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Senior Profile: Claire Askew ’13

May 09, 2013

Claire Askew ’13

Major: English
Hometown: Lenexa, Kansas

What did you major in and why?

English, mostly just because I love words and stories but also because being able to see and grapple with complexity and to communicate well are skills that will serve me throughout my life, no matter what I do.

What was your favorite class and why?

My senior seminar on Virginia Woolf. It was so exciting to be able to combine the joy of reading an author you love with the joy of getting to know their work so much more deeply from an academic perspective. Writing my thesis really felt like the culmination of four years of work and growth, not just academically but personally. Much of what I argue in my thesis resonates with me deeply—that uncertainty can be a good thing, that we can find the numinous in the quotidian, that the best community is one formed when people are their most authentic selves.

What professor or staff member made a special impact on you?

Mary Szybist, my poetry professor. She is incredibly devoted to her students and manages to be both encouraging enough that you believe in yourself and challenging enough that you learn to challenge yourself. She showed me how to see writing poetry not as something you do when you happen to feel inspired, but something you constantly strive for, and how to balance trusting yourself with always pushing yourself to improve.

How has your time here changed you or your view of the world?

When I arrived here as a freshman, I felt pretty unsure of myself and pretty sure I knew how the world worked, and over four years it’s become the opposite. I don’t see things in black and white anymore. In a gender studies class my sophomore year, I came across a quote from Kate Bornstein that’s remained one of my guiding lights: “No question containing either/or deserves a serious answer.” So many things that I saw as absolutes when I was 18—everything from food ethics to spirituality—I see very differently now.

What was your favorite activity (event, club, volunteer experience, etc.)?

Definitely the Feminist Student Union (FSU), which I was involved with all four years here. Through the FSU I have become friends with some of the most incredible people on this campus who inspire me every day and who have helped my own personal feminism grow by leaps and bounds. I have also received invaluable hands-on experience with building community, advocating for change, and working in solidarity with other campus and local groups.  

What are your goals after graduation, and how do you think you’ll use your degree?

I have a lot! My immediate plans are just to decompress from eighteen years of being in school, but I want to work for a few years—ideally something to do with either social justice or writing and editing—before getting an MFA in poetry. Long-term, I want to make a life with poetry and a living either teaching French in America or English in France or working with an organization that fights for reproductive justice.

What advice would you give to future Pioneers?

Make sure you do at least one thing every semester that is new to you and takes you out of your comfort zone. You never run out of opportunities to do that here, and though it’s easy after a few semesters to just get into your little bubble of your friend group or your major, actively making efforts to expand yourself is one of the most valuable things you can do here, and one that no one else but you can be responsible for.

Department of English


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