Joy Renjilian-Burgy


A photo of Prof. Joy Renjilian-Burgy

A beloved member of the Wellesley community, Joy Renjilian-Burgy, associate professor emerita of Spanish, died on Jan. 14 at the age of 81. She was one of the College’s leading experts in foreign language and literature pedagogy, a brilliant instructor of Spanish, a mentor, ally, and friend to generations of students and alums, and a tireless advocate for educational equity. Joy was committed body and soul to this community: It often seemed that there was no meeting or lecture she did not attend, no varsity athletic team she did not cheer on, no cultural event or Shakespeare Society play or Ruhlman or Tanner panel she missed. For more than four decades she was a fixture in our collective life.

Joy came to Wellesley in 1979 after doing her graduate work at Harvard and with an A.B. in Spanish from Mount Holyoke. Her excellence as an instructor was recognized with the award of the Pinanski Prize just four years after her arrival. She taught the complete sequence of introductory, intermediate, and advanced intermediate language courses in Spanish, and also developed a broad suite of literature courses. She taught a writing course, Love and Death in Spanish Writers, and important education department courses including World Language Methodology and Theory and Practice of Teaching English as a Second Language. Her expertise in pedagogy was deployed not just in our classrooms but in the co-creation of Spanish language textbooks, multimedia language programs, and readers, all of which became widely adopted and appeared in multiple editions.

Joy’s professional standing was exemplified in the leadership roles she played in numerous organizations: She was president of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association, the Spanish Cultural Institute of New England, and the New England Council on Latin American Studies. Her service at Wellesley was similarly distinguished: She was chair of the Spanish department, co-director of Latin American studies, founding and long-serving director of the College’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, co-creator and executive director of our study abroad program at the University of Cordoba in Spain, faculty representative to the Wellesley Students’ Aid Society, our faculty athletic representative for the NCAA, and the director of a summer bridge program for entering students in the 1980s and 1990s.

Joy grew up in a family of survivors of the Armenian genocide, and she often traced her ethic of service and community to that fact. In addition to all her professional service, she was active in the Armenian community. She was president of the Armenian International Women’s Association, a life trustee of the Armenian Library and Museum of America, and co-editor of several volumes of Armenian literature.

Service to students was at the heart of Joy’s remarkable contribution to Wellesley. Many recalled the small acts of kindness she so often performed—driving them to the train station before fall or spring break, helping them return books to the library in the pouring rain, lending them jewelry to wear in interviews. Her students noted that she was blessed with a first name that suited her perfectly.


Gail Sares Skabo (Sares) CEDS
It is over 40 years since I graduated from Wellesley and I still vividly recall Joy with great affection and respect. As an "older CEDS student" (I was four years younger than she was), I approached her on my first day of class and explained that I was so nervous. Her humor, dedication, warmth, energy, and brilliance guided me through with confidence and success. Fond memories include her hosting classmates at her home, dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Boston to practice our Spanish skills, and a telephone conversation in Spanish as part of our final exam. She was a treasure.
sscherme (Sherry Sebesta) ’96
Joy was such an amazing mentor! As a French major, she convinced me to take Spanish classes and get my M.A. in Spanish. I remember the day when she laid out the whole plan for me and told me exactly what I was going to do. It was the best piece of advice I have ever received and completely changed my path in life, opening so many doors for me personally and career-wise. I am forever grateful to her.
Sophia (Peña) ’22
As a Mexican-american cinephile, I couldn't wait to take her class on Latin American Cinema. She showed me devastatingly beautiful films about Latin America that left an immense impact on me. When we called to talk about how her class was going, she told me how much I reminded her of herself when she was young. It was one of the best praises I received from a professor during my time at Wellesley. ¡Gracias por todo Professora Alegría! Siempre te llevaremos en el corazón.
Oni Lusk-Stover (Lusk-Stover) ’05
Joy helped to define my Wellesley experience in all the best ways. She was one of Spanish professors and furthered my love of the Spanish language while also encouraging me to apply to and become a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. I also chose to study abroad in Cordoba because of Joy. Joy was instrumental in guiding my post-Wellesley plans, spending countless hours exploring and talking through options during my senior year that led to me receiving a M.A. in International Comparative Education from Stanford University. That degree, along with my Wellesley coursework, enabled me to excel in a career in international development and work at the same organization for the past 17 years. I will never forget Joy's passion for her work and her students, her dedication to many causes, her unwavering commitment to seeing her students flourish beyond Wellesley, and her witty humor. All these years later, when it comes to work and life choices, I still pause and ask myself, "What would Joy do in this situation?" We were all so lucky to know her and to be loved, encouraged, and inspired by her.
andie insoft (Werner ) ’83
I was fortunate enough to have Ms Renjilian Burgy as a high school teacher and college professor. She greatly influenced my decision to attend Wellesley, and I am indebted to her for her joy and skill in teaching. She was VERY adept at it and aptly named. She exuded joy. And she will be missed.

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