Quatre Questions For… Khameer Kidia ’11, French and Italian alumnus

Dec. 5, 2023

The Department of French and Italian (FIT) is kicking off a series spotlighting our amazing alumni and the many things one can do with a concentration in FIT. First up is Khameer Kidia, Class of 2011.

Kidia is a writer, anthropologist, and global health physician at Harvard Medical School and the University of Zimbabwe. A Rhodes scholar from Zimbabwe, Kidia has worked on mental health research and advocacy in his home country for over a decade. His research and writing have been published in outlets such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet Psychiatry, Slate, the Yale Review, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is working on a book, “Empire of Madness,” which explores the colonial origins of global mental health.

Why did you decide to major in FIT as an undergraduate?

I knew that I wanted to study the humanities or social sciences before medical school and the French department made me feel more welcome than any other at Princeton. I realized that language and literature could be a lens for whatever I was interested in, rather than a restrictive discipline.

How did your FIT concentration shape your career trajectory and the way you perform your job today?

Studying literature, language, and theory opened my eyes to a world outside of biomedical science. At Princeton I wrote junior papers and a thesis that were focused on health and medicine. By the time I got to medical school, I knew that there was more to the human experience of illness than what was happening at the cellular level — I had early frameworks to think about ideas like stigma, bias, and affect as they applied to my patients. Becoming a physician writer was a natural step because I had started to think and write about these ideas as an undergraduate.

What would you say to an undergraduate who is considering a concentration in FIT?

Choose your major based on what you enjoy, not what you think will give you the right qualification for X job. You can pretty much do whatever you'd like after undergrad. You don't need to major in biology to be a doctor, or English to be a writer, or economics to go into finance. Now is your time to broaden your knowledge, to master a language, to read books you may never get the chance to read again. I envy you!

Do you have a favorite memory or anecdote from your time in the department?

Most of my favorite memories come from working with Florent Masse as a member of the L'Avant Scène theater troupe. I’ll never forget playing Monsieur Martin in Ionesco’s absurdist play Cantatrice Chauve as a senior — it was also an independent study with Florent. At the time, I enjoyed the slapstick humor — I could entertain my friends who always sat in the front row and didn't understand French. Looking back, I had a shallow understanding of the continuous loops and apparent lack of meaning in theatre of the absurd, but at least I was trying to engage with it, and Florent was patient in letting me (and the other actors) deliver our own interpretations of the work.