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Unlearning Toward a Fresh Perspective

Professional education alumnus pushes the boundaries of Italian academia
Giosué Prezioso
Giosué Prezioso

Giosué Prezioso is a barrier breaker. The son of a working class Italian family, he grew up to earn a master’s degree in art, law, and business at Christie’s in London, as well as a Ph.D. in the UK. An out gay man with an out gay father, he has moved steadily upward in the ranks of Italy’s rather conservative, nepotistic, and vertically stratified academic community. In fact, he was recently named to Forbes “30 Under 30 Italy” for his work in education.

At age 29, Prezioso was hired as director of studies at the Unicollege University of Turin, making him the youngest director at any university in Italy. In that position, and as a classroom instructor and thought leader, Prezioso is attempting to contribute to changing the model of Italian academia. He represents an academic persona that is often under-represented in the country: young, openly gay, first-generation graduate, and from a non-nepotistic background. Drawing from his experience, he dreams of setting a precedent for people like him, in a country where advanced studies and academic careers are often a privilege and a challenge. And he’s using skills he acquired while earning his Certificate in Advanced Education Leadership (CAEL) at Harvard Graduate School of Education to help get the job done.

Those who think this sounds like an impossible task likely haven’t met Prezioso, a warm, energetic, and progressively-focused teacher and administrator. What it takes to change Italian academia, Prezioso says, is “unlearning” — casting aside rigid classist, ageist, and sexist views and approaching the academic model from a fresh perspective. In a way, he’s the perfect person for the job. He’s been helping people unlearn all his (young) life.

An Italy that Lags Behind

Italy places eighth in the world in GDP, and it’s the third strongest economy in Europe. But in other ways, says Prezioso, the country lags behind. Of European Union nations, Italy ranks 26 of 27 in the number of people with neither education, employment, nor training, according to Statista. And according to a study published by the Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California Berkeley, the average age of an Italian college or university professor is 52, says Prezioso.

“There’s a rather universal idea that Italy is the country of culture par excellence,” says Prezioso. “Its image is one where people are well-educated and seek constant civil progress here." Italy is indeed a rich country, both culturally and economically, but paradoxically, it’s near the bottom of Europe’s rankings for people with a degree (34 out of 54 nations), according to Statista. 

“We need to differentiate,” he concludes, “between Italy’s magnetic global aura and its contemporary educational and civil life, which needs international attention.” 

In his search for a new model of academic leadership, Prezioso turned to CAEL. At Harvard, he explored ways to help Unicollege create positive change. He learned how to understand the stages of change, and how to manage constraints and exploit opportunities to implement new practices with purpose and success. Perhaps most important, he explored the value of connecting with stakeholders, including students, instructors, and administrative personnel, in the pursuit of equitable solutions. 

Small Changes, Big Impact

One of Prezioso’s most important takeaways from CAEL was how to create change without large, expensive initiatives. “It can be simple,” he says.  As an example, he mentions a case study he recalled from CAEL, which analyzed orchestra auditions. “In the 1970s, the number of women in U.S. orchestras was equal to 10-20%.

“The lack of female representation was troubling. So orchestra boards interposed simple screens between the interviewers and the candidates so the candidates’ gender remained unknown during the auditions. With that simple, cheap, and pragmatic practice, the number of women in orchestras [in the United States] rose to 40%. The case study demonstrates the impact and reverberation certain inclusive practices can have.”

In an academic environment in which it is unusual for LGBTQ+ people to be open about their gender or sexuality, Prezioso is up front about his sexual orientation.  “I'm deliberately gay,” he says.  “I saw some politicians, TV characters, and even religious personalities share their sexual orientation publicly,” he adds, “but the academic world has been rather cold on the matter. Students, staff, and other personnel in academia may need the same push to make their world more inclusive, representational, and fair. My efforts are a small, hope-driven contribution.”

—  Gary Miller is a writer and editor. His latest book is There’s No Way to Do It Wrong! How to Get Young Learners to Take Risks, Tell Stories, Share Opinions, and Fall in Love with Writing.


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