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Queens College Celebrates Forty Years of Italian American Studies

The Queens College Italian American Studies department celebrated its 40th anniversary on March 26 with a reception in Rosenthal Library.

Speakers included Interim President of Queens College Evangelos Gizis, director of Italian Studies and distinguished professor Fred Gardaphe, Dean of the John J. Calandra Italian American Institute Anthony Tamburri and various QC professors.

Gizis welcomed the audience to the reception while Gardaphe took over to recall the history of the program.

In 1973, QC offered its first course in Italian Studies, Gardaphe said. Since then, the minor offers courses emphasizing an interdisciplinary approach that explores Italian culture in American society. The program is closely allied with the Calandra Institute located in Manhattan.

“Founded in 1979 and reconstituted in 1995, it was the first of its kind devoted to documenting and preserving the Italian American experience,” according to the department’s website.

The program is more about moving forward than looking backward, Gardaphe said.

“It tries to unite Italians… as much as Italians can be united,” he said.

The anniversary reception also included a screening of an interview with Richard Gambino, former QC professor and founder of the department, discussing ethnic relations and Italian stereotypes. His guests included Mario Cuomo and former Senator Ralph Marino.

Also screened was a July 2013 interview with Gardaphe and Donna Chirico, professor of psychology at York College, in which they went into detail about the damaging stereotypes Italian Americans face.

“You need stereotypes to tell a story,” Chirico said. “What happens is there is no alternative to these portrayals.”

The problem is within audiences of television shows like “The Sopranos” and “The Jersey Shore,” Chirico said.

However, both Chirico and Gardaphe agreed that there continues to be a lot to discuss in the culture of Italian Americans.

There is proof in the development of the Italian Studies program. The QC originated program offered four graduate courses in fall 2012 and continues to educate students interested in their ethnic history.

“Italian American studies has become an institute of its own,” Gardaphe said. “It shows how lively the discipline is.”

Universities such as Loyola and University of Wisconsin used what is being called the Queen’s model to develop their own programs in Italian American studies.

“These courses are beneficial to anyone who’s interested in the field,” Gardaphe said.

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