Italian Studies Students Set to Celebrate International Women's Day

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Influenced by feminist protests in Italy opposing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's recent prostitution scandal, some Italian Studies students at UC Berkeley will be out on Upper Sproul Plaza on Tuesday with signs in Italian celebrating International Women's Day.

Students from lecturer Mara Jacobsen's Italian 4 class will come together to voice support at noon - speaking in Italian - for women across the globe as well as to potentially use the experience for a class project. Like the demonstrators in Italy - who in February took to the streets to denounce the prime minister, who allegedly solicited sex from a minor and faces trial in April - the students will carry banners to join in the celebration of women.

The students, who have been studying the women's movement in Italy during the 1960s and 70s, will also be asking people passing by about their views on women in Italian society and how it differs from their view of women in the United States, according to Julie Dawn Barnes, an international student from the United Kingdom and student in the Italian 4 class. Each participant will represent a character - real or fictional - and read a statement from the point of view of a victim of gender oppression.

Barnes will hold a banner at the event for her sister-in-law, who according to Barnes has been a victim of sexism in Italy, struggling to find a job in the medical field "because she doesn't have connections with the 'right people.'"

Jacobsen did not respond to whether she would require students to participate. But, if students are being required to partake in the event, it could be problematic, said Fiona Doyle, chair of the campus division of the Academic Senate.

"It sounds to me like (the event) is skating on pretty thin ice in terms of the faculty code of conduct," Doyle said.

The faculty code of conduct prohibits "use of the position or powers of a faculty member to coerce the judgment or conscience of a student."

However, Armando Di Carlo, coordinator of the department of Italian studies' language curriculum, said grading students' attendance to the event would not be allowed.

Doyle added that any students unwilling to participate should not be penalized and should be able to request an alternative.

The February demonstrations in Italy served as an opportunity to empower not only women, but also men and children, according to Barnes. Tuesday's event will likewise celebrate those women who are often viewed as "beautiful yet mute," she said in an e-mail.

Students in the class are working on a project regarding how women are represented in Italy, their role in society and their rights in the work place and in the family, Barnes said.

The class, which usually meets at 9 a.m. five days a week, will instead be meeting at 12 p.m. on Sproul Plaza for the event. Jacobsen said in an e-mail she hopes students will use the event as an opportunity to learn more about the issues surrounding women in Italy.

"It is a cultural activity in Italian, to celebrate women, as people do in Italy," Jacobsen said in the e-mail. "This is not a protest but a celebration, a performance that I hope will create a conversation in Italian among students."

Barnes said the students will use the responses they collect from conversations with passersby and their experiences at the event as part of their research.

Despite the broad goals of the event, it is not sponsored by the department of Italian studies, according to Kathi Brosnan, the undergraduate student affairs officer for the department. Di Carlo said there is no plan for other classes to participate.


Contact Damian Ortellado at [email protected]

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