Illuminating ITALIC: An exploration of Stanford’s arts-focused residential program

Nov. 13, 2019, 1:39 a.m.

As prospective freshmen skim through their NSO packets and start choosing classes in the fall, many of them look cross-eyed at the wide range of acronyms: ESF, GER, AII, FR, ED. ITALIC is one of the many acronyms. 

But not to worry — I’m here to help demystify ITALIC for you. ITALIC is an arts-minded, residence-based academic program for freshmen. It aims to build a community between students and faculty in the humanities and arts through lectures, sections, lunches and special events.

ITALIC classes are located on East Campus in the Burbank House of Stern Hall. The lectures take place in a lecture hall next to the cafeteria, where the best piano on campus also resides. The sections take place in the basement of the building, where there are seminar classrooms as well as dance, art and music practice rooms.

ITALIC fulfills many General Education Requirements (GER): THINK, AII, ED and CE. When comparing ITALIC to programs such as SLE and ESF, people frequently hear that ITALIC is the less vigorous version of the other two. However, this is not always the case – even though ITALIC is only 4 units per quarter (plus another 4 units of PWR for one of the quarters) compared to the hefty 7-8 units/quarter from SLE and ESF, the program provides students with a fully immersive experience to explore the depths of art through lectures, workshops and field trips.

There are four main assignments throughout the first quarter of ITALIC. Firstly, we have Respond and Question Papers (RQ) and Lecture Responses (LR). These are usually 200-250 word summaries of readings or lectures, and we are required to do five of each. Secondly, we have Process Journals, which are free-form creative responses to anything we learned in or outside of class. This part of ITALIC really encourages us to be open-minded while brainstorming for our end-of-quarter “creative project”, where we will be developing our own artwork of our choice. (For example, I’m planning to create a music video, which is why my process journal is composed of a compilation of music scores from different genres to drawings of film set designs.) Lastly, there is a longer written assignment, which is a paper about a chosen artist’s artistic philosophy. Regardless of how much work one may think this is, ITALIC is worth it, especially if you even have the slightest interest in art.

ITALIC lectures and sections are usually very interactive. During Dr. Ryan Tacata’s presentation on site-specific art, we applied what we had learned in lecture and worked in teams to create performance art on the spot.

“I found the experience fantastic –– it was refreshing to apply the concepts discussed in ITALIC in a practical, hands on way,” says Danny Ritz, ’23. “The students were broken into two groups, one of which performed a piece reflecting on the recent Norovirus outbreak in Burbank house. The group created a piece that was timely, subtle and hilarious. I really enjoyed seeing my classmates working together in a brief, low-stakes environment.”

Another benefit of being part of ITALIC is that we often have guest artists and scholars come to teach us a variety of art, from hands-on visual art workshops to off-campus excursions to events, such as the SF Opera. We also have had the opportunity to listen to the St. Lawrence string quartet during lecture, be part of Lisa O’Dwyer’s improvisation workshops and many more. In Spring, the ITALIC students will head on a three-day trip to Los Angeles. 

Although ITALIC seems to encourage a tight-knit dorm environment and provide phenomenal lectures and workshops, students point out that lectures, which are two times a week, could be shorter – instead of 80 minutes, lectures could be reduced to 50 minutes. Otherwise, though, most students seem to fully enjoy the immersive artistic experience. 

“There are so many things to do now, there are so many places to be, and people to know. And to know art is to know people, in a sense. ITALIC allows us to get to know art as well as we get to know people,” Lara Arikan ’23, explains. “When I’m here in this new environment, I tend to put the attention to people, rather than art objects. Being in ITALIC gives me license to do that in a course setting, and gives me time, space and permission in a way.”

ITALIC fosters a wonderful community with many talented artists. Without ITALIC, I personally would have missed out on opportunities to immerse myself in the artistic community at Stanford. Not only is Burbank a great place to escape from the focus on engineering and entrepreneurship on campus, but it is also a very diverse dorm to learn from those who are interested in a variety of disciplines.

If you’re open-minded about learning more about all types of art, ITALIC can help sharpen your perspective of what art truly is, and its well-structured program will definitely guide you to a better understanding of how life and art are connected in our world.

Contact Yannie Tan at yannie ‘at’

Yannie Tan is from Atlanta, Georgia. She has previously been a part of the Arts and Life section and is now currently in the Opinions section. She is a music YouTuber, with a following of 270K subscribers and 45+ million views. As a Broadway musical fan, she loves New York. Contact her at opinions ‘at’

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