On wheels and wings

ASU grad Cass Murphy on a well-worded mission to save the planet


May 3, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

The kind of toughness Cassidy “Cass” Murphy exhibits is best summed up in two words: roller derby. Cass Murphy Cass Murphy will complete her bachelor's in English (creative writing) this May. What’s next? “I'm going to try my hand at integrating literary and genre writing in a series of high-fantasy wildlife/resource-management novels,” she said. Download Full Image

The Okemos, Michigan, native has participated on ASU’s Derby Devils club team for two years, and she points to it as a highlight of her time here.

But her athleticism is not her only defining feature. Murphy is also a well-rounded student-citizen. She’ll be graduating this May with her bachelor’s degree in English (creative writing); minors in applied biological sciences (College of Letters and Sciences), sustainability (School of Sustainability) and parks and protected area management (College of Public Service and Community Solutions); and a certificate in environmental humanities (Department of English). She has completed internships in both the biological sciences and with a literary magazine. In her rare free time, she enjoys birding. She hopes to combine all of these disparate passions in a future conservationist-author self.

It’s clear Murphy is on a no-nonsense, well-worded mission to save the planet.

Murphy told us a bit more about her time at ASU as well as her future plans.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: This kind of “prior-planning” question isn't going to get a very romantic or idealized answer. I checked the box for “English Creative Writing” when I applied to ASU after sitting at the kitchen counter for a few minutes trying to think what I was good at (or as I might say after four years of education, “while trying to think of at what I was skilled”).

I realized recently that I've had the good fortune to drift into a lot of things. And though this does make it difficult to plan for, say, the future, it has allowed me to have a variety of awesome experiences.

I took a theater production crew class during my freshman year because I was curious about playwriting. The play we produced featured a deaf actor, and I ended up learning some ASL (American Sign Language). I added two of my three minors after realizing I'd already taken some of the required courses. All of them have broadened my perspective more than I could have ever predicted while trying to wring qualifications out of my college experience. And I got the fantastic opportunity to intern with Superstition Review because a professor recommended me for it.

Probably the most “aha-iest moment” has been when I decided not to graduate last spring (I had my major, two minors and certificate completed) and planned another year to study applied biological sciences. That was a genuine “this is what I want to do, and I'm doing it” moment.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I have an internship in the ASU Natural History Collections, working in the bird collection identifying and cataloguing specimens. One thing that's surprised me is how interested I am in taxonomy. Previously, I would have called it an exercise in tediousness, but that was before I knew anything.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Another "prior planning" question. I was tired of being cold all the time; during Michigan winters I used to heat my breakfast cereal in the microwave so I could stay warm that much longer.

I also found ASU's website faster to navigate than UofA's. And I got a nice scholarship, which always helps.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Explore everything, but not so much that you waste your time. You never know what you'll find unless you look, but if you look too much you could miss everything.

ASU Derby Devils in 2015

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The Secret Garden, which somehow hasn't completely lost its secret-ness after all the press it's gotten.

While that's my favorite isolated location, I'd say my favorite experience has been skating in the Homecoming Parade with the ASU Derby Devils. (Yes, we totally have a roller derby team; I've skated on it for over two years. Shameless plug.) It's such fun hearing the astonished tendrils of conversation float by after the team has passed: “Roller derby still exists?”

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm going to try my hand at integrating literary and genre writing in a series of high-fantasy wildlife/resource-management novels, which I'm sure will bring scorn and ridicule down upon me from every conceivable perspective.

In the short term, I'm going to travel across the country and go birding. Yes, people actually do such things for fun.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: The eventual doom we're creating for ourselves via human overpopulation, species extinction and resource depletion.

On a cheerier note, I'd also start an organization to lobby for the protection of the endangered Oxford comma. [Editor's note: Sadly for Murphy, ASU Now operates under AP style, and thus all Oxford commas have been removed from this article.]

 

The Department of English is an academic unit in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

 

 

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

Healing the narrative

ASU grad Kerri Linden Slatus' work at the crossroads of 'medical humanities'


May 3, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Upon earning her ASU diploma, Kerri Linden Slatus will become a doctor. But not that kind of doctor. Kerri Linden Slatus Kerri Linden Slatus, who is earning a doctorate in English literature, looked at how female authors depicted medical treatment of women in the early 20th century. She argues that these writers’ works of fiction expose problematic medical practices that were based on assumptions about gender. Photo courtesy of Kerri Linden Slatus Download Full Image

Her graduate work involved reading medical texts, but she won’t be practicing medicine.

Slatus, originally from Trumbull, Connecticut, is earning a doctorate in English literature. Her work is situated at the crossroads of what is termed “medical humanities,” an interdisciplinary research area combining the study of medicine with such disparate fields as the arts, ethics, history, geography and culture.

Slatus received English’s Katharine C. Turner Dissertation Fellowship to complete her research this past year. On April 5, she defended her dissertation, “The Female Patient: American Women Writers Narrating Medicine and Psychology, 1890-1930.”

She looked at how authors such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott), Sarah Orne Jewett, Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein depicted medical treatment of women in the early 20th century.

Slatus argues that these writers’ works of fiction expose problematic medical practices that were based on assumptions about gender. Her work tackles “issues such as categorizing and portrayal of mental illness, control and perception of the patient through treatment, women's alternative medical practices, addiction, and the immigrant and minority patient.”

“The most surprising thing I found in my research,” Slatus said, “was how much gender had to do with treatments and the understanding of medicine during that period, as well as how interrelated the texts were that I studied. I found more and more connections as I completed my dissertation.”

Slatus wants to land a tenure-track position teaching literature. “I hope to contribute further in this area, looking at how literature and the humanities informs medicine, and vice versa.”

Slatus answered a few more questions about her time at ASU and her future plans.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: My "aha" moment was while I was working in a different field. I was living in New York City and working for a retail real estate magazine. One day I realized I really didn't love what I was doing, and wanted to get out as soon as possible. I decided to go back to school to try out one course in the master's program at the City University of New York's Graduate Center in the evenings after work. I loved that course so much, I decided to pursue a master's degree full time, and then I just kept going. I never thought I would be a teacher, either, and one professor at CUNY gave me a chance to guest lecture. It was trial by fire, but I was hooked. I found out I loved the service mentality of teaching,= and the research aspect of higher education. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: One thing I have been surprised by at ASU is how responsive people are and how much change occurs on campus. For such a large university, things move very quickly. During my time at ASU, our offices were renovated, new faculty members joined the English department, the Starbucks online degree program was implemented, the law school is in the process of moving downtown, and the College Avenue area sprung to life. It's exciting to constantly have development occur and with that, new opportunities for growth.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My husband found an exciting job opportunity in Phoenix, so we moved to Arizona not knowing what my future would be. I immediately found faculty members at ASU carrying out research that aligned well with my own project, and that was important. I also found the community to be supportive, and this played a big role. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would say one important piece of advice is to keep your determination. Much of graduate work, for me, was about not giving up and working toward my goals in spite of frustrations along the way. That being said, it's also important to have work-life balance and take time off. Sometimes academics aren't good at that. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: CupZ was always a good spot, as well as Royal Coffee Bar more recently. The Design Library is a hidden gem for working in a beautiful quiet space!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm hoping to continue doing what I love, and land a tenure-track position teaching literature at a research university. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle early childhood education and expanding funding for underserved communities. I think early education is so important to provide young children with stable relationships, guidance and even help with topics like nutrition to set them on a course to healthy and productive adulthood. 

 

The Department of English is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611