UMass Boston celebrates opening of new Center for Italian Cultural Studies

UMass Boston celebrated the opening of the Catherine Frisone Scott Center for Italian Cultural Studies with a panel discussion and reception on Wednesday in a packed Alumni Lounge. The Italian consul general (below, to the left of Interim Chancellor Katherine S. Newman) and guests from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Brown University were among those in attendance.

Catherine Frisone Scott '38, '39 earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Teachers College of Boston, one of UMass Boston's legacy schools. Frisone Scott provided the financial support for the center because she wanted to have current and future UMass Boston students experience the same joy of the Italian culture that her brother, the late John B. Frisone, had.

Frisone Scott, now 102, wasn’t able to attend the inauguration event, but Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman conveyed the alumna’s wishes about what she wanted the center to be.

“She was very explicit with me that while language was an incredibly integral part of everything Italian, she really wanted the center to celebrate all aspects of Italian culture: cinema, history, art history, film, science,” Newman said. “[John B. Frisone] was hoping there was a way to convey to the world how much he loved the culture and to spread that knowledge and awareness more broadly than he felt it was, and it’s through this naming that Catherine has honored her brother in perpetuity.”

The center will serve as a site of engagement for faculty, students, and the local and global community to reflect on the Italian language, literature, history, and culture. It will facilitate research and create an interdisciplinary resource for faculty scholars and students on campus and beyond to promote Italian studies and generate high-quality scholarship. The center will also offer grants to help students and faculty travel to Italy. Initial grants will support participation in UMass Boston study abroad programs as well as students planning to spend a semester in Italy. 

“[Catherine Frisone Scott] specifically focused on our students, on the fact that we wanted to bring the joy and the magic of Italy that I experienced when I was going as a 16-year-old from India to Italy,” Associate Professor of Italian Vetri Nathan said in his opening remarks.

“Catherine Frisone Scott’s generous gift will help us all to open students’ eyes to exciting new perspectives on themselves, on Italy, on globalism, multiculturalism, history, and language,” said Associate Professor of Early Modern European History Elizabeth McCahill.

Assistant Professor of Art Lorenzo Buonanno, who specializes in the art of Venice, facilitated a discussion with UMass Boston professors, students, and representatives from Brown University and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Kailyn Fellmeth, an economics major and Italian studies minor, shared how she booked a trip to Italy six weeks after starting Assistant Professor of Italian and French Shannon McHugh’s Elementary Italian I class.

“Three years later, a lot of my undergraduate studies have centered around disadvantaged communities in Boston and specifically, limited English proficiency communities, and so I think going back to that first trip, it really gave me a glimpse of what it was like to be in a place and not speak the language and how difficult that can be, and so it’s really driven my passion for advocating for people and helping them in achieving socioeconomic well-being,” Fellmeth said.

Madison Vlass, a master’s student in public history graduating this month, researched material about Salem’s Italian immigrant community for her internship for Historic New England.

“It has certainly translated into my empathy for more recent immigrants coming into our country and the communities that they are creating,” Vlass said.

Italian Consul General Federica Sereni, who has jurisdiction over Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, urged the panelists to make sure the center not only encourages study of the Italy of the past, but the present, and the future. She also thanked Frisone Scott for her gift.

“It makes me especially proud that Italy has made an impact on someone and she has decided to donate this amount to the Italian culture,” Sereni said. “It goes way beyond the amount. I think it’s more a question of heart. You feel so deeply that you want to give back to that country or that language, that culture, and, that is, I think, something that is very, very special.”