Communication Professor Passes Away

UCSD communication professor Helene Keyssar died Monday morning after a lengthy struggle with cancer. She was 57.

Keyssar is fondly remembered by the communication department for her dedicated teaching style, leadership and innovative ideas.

In 1981 she arrived at UCSD and immediately made her mark by bringing her immense knowledge of theater and the humanities into the communication department.

Communication professor Chandra Mukerji remembers Keyssar’s dedication and love of students. “”She had such joy being in the classroom,”” Mukerji said.

The bond Keyssar had with students did not stop with the classroom. Often, she would hold film screenings at her home. Mukersi added that by taking students seriously, Keyssar taught them to understand and learn about themselves.

Always popular with students, she was eventually forced her out of the classroom by cancer, but it could not keep her away for long. Soon after she was in remission she was back at school, even though she did not have to be.

“”Incredibly hard working and tenacious”” is how Mike Cole, a long-time communication professor, spoke of Keyssar’s love of teaching and how she never gave up.

“”Helene had a lot to do with creating this interdisciplinary culture,”” said Dan Hallin, a communication professor. “”She was a broad intellect; her background was in drama but she knew a tremendous amount about journalism, television, language and other things. All of us in the department learned a tremendous amount from her.””

Communication chair Carol Padden spoke of Keyssar’s ability to bring the humanities into the a traditional social science department. According to Padden, she galvanized her students with her juxtaposition of pop culture and the classics.

Keyssar also became a leader not only in the communication department but of women professors all over campus. Mukerji remembers that when Keyssar arrived from Amherst College in 1981, women professors were few and were overshadowed by their male counterparts. Keyssar helped to break that barrier with her free spirit and drive.

Throughout the ’80s, Keyssar was adamant about improving US-Soviet relations. Her desire to lessen tension between the adversaries led to the innovative Space Bridge Project. The project consisted of a real-time video conference between the two countries, with the United States’ link at the UCSD Media Center.

The video cast was the first of its kind, using satellites to connect the two countries. American children were able to talk to Russian children. World War II veterans from both countries were able to reminiscence about old times. The video conference created a dialogue between the two sides at the height of the Cold War.

Cole worked with Keyssar on numerous projects during her time at UCSD and commented on the joy she got out of seeing the two sides sit down and talk without any tension.

Social activism found its way into much of Keyssar’s work. Mukerji commented on how Keyssar always felt that the personal is political. While teaching in the South, she worked on the civil rights movement. She even helped organize part of the funeral parade for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Keyssari’s belief and drive for social justice lead to her thesis and first book, “”The Curtain and the Veil: Strategies of Black Drama.””

Additionally, her role in the feminist movement led to feminist theater. Throughout her career she received many grants and awards, including fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation on International Peace and Security and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Keyssar, a prolific writer of books and for film, theater and television, is survived by her husband, Tracy Strong, a UCSD political science professor, and her children, David Franke and Anise Strong, her sister Judith Redwing and her brother Alex Keyssar.

A memorial service will be held Feb. 17 at 3:30 p.m. at the UCSD International House.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the UCSD Foundation — Attn: Helene Keyssar Fund, and sent to Paul Drake, Dean of Social Sciences, SSB 502, UCSD, La Jolla, CA 92093.

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