Isabel Buonopane ′14

Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Major: Religious Studies
Minor: Gender and Sexuality Studies

Academic interests: At Rhodes I have studied subjects ranging from Islam, feminism, and queer theory to Russian, archaeology, and studio art. I love the thrill of learning new things, and this is not limited to the classroom. Outside the classroom I have many interests, from gardening and traveling to holistic and homeopathic healing.

Extracurricular activities: Peer Advocate Center first responder, co-programmer, and director; Alpha Omicron Pi;  co-president, Rhodes’ Gender and Sexuality Studies Honor Society; secretary for Mortar Board National Honor Society; Omicron Delta Kappa; Religion and Theology Honor Society; Order of Omega Greek Leadership Honor Society. I am also the research assistant to Prof. Kaltner, the head of the religious studies department, and a member of the Rhodes Common Table. I have also been a volunteer at St. Jude, Ronald McDonald House, St. John′s Soup Kitchen, and Grow Memphis. 

Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.

I actually heard about Rhodes by accident. One of my friends in high school had a sibling who went here. We were at lunch one day during our senior year and I overheard her talking about her trip to see Rhodes and visit her sister. As I recall, she had brought a brochure of Rhodes to lunch and she let me look at it. Prior to this, I had no knowledge of the school. But as soon as I heard the name Rhodes and saw the picture of the campus, I just knew this was the school that I was going to attend. I am the type of person who always follows my gut, and I base almost all my major life decisions off of my intuition. I immediately embraced this internal knowledge, applied, visited the school, and was accepted.

How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes College?

I grew immensely during my time at Rhodes. In my studies, I was challenged by my professors and classes to examine the world through different lenses and perspectives. I’m happy to say that the study of gender and sexuality has completely changed the way I view and understand the world. The theories taught within these courses are some of the influential things I learned at Rhodes. However, my experiences and growth were not limited to my academics. I also gained rewarding friendships that I greatly cherish. But most of all I have grown and developed my sense of self. I have faced many challenges, both academically and personally, that have helped me develop, grow, and mature. I know that I still have much more to learn about myself and the world, but these last four years have definitely influenced and helped shape the person I am today. 

You served as the director of the Peer Advocate Center, a student-run hotline here at Rhodes. How did this experience impact you?

The Peer Advocate Center was by far been my most rewarding and meaningful experience at Rhodes. The annual training in active listening taught me how to constructively channel my talents for empathy and for listening in a constructive way. The training also taught me how to support others in a way that would help them empower themselves, while protecting myself through the creation of boundaries. From the beginning, this was an organization that I was incredibly passionate about, as it allowed me to give back and support my fellow peers. The Peer Advocate Center also helped me find my place at Rhodes. Within this organization I found a group of students who shared my passion for helping others. I have loved getting to know people through this organization, as well as getting to know the counselors who have dedicated so much of their time and energy to supporting us. Internally, the center is run by a team of leaders. As the co-programmer of the organization, I was able to run events like the Clothesline Project and bring speakers to campus. This was a position that allowed me to have a more direct role in introducing and encouraging conversations about Rhodes’ campus climate. This past year, as director, I was responsible for much of the internal running of the organization. This position  taught me so much about being a leader and the responsibility that that entails. I honestly cannot imagine my life at Rhodes without the Peer Advocate Center.

Describe your study abroad experience in Morocco.

I studied abroad with a program called ISA. I lived in an apartment in the city of Meknes, which is the old imperial city of Morocco, located inland near the city of Fez. I was there for part of the summer and for the holy month of Ramadan. In Meknes, I studied Arabic and Moroccan feminism. My classes were fascinating and incredibly rewarding. With the program, I travelled to different Moroccan cities every weekend; my favorite trips were to the sea city Azilla and to the Sahara.  Although I formed wonderful friendships with many Moroccans as well as students studying in my program, my time there was also very challenging. This experience taught me a lot about myself, my outlook on life, my extreme privilege, the difficulty of negotiating cultural differences, and about extreme poverty, among other things. But ultimately, it was highly rewarding and further fueled my desire to keep traveling and immersing myself in other cultures.

What are your plans now that you have graduated? 

I have a series of trips planned for the summer with my friends and family. In September I am moving to Turkey for nine months as a Fulbright Scholar and English teaching assistant. As of right now, I’m not sure where I will be living and working within Turkey, but I am very excited and a bit nervous for this next adventure. I fully embrace the fact that at this point my life is full of possibility, opportunity, and change. I hope that this next year will be a great learning and growing experience for me, and feel certain this time will help inform and shape my future life plans and decisions.