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April 29, 2002

Constant Class

By Eric Rangus


In the evening, the sun sets outside Judy Raggi Moore’s office window in the Callaway Center. It is a beautiful sight. Raggi Moore knows this because, more often than not, she has a front row seat for it.

“If you want to be an effective teacher, you have to be on top of what you are teaching,” says Raggi Moore, senior lecturer in French and Italian and director of the Italian studies program. “That requires a lot of work, a lot of research and a lot of reading.”

And a lot of time spent on campus. Students sometimes stop by her office to talk long after the sun has gone down.

Raggi Moore has built Italian studies into one of the strongest language programs on campus. That was no mean feat. When she started teaching Italian in 1986, there were only 46 students. She created an Italian studies major shortly after. Now almost 700 students are signed up for courses in Italian. And this is at a University and in a geographical area with practically no natural ties to Italy herself or the Italian-American community.

“The mission of this program is unique, and I’ve always felt very strongly about it,” Raggi Moore says. “It’s very interdisciplinary. It isn’t meant to go to Italy and learn the Italian language or just dabble in a course of Italian literature. It is meant to be as immersed in Italy as a reality as complex and difficult to understand a reality as it is.”

Raggi Moore also is primarily responsible for building what is one of Emory most popular and successful study abroad programs: its presence in Italy. Emory students already have opportunities to study in Rome and Siena. Next fall a Milan program will be added, soon followed by a second Rome program.

“You can’t teach Italy from here alone,” she says.

Raggi Moore administrates the semester programs from here, and each summer teaches her own course abroad. For seven weeks, 40 students led by Raggi Moore pile into a bus and travel up and down the Italian boot, getting up at the crack of dawn and often not going to sleep until past midnight every day.

“The whole time is spent in what is loosely termed ‘the classroom,’” Raggi Moore says. Students visit museums, historical sites, churches and a variety of other places to absorb Italian culture. While Raggi Moore plans much of the activities, she has to remain flexible and observant because the day’s lesson can change with the turn of a corner.

“It’s a pure form of academic expression,” she says. “I know that in a given location I’m going to lecture on Machiavelli and the next one I’m going to talk about Botticelli, then bring together those concepts into something that makes academic sense and is coherent. But what if in between these two lectures we encounter a public funeral or a re-creation of the medieval pageantry? Am I not going to talk about that? Of course. So we’ll stop and we’ll look at it. And we can’t just look. We have to place it in a cultural and historical context. That is where you are in constant class. You can never foresee what a student is going to ask you.”

In addition to the students, Raggi Moore will have faculty company as well, and the program takes advantage of Italian studies interdisciplinary variety.

“Each summer is a new creation,” Raggi Moore says. “To me, the epitome of a university is faculty and students together, in the same living conditions, equipped with the same circumstances, exploring together. It’s a physical, intellectual and emotional bonding experience.”

This year, joining Raggi Moore for the summer program will be anthropology’s Peter Brown, music’s Stephen Crist and dance’s Lori Teague. They leave three days after Commencement and will return in July.

With a faculty team leaning toward the performing arts, Raggi Moore is gearing this summer’s class toward an exploration of indigenous music and dances and will concentrate on Southern Italy and Sicily, where many of these peasant creations are still visible.

Raggi Moore often spends more than a year planning these trips and her devotion to her work and students has not gone unnoticed. She received a Crystal Apple Award, a honor bestowed by students in 1999, the first year they were handed out.

Earlier this month, the Emory College Language Center (ECLC) gave Raggi Moore its first annual Excellence in Language Teaching Award. At Commencement, she will be one of three professors on the podium to pick up Excellence in Teaching Awards from the Center for Teaching and Curriculum (CTC).

“Students are the ones who understand good teaching,” Raggi Moore says. “Why are all these awards meaningful to me? Because they are sincere. When students tell you you’ve made a difference in their lives, even 10 years later, that’s the thrill. That’s the rush. That’s why you teach.”

Raggi Moore’s connection to the students is easy to see. There are few campus activities or committees she has missed. She is faculty advisor to the Honor Council and she sits on the Alcohol Judicial Council. She has been a FAME leader almost since the program began, she is faculty advisor to ODK Honor Society, is an advisor to Emory BIGS and, of course, an advisor to the Italian club. The list goes on and on.

Raggi Moore also is faculty advisor to Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. She’s held the position for several years, and has sat in on many of the sorority’s meetings. One of them was attended by national representatives who questioned the sisters about why an outsider was there.

The Thetas quickly moved to solve the problem. They pledged her.

“As an adult, I had to do what all girls do on that famous morning when they become members. Of course, I can’t reveal anything,” she laughs. “It was quite hysterical. Me and all the 18-year-olds.”

Raggi Moore is a native of Italy and holds dual citizenship. She was born in Torino and grew up in Rome. She moved to the U.S. after marrying an American. Her emphasis on multiculturalism rubbed off on her daughter, Jessica, 17, who has been trilingual (Italian, English, Spanish) since learning to speak.

Raggi Moore went to school in Rome—a fact she is both proud of and grateful for.

“I would walk by the Vatican in order to go to university every day—it was almost an hour commute each way to get to university and back—but it was really a labor of love,” Raggi Moore says. “Every time I’d see it I’d think, ‘How many people would give who knows what to be here just once. And I live here.’

“I make no bones of telling my students that I respect where they come from, but if we want to get along the first lesson they have to learn is that the most beautiful city in world is,” she pauses for dramatic effect. “Roma.”

Since its introduction to campus, Italian has been grouped with French, a coupling Raggi Moore views with mock disdain. Though she is deeply and sincerely appreciative of current chair Carol Harron’s work in promoting the importance of foreign language acquisition, she also humorously bristles at Italian being the second listed language in the department.

“We gave them culture,” Raggi Moore says of the Italy’s ‘gift’ to France. “I always say, ‘the Italian studies program,’ forget the French,” she continues, ribbing her departmental compatriots whenever she can.

“That’s the way I conduct my class, Rome is the center of the world, Rome is the most beautiful city, and Italian is the most beautiful language. If you know what you’re doing, you’re not going to study any other language, you’re going to study Italian!”