women Writers in Paris: Francophone Metronomes.” In it, she argues that these writers comprise a “literary revolution” that deserves to be celebrated, as they deploy stylistic and thematic innovations derived from their diverse, and sometimes common, past experiences.

“They’re strong voices in favor of women's rights on a global scale,” said Rice, who displays photographs of the women in her office. “They’re wonderful activists, in a sense, along with being brilliant authors.”

Rice is also the author of “Polygraphies: Francophone Women Writing Algeria” and "Time Signatures: Contextualizing Contemporary Francophone Autobiographical Writing from the Maghreb” and the editor of “Transpositions: Translation, Migration, Music. And, she’s delivered numerous invited lectures and presented papers at conferences from Harvard University to Sorbonne Université.

Her next project is Francophone Peace Studies, which explores how authors draw attention to causes and bring about change through their writing, and she’s teaching a course on the topic this semester.

Last fall, in her The Figure of the Foreigner in Europe course, she introduced students to Zahia Rahmani’s award-winning “‘Muslim’: A Novel.” Written in French, it recounts the history of Islam and reflects on the relationship between language and identity and being uprooted from one’s home.

Alison Rice sitting at a table

Rice found that, after reading Rahmani’s powerful personal stories and her mother’s memories about prior generations, her students had forged a deep connection to an author they hadn’t met.

“They emerged understanding historical events of the last several centuries and dynamics of race and class and gender in a colonial and postcolonial setting,” Rice said. “They gained intimate awareness of complex dynamics that resulted from these histories that are often unacknowledged on official scales.”

Rice grew up in a monolingual home in a diverse area in southern California; her first formal opportunity to study a second language — Spanish — was in high school. She’s now fluent in French, reads and understands Spanish, and studied German in graduate school.

Conversing while traveling and living abroad has been transformational for Rice and provided her with experiences that speaking only English wouldn’t have allowed. In addition to studying and teaching in France, Rice has worked at a radio station in Costa Rica and taught English in a college in Puerto Rico.

She wants students to be able to connect with people worldwide, too, and is thrilled to chair a department in which they enthusiastically engage in language courses.

“It’s opening up worlds to them linguistically, of course, but there are also so many cultural benefits, so many insights into various ways of living,” she said. “It’s so important to them on levels that go beyond the CV and beyond the transcript. And it will be with them for life.”

Rice, who is also a concurrent faculty member in the Gender Studies Program and a faculty fellow of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and Nanovic Institute for European Studies, finds satisfaction in supporting colleagues and promoting their work. That made her first leadership position at Notre Dame — director of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts from 2017 to 2020 — a natural fit.

A rarity in higher education, ISLA offers research grants to liberal arts faculty and students, supports the planning and implementation of academic conferences, and assists faculty in seeking external grant opportunities.

“It’s a wonderful entity and a delightful place to be,” she said. “It was invigorating to see conferences take shape, invited speakers come in and research trips undertaken.”

Today, as chair of her department, Rice seeks to listen, hear, welcome insights and take effective action.

“When change takes place, it very often comes from someone else with a wonderful vision,” she said. “I see myself as part of a larger team.”

She’s routinely inspired by female colleagues on campus and noted that today there are considerably more female department chairs than even in 2017.

“It’s important for the younger generation to see women in leadership,” she said, “and for that to become an even greater norm.”

After all, students — and children — notice.