Education Matters English Interviews

Professor Iuele, Laurentian University, is concerned about the imminent shut-down of the Department of Italian Studies

EnglishItalianPortugueseSpanishGermanDutchFilipinoPolishChinese (Simplified)ArabicBengaliGreekTurkishKoreanJapanesePersianRomanian The Italian language and culture are alive and well in Canada and in Ontario and not only in large metropolises such as Toronto and Montreal. 
In Ontario, outside of the GTA and the Niagara Peninsula, there are several other towns and cities where our beautiful language is still spoken and flourishes even at the academic level.

It is a fact that after the University of Toronto and York University, the third-largest academic program offering a complete  Bachelor Degree in Italian Studies is at the Laurentian University in Sudbury.

We have interviewed Professor Diana Iuele-Colilli, the Chairperson of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Laurentian University, to talk to us about the Department’s successes in a hidden gem of Italian culture in Northern Ontario.

Professor Iuele,  how long has Laurentian University offered programs in Italian Studies?

 The formal program began conferring degrees in 1966. 

 How many students are currently enrolled in your programs?

We have approximately 160 students registered in our courses; 12 students are working toward a  major in Italian, and 10 follow a minor degree.

Why is it beneficial to students to be enrolled in your programs, and what are some of the careers that students enrolled in the Italian Department usually embark upon graduating?
Our students have gone on to careers in a variety of areas: teaching, media and TV, the film industry, translation, Law & Law enforcement, Medical and Wellness, sales, business, entrepreneurship, finance, government, marketing, accounting, hospitality, travel & tourism, and academia. 
It is noteworthy to mention that recently, one of our graduates entered the seminary and became a priest!
It is usually their language skills or their cultural sensitivity that helped them further their careers.

Is there a graduate study program at Laurentian for those students who wish to continue their academic studies beyond the Bachelor’s degree?

 We do not have a graduate program in Italian Studies.  My colleague, Dr. Christine Sansalone, and I  are both members of the Laurentian University Graduate School. We are active in the Interdisciplinary Masters Program in Humanities and the Ph.D. in Human Sciences.  

You offer a full gamut of undergraduate courses at the Department. Correct?

Yes, we offer a wide array of undergraduate courses in language, linguistics, literature, cinema, theatre (my colleague’s area of research), culture and Italian-Canadian studies (my area of research).  Some of our courses are experiential, and we also offer a co-op course.  We can offer experiential and workplace integrated courses because of our close ties with the Sudbury Italian community. We are also active in the promotion of extracurricular and co-curricular activities for our students, such as opera trips, Cinéforum, etc.

The Italian Studies program at Laurentian is well known for its theatrical productions.

 Yes.  Le Maschere Laurenziane, the Italian Studies Theatre Troupe, has been staging theatre productions in Italian since 1992.  This year will be our 29th season.  We have produced plays that include playwrights from the Italian canon, such as Carlo Goldoni, Luigi Pirandello, Achille Campanile, Dario Fo, Eduardo De Filippo, Eduardo Scarpetta, just to mention a few.  We’ve also staged plays by Italian-Canadian playwrights, including Tony Nardi, Francesca Schembri and Lina Riccobene. 
In 2008 we decided to start writing our own plays to showcase the thriving local Italian community and document the linguistic phenomenon of ‘Italiese’ — the hybrid language created by post-WWII Italian immigrants.

We have been invited to perform our plays in Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie and in New York State.

I have been compiling a dictionary of Italiese for years and the plays, which have all been published, showcase the development of Italiese outside of Toronto. Our local Italian community is very supportive of this venture.  They come to campus in droves every year to see our productions.  This is one of the reasons we have such a great rapport with our community.  This year we are staging (virtually over Zoom)  ‘Zoomiamoci’ — a collection of 5 vignettes that chronicle the lives of Italians in Sudbury during the Covid-19 pandemic.  The performances are Friday, March 26th at 1 pm and 8 pm, Saturday, March 27th at 8 pm and Sunday, March 28th at 2 pm.

I understand that you personally are also very active in the cultural element of the Italian Community of Sudbury.

Both my colleague, Dr. Christine Sansalone, and I have been extremely active in the Sudbury Italian community.  Christine and I have served on the Board of Directors of the Società Caruso, the largest Italian association in the 705 area.  I served on the Board for over 20 years.  I am currently the Board’s immediate past president and its first female president, while  Christine is still serving on the Board as the Culture and Education chairperson. 
I stepped away from Board duties when I was appointed Vice Consul of Italy for the Sudbury District in July of 2019.

We have worked very hard through our service to the community and our research about the community (I have written a history of the Italian community of Sudbury and Christine has done extensive research on the internment of Sudbury Italians during WWII) to foster a strong collaborative bond between the university and community and we have seen the fruits of our labours in the participation of the community in the events we organize at the university and in the number of scholarships and bursaries that community members have made available to students who study Italian at Laurentian.

What is the Italian Language and Culture’s footprint in a northern community so far away from the GTA?

After English and French, Italian is the next largest community in Sudbury.  It must be borne in mind that Italian immigrants came to Northern Ontario to work on the construction of the railway and in the mines, well before they ventured to the Toronto area.  So, Italians have been in the north for a long time. In the specific case of Sudbury, Italians started coming here when nickel mining began in the 1880s.  In fact, INCO (International Nickel Company) had a thriving “Little Italy” made up of mostly immigrants from the Pesaro area at the turn of the 20th century. 

The Italian community today is very active in organizing events that disseminate our culture.  Most events that are organized by the many Italian cultural organizations such as the Società Caruso, the Associazione Veneta, the Associazione Regionale Marchigiana, the Fogolâr Furlan, the Calabria Social Club, the Coro Caroso, the Incontri Club, the Club Montessori and the Italian Club of Copper Cliff are held either at the Italian Club of Copper Cliff, which was founded in 1934 or at the Società Caruso, which was founded in 1947.

In 2020, my family established the Paul Colilli Foundation with the goal of supporting Italian culture in North-Eastern Ontario (there are very active Italian communities in Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and North Bay).  However, the primary goal of the foundation is the creation of an Endowed Chair in my late husband’s name at Laurentian University. We know that the Italian community will help us achieve the goal of endowing the chair.

The Italian community has directly impacted the history and life of the University since its inception.

In Sudbury, the Italian community was instrumental in the fundraising efforts to establish Laurentian University and its partners in 1960. Many Italian community leaders were the driving force behind the fundraising campaign that would facilitate the construction of Laurentian University.

As I already mentioned, the Italian community has donated thousands of dollars to Laurentian to develop scholarships and bursaries.

What are some of the current challenges Laurentian University and its Italian Studies program are faced with?

At the moment, we are in a period of limbo.  Laurentian declared insolvency on February 1st and must restructure by April 30th as mandated by the courts.  We in the Italian Studies program fear that because we are small we may be cut, even though we have created a niche for ourselves and have been recognized as a program that delivers innovative and cutting-edge courses at all levels of language; we cover all the key areas of literature in the Italian canon so that our students can seamlessly migrate to the graduate level without having to complete make-up work; we offer experiential and workplace integrated courses that allow students to make the connection between theory/research and practise; we offer courses regarding the Italian diaspora in general and the Italian Canadian reality, which squarely fits in the Strategic plan of local impact at Laurentian University. We would like the university to make its structuring decisions based on what the program has given to the university, what it can give in the future and on the strategic mandate of supporting the communities that Laurentian serves.  This includes the Italian community.

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