Receiving the ‘Permesso di Soggiorno’: 20 Years of Gordon in Orvieto

This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of STILLPOINT magazine.

As professors in the humanities and arts in the ’80s and ’90s, John Skillen and Bruce Herman (along with friends and colleagues) began noticing a trend: allusions to tradition, in art and in literature, were no longer resonating with students. The need for a renewed understanding of history—an encounter, an experience, with touchstones of the past— became increasingly apparent. To achieve this historical sense, students would need to immerse themselves in a place and culture where history and tradition were still very much alive.

Over a decade of conversations, including during a sojourn in Italy, Skillen and Herman thoughtfully gave shape to an innovative study abroad program, which piloted in 1998 in the small, historic Italian hill-city of Orvieto. The goal was to renew students’ discovery of relationships between the past and the future—mediated by a robust grasp of tradition as a living thing. Skillen served as the inaugural director, establishing trusted relationships with the city and building the curriculum, with help from Herman and Jim Zingarelli (art).

In 2008, Matthew Doll became director, bringing fresh leadership and building on the program’s solid foundation. He strengthened relationships, expanded the pool of visiting faculty, enriched the curriculum and fostered an unparalleled community experience for students in the context of the ancient city.

In the 20 years of its existence, Gordon in Orvieto has welcomed more than 700 students and 50 guest faculty from nearly 30 different institutions. Together, the program founders, shapers and participants have earned the permesso di soggiorno (“permit to stay”) and set the tone of Gordon’s presence in the city—not as tourists but as sojourners committed for the long term.

Visit the 20th anniversary exhibit, Exempla, and hear Matt Doll’s Scot Talk at Homecoming 2018 >