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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

First year seminar explores Mafia and social justice

Published: September 7, 2012
Section: News

As a new implementation to the curriculum, FYS 48a, “Voicing the Outrage of Silence: Social Justice and the Mafia” explores the glorified image of the mafia created in popular media while bringing to light issues of social justice as the political and violent turmoil associated with organized crime are exposed.

The course, which is to be taught by Professor Paola Servino (ITAL), utilizes popularized film, literature and other mediums to achieve these goals. When questioned as to the significance of the course, Servino explained, “Applying an interesting topic such as the mafia, which has always been exploited in cinematography and used as a stereotype of Italian culture, allows the opportunity to foster conversations with students regarding the individuals who have fought for social justice in Italy and across the globe.”

The portrayal of the mafia within American culture will be investigated through the showing of films such “The Godfather” and television series such as “The Sopranos,” which have generated misconceptions regarding the true violence of such organized crime groups. Remarking upon these misrepresentations in cinema, Servino asserts “it is very important to explore how many people have given their lives for the mafia and have died for the ideals of social justice in Italy and other cultures.”

Noting the glorification of organized crime figures within film, Servino describes the mafia as “full of fascination and mystery. It needs to be explored on a more profound level. It poses a lot of ethical questions, for the mafia is intertwined with law and government on countless levels.”
Beyond the portrayal of the mafia within the media, the course further seeks to depict the historical and social context culminating in such violence. Works written by Judge Falcone and Judge Borsellino, who dedicated their lives to pursuing justice and instigating methods to identify members of the mafia, leading to their subsequent murders, will be discussed as well.
Nine students are currently enrolled in the first-year seminar, which has already begun the analysis of the “The Night of the Owl,” a work written by Leonardo Sciascia.

Beyond perpetuating Brandeis’ theme of social justice through the implementation of the new first-year seminar, Servino asserts the overarching contribution of the Italian Studies program to a liberal arts education. Through Italian culture and language courses, students “explore a lot of different disciplines that are very strong in the liberal arts education, such as music, art, [and] literature.” Furthermore, she reflects on the applicable nature of the department, stating, “today there is a need for open minds in the workplace. Italian studies allow you to cover diverse disciplines, generating skills that are transferable to the ever increasing global workplace.”

Invested in immersing students not only in the Italian language but in the rich culture of Italy as well, Servino and the Italian Studies department generate additional events to supplement classroom learning. In the past, students have been invited to attend showings of famous Italian films, such as “Cinema Paradiso,” as well as participate in weekly lunch meetings with UDRs from the department to enhance one’s ability to speak Italian naturally and conversationally. In terms of upcoming events the department is hoping to host, Servino revealed that a trip to the opera may be organized in addition to various culinary events throughout the upcoming semester.

Deeply involved in the Italian studies program at Brandeis, Servino initially graduated with a degree from the University of Naples. During her career here at Brandeis, she has been the recipient of both the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching and the Mazer Award.