Hailey Oppenlander | May 31, 2019
Gianna Van Heel’s time studying abroad while at Notre Dame was immersive and comprehensive — the nearly yearlong experience included coursework, research, an internship, and embracing the Italian way of life.
She knew it was the best way to truly learn another language.
“When you put yourself in that situation, your brain adapts,” said Van Heel, an Italian major with a concentration in literature and culture who spent her junior year and the following summer in Bologna. “But you have to take away all the securities that we have.”
Van Heel, who graduated this week and won the College of Arts and Letters’ Robert D. Nuner Award for the language major with the highest GPA, studied Dante during her time abroad and was captivated by his writing.
She had also grown interested in feminist theology through classes for her philosophy, religion, and literature minor, so she blended those subjects in her senior thesis on the portrayal of women in Dante.
“At first, I had this preconception — Dante's a medieval writer, medieval equals misogynistic, and that's just the way things were,” she said.
After reading Dante’s original text and learning from other scholars, however, Van Heel found her assumption to be wrong. Dante’s depiction of women suggests that religious truths about the dignity of all persons can transcend time periods, she argues, even though women’s equality was not socially or culturally accepted in Dante’s time.
Studying Dante’s original text while in Italy illuminated even more of the connections present in his work, she said, and energized her to keep digging deeper.
Read more here.