A New FRIT Committee
On April 20, 2020, the Department officially added a Diversity and Inclusion Committee composed of faculty and students as an official standing committee in its governance document. During its first year, the committee was chaired by Dr. Karolina Serafin, Senior Lecturer in Italian and Director of Language Instruction in Italian, and its first order of business was to draft a departmental value statement on diversity and inclusion. The statement is found on the FRIT website, along with our mission statement, and states “It is our ultimate goal to create a working and learning environment where people of diverse gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities, origins, religions, abilities and socio-economic status feel welcomed and supported in their personal and academic development and growth.”
In addition to the departmental value statement, the committee drafted a job prompt that all faculty job applicants must now address as part of their application. The text spells out the Department’s values and asks applicants to submit a brief diversity statement and “provide specific examples that demonstrate your commitment and ability to engage with issues of diversity and inclusion, while also discussing your plans to meet and enhance our diversity goals.”
In collaboration with the IU Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services, the committee organized a workshop for graduate students dedicated to mental health. They also offered a workshop dedicated to inclusive pedagogy and writing the diversity statement that will be required of our own graduate students when they go on the job market. As mentioned above, the Italian language program revised the language and format of their syllabi to make them more inclusive. Associate Instructor Giorgio Losi (MA ’19) drafted the statement on pronouns and gender in Italian language. The French program also added a section on gender-neutral pronouns to their syllabi.
In 2021-22, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, chaired by Professor Colleen Ryan, examined and discussed the way service assignments are distributed in the Department, with the aims of fair distribution and not overburdening faculty members and students from underrepresented groups. The committee also discussed visible and invisible labor, particularly since the start of the Covid-19 era. The committee also discussed ways they might be able to augment the participation of diverse and underrepresented students in study abroad experiences.
At their last meeting of the academic year, the Committee began a conversation about department-level climate and “belonging.” Professor Ryan reports that they discussed questions such as: How can we reduce the challenges or barriers that faculty and students of color and other minority groups experience in developing a sense of belonging and in making academic and professional progress?
Courses Include a Diversity of Perspectives
Although FRIT courses have long included source materials and perspectives outside the white European male tradition, faculty members have renewed their emphasis on bringing diverse voices to the study of Italian, French, and Francophone cultures. In Spring 2021, Dr. Serafin invited several guest speakers to participate in her M463 course “New Italian Identities,” which explored cultural contributions of first- and second-generation Italians. Students learned from Phaim Bhuiyan (film director Bangla), Marilena Delli Umuhoza (Italian-Rwandan author, photographer, filmmaker), Amara Lakhous (Italian-Algerian author), and Mauro Muscio (LGBTQ+ activist).
In Ruth N. Halls Professor Oana Panaïté’s F467 course “Mediterranean Migrations” (offered in Spring 2020 and again on the schedule for Fall 2022), students explore the refugee crisis that has been shaping the current public discourse, social attitudes, and political decisions both in Europe and the US. This phenomenon, according to Panaïté, “is only the most recent manifestation of century-long patterns of migration tied to economic domination, war, and colonial conquest but also to commercial, human, and cultural exchanges around the Mediterranean basin.”
In his Spring 2022 F225 course “Cultures Clashing and Changing in Francophonie,” Professor Jeff Lamontagne explored how contact through travel, media, and/or technology has shaped multiple communities around the world, including minority and majority groups in France, French Canadians (in multiple provinces), African regions with French as an institutional or colonial language, Creole populations in the Americas and in the Indian Ocean, and French populations in the United States (especially Indiana, Louisiana, and the Northeast). According to Lamontagne’s course description, “We also discuss how contact encourages new technologies and worldviews to propagate, leading to the proliferation of efforts to improve gender representation and gender-neutrality in languages like English and French.”
This coming Fall, Prof. Ryan will teach an M222 course on “Black/White/Italian: Identity and Belonging between America and Italy.” This course will examine Italy’s colonial past and racial history to understand the contemporary challenges that a multicultural Italy faces and the immigration experience of Italians in the United States throughout the last 150 years. Students will gain an understanding of Italian and American history in tandem through the lenses of racial and ethnic identity and they will analyze the ways in which social and cultural constructs such as race and ethnicity, as well as gender and sexuality, have influenced the images and identities of Italians over the last century. Ryan has invited African-Italian filmmaker Fred Kuwornu to screen and discuss his documentary Blaxploitation (2016) in cooperation with the IU Cinema.