It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that Sue Rosenfeld passed away on October 10, 2020.
Sue is best known among BU circles for directing the BU study abroad program in Niger for nearly 25 years. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal 1977-1981, where she gained fluency in Wolof and became known as “Daba Diouf,” before teaching English in Burundi on a Fulbright. In 1984 she moved to Niamey to direct the US Embassy’s English language program until she was asked by BU Prof. Karen Boatman to supervise a small group of students from the BU School of Education (now BU Wheelock College) who arrived to study in Niger in 1987. The rest is history, as Sue and colleagues—including Prof. Boatman and Prof. John Hutchison—developed one of BU’s most popular study abroad programs until it closed in 2011.
She was committed to instilling in Americans deep empathy and experience in Africa through Peace Corps and thoughtful study abroad programs. While Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is perhaps the most famous BU Niger alum, Sue and other colleagues have often remarked about how incredible each of the students in the program has been. Many of them have noted the important ways in which their experiences in the program shaped their futures in academia, education, non-profits (in the US and abroad), foreign service, and beyond.
The program’s strengths in training students to develop deep understandings of Nigérien culture and strong language skills is reflected in the fact that many Americans who speak Nigérien languages have been asked if they were either from Boston or had served in Peace Corps—even in the years since both programs have closed. In 2015, President Mahamadou Issoufou visited BU to inaugurate the Archive of the Republic of Niger at the African Studies Library, further testament to the lasting connections between BU and Niger that Sue played a central role in developing and maintaining.
While she returned to the US occasionally for visits and for treatment for a long illness, Sue remained in Niger through the end of her life, as she preferred. She helped put many Nigériens through college in the US and maintained a vibrant social life in Niamey, hosting academics and countless other visitors, inviting friends to her home for weekly thieboudienne, organizing social gatherings and basketball games at the US Embassy and American Cultural Center, occasionally teaching at Université Abdou Moumouni, and keeping close contact with a range of Nigérien and American friends around the world. Known by many in Niamey as “Fono Nya” or “Mère de Bébé,” Sue was especially proud for having adopted Bébé, a chimpanzee at the National Museum Boubou Hama, for whom she woke up to feed fruit at dawn for many years.
The tremendous outpouring of memories by friends and colleagues around the world speaks to the remarkable ways her hospitality, generosity, and hard work has touched many lives. An online memorial this evening (Monday, Oct 12, 9–10:30pm EDT) has been organized by friends of Sue and alumni of the BU Niger program; details are available here. We will share any additional information in our newsletters.