By Caroline McCarthy, Sports Editor
Isabel Frazza, a Christian raised, camel-tattoo sporting senior at Manhattan College, is set to attend Yale University Divinity School to pursue a masters degree in religion with a concentration in women, gender and sexuality studies in the Fall of 2022. When asked how these seemingly contradictory subjects relate to one another, as some interpret the Bible to be a little misogynistic, Frazza chuckled and asked, “Only a little?”
Her fascination with gender roles in religion stemmed from a change in clergy at her childhood church. The new priest determined that The Bible prohibited girls from serving at the altar, leaving Frazza feeling lost and causing her to question The Bible’s teachings.
“That was one of the reasons I backed away from my faith,” Frazza said. “And then I came to a Catholic college.”
Frazza says her religious studies requirements at Manhattan College allowed her to see her faith in a more intellectual way, one that was focused on social justice. She believes religion and gender studies are interdisciplinary and essential to a functioning society. According to Frazza, there is no clear distinction between religious beliefs and political decisions.
“We like to pretend that there’s this big separation of church and state, but there’s not and never has been,” Frazza said. “So understanding the Bible and being able to say, ‘Well, actually, it says this,’ and ‘Yes it says this, but let’s look at its context’. I feel it is very important to understand these different systems of oppression and where they come from, and then understanding how we can then tackle them and remove them and deconstruct them.”
By studying religion and how that relates to gender identity, Frazza’s goal is not to dismantle Christianity, but rather reinterpret how The Bible is inevitably used in government decisions to come to a better understanding of modern times.
“Some days I’m more hopeful than others,” Frazza said in regards to these efforts. “Some days it feels almost impossible to impact such a long-held, set-in-its-ways type of institution.”
Yet, Frazza finds hope in recent changes to the Catholic Church Doctrine as well as more progressive clergy and Catholic leaders, like President O’Donnell.
“Right now we have a Catholic president who, although I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, he says that he’s Catholic. He identifies as Catholic, goes to church and in the same breath says that he’s an ally for the LGBTQ community,” Frazza said. “And I think that shows that there’s change. Things are not where they were a couple years ago.”
Frazza is a devoted student in the Peace and Justice, Religious Studies and Philosophy departments, all of which she believes are intertwined in a curriculum that supports social justice and Catholic reconciliation. Her senior thesis, a year-long research project studying the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ faculty in Catholic secondary schools, comes a year earlier than expected as Frazza is only in her third year of study at Manhattan College.
“It’s been a real honor to work with Isabel over the past year in her senior honors thesis, where she has demonstrated a real capacity to both critically engage and explore complex theological ideas and to attend and listen to the experiences of real people today,” Kevin Ahern, Ph.D., associate professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, said.
One case study that stood out to Frazza consisted of an openly gay professor being terminated from employment by the Brooklyn Diocese after moving in with his significant other.
“A lot of it has kind of come with marriage equality and people just LGBTQ faculty deciding to get married to their longtime partners,” Frazza said. “And with social media, there’s a lot more potential say, for instance, some of them have posted about their relationships and they’ve used that to then terminate them.”
Frazza used this senior thesis as an addition to her applications to University of Chicago Divinity School, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Duke Divinity School, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Yale Divinity School. Though the paper is still a work in progress, the research she had gathered, along with what she learned at Manhattan College, impressed these institutions — especially Yale.
“I’ve met many academics who are great at engaging ideas and I’ve met activists who can listen to the needs of people on the margins, but it’s rare to see a student who can so skillfully do both,” Ahern said. “Isabel shows the real potential of both a Religious Studies or Peace and Justice Studies Major at Manhattan College.”
But before any plans of post-grad education or Catholic reformation, Frazza was known by her peers as a student leader, one who served on the student government board for two of her three years. Frazza was first elected as the vice president of the freshman class in 2019, and later became vice president of the school of liberal arts during the 2021-2022 school year. Between these sessions, Frazza served as secretary of the senate.
“I feel like [vice president of the freshman class] was one of the biggest roles that I’ve had so far, because freshmen, we obviously have a lot of questions. We’re trying to figure out life at Manhattan College, and how we can have our voice heard,” Frazza said.
Frazza has used her positions to advocate for mental health on campus, especially after her first term on the student government board was cut short by COVID-19. According to her, the pandemic gave room for over-involved students, like herself, to take a step back and learn how to assume a less demanding role while remaining a leader on campus.
“I definitely recommend that freshmen do not take on too much … easier said than done,” Frazza said. “The burnout is … real. But with the pandemic, everything slowed down a little bit, so I guess that’s one good thing that came out of it.”
Frazza’s original career goal was to attend law school after graduation, but after time to reflect during the pandemic, she realized it was more important to do something that made her happy, rather than what may have been expected of her by others.
“I like, sat back, and I thought, what do I actually want? To do what’s going to make me happy, regardless of what other people may want me to do or or list of like, ideas that my younger self wanted me to pursue. That kind of led me to pursue an unconventional degree and like a not so guaranteed career. Because I think I have experienced that burnout,” Frazza said.
With mental health being on the forefront of her academic experience, Frazza credits her professors for putting their students’ needs above that of assignment deadlines or classwork.
“At Manhattan College the professors have always made space to talk about things and when they’ve noticed students being stressed, because of the small classroom environments, there’s like that personal connection,” Frazza said. “You as a person come before and the due dates are like this class is not more important than your well being so that’s really helpful.”
As Frazza continues her passions in hopes of one day earning her doctorate degree and becoming a professor of religious studies, her teachers are cheering her on from Manhattan College — especially David Bollert, Ph.D.
“Isabel is a born philosopher, one whose thinking is rigorous, creative, and deep,” Bollert said. “She is Socratic in her approach to class conversation — listening to and building on her peers’ observations — and her commitment to shared exploration is Lasallian in spirit and practice. I have learned much from Isabel, and I am thankful for it. She will thrive at Yale.”