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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

Students remember Italian professor Tiziana Serafini for passion, service

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Colleagues and students remembered Italian professor Tiziana Serafini at a memorial service in Malloy Hall Chapel Friday afternoon.
Colleagues and students remembered Italian professor Tiziana Serafini at a memorial service in Malloy Hall Chapel Friday afternoon.

Italian professor Tiziana Serafini, a voice for those caught up in the Italian refugee crises who was known to teach yoga classes in her native tongue to her students for extra credit, died in Rome from cancer Aug. 20. She was 62.

Serafini spent most of her time in the classroom since coming to Notre Dame in the fall of 2016 instructing courses for students just beginning to learn the Italian language.

“Freshman year I had her as my first Italian professor ever,” Adele Bonomi, a senior, recalled. “I had never taken it before. It was online. She was the one who made me super passionate about Italian.”

Serafini helped Bonomi restart the Italian Club after a period of inactivity during the pandemic. The pair planned events including a cooking class, karaoke night, pizza party fundraiser and guest lecture about studying abroad in Rome. Bonomi worked closely with Serafini as Italian Club president until heading off to Rome for her semester abroad in the spring of 2023.

“She was super funny and very full of life,” Bonomi said. “She was always down to crack a joke or just have a good time, but then she also just had like a lot of lightness around her.”

Fifth year Brennan Kelly took one of Serafini’s courses as a sophomore to prepare for his junior year abroad in Rome with the architecture program. A fluent Spanish speaker, Kelly said learning Italian was very difficult for him because to do so he needed to simultaneously unlearn Spanish.

“She really took care into getting our backgrounds — what we knew, what we didn’t and what we wanted to learn,” Kelly said. “She applied that to everything we did, and that was extremely helpful for learning the Italian language and made me respect her as a professor much more.”

Junior Gabe Biondo was involved with Serafini’s efforts to teach the Italian language to African refugees on their way to Italy. According to the International Rescue Committee, Italy receives more refugees and asylum seekers each year than any other European country.

In the summer of 2022 and spring of 2023, Serafini taught an experimental course, “Learning Beyond the Classroom,” on refugee issues and foreign language pedagogy. Biondo, who was Serafini’s teaching assistant for the course this spring, said Notre Dame students had the opportunity to virtually communicate with African refugees in their camp in connection with the courses.

“She was just very dedicated to just helping people,” Biondo said. “She really wanted to help people and that is why she organized this course to help teach Italian to refugees, and she was so passionate about it — about being there for other people.”

As her teaching assistant, Biondo said he would meet with Serafini multiple times per week.

“She always asked about my family,” Biondo said. “Before we do any work, she would always care about you, making sure that everything is OK.”

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Italian professor Tiziana Serafini joined the Notre Dame faculty in the fall of 2016.

Department of Romance Languages and Literatures chair Alison Rice, a French professor, said she often served on committees with Serafini and would typically see her at larger department events. In 2020, when she became chair of the Romance languages department, Rice said she began to meet regularly with Serafini.

“The very last time I saw her was in early May, and we met in Hagerty Cafe in the student center,” Rice said. “She hadn’t had anything to eat, and I had already had lunch. She had this wonderful avocado toast, and I had no idea they even made avocado toast.”

Rice said Serafini ate half of the avocado toast and then insisted she eat the other half.

“I obliged, even though I had already eaten and wasn’t hungry, but it was so good,” Rice said. “And I think that’s kind of her personality, too. She would want to share nice things. She was very solicitous and caring about those who were around her.”

A native of Rome, Serafini earned her doctorate in Italian literature from the University of California, Los Angeles. Prior to joining Notre Dame, she was Italian Language Program director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Serafini previously taught Italian at Los Angeles City College, Santa Monica College, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Colleagues and students gathered in Malloy Hall Chapel on Friday afternoon for a memorial service to honor Serafini. Friends shared words of remembrance after joining together in prayer and song.

Serafini is survived by two children, Ariel and Damien.