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ASU student moves toward ‘relentless forward motion’

Extreme athlete Paulette Stevenson completes one of her toughest personal challenges: Earning her doctorate

ASU graduate Paulette Stevenson with her daughter, Josephine. / Photo: Hillarie Mae Photography

Besides turning her dissertation on Title IX and feminism into a book, new ASU graduate Paulette Stevenson looks forward to "spending some downtime" with her family. Stevenson is pictured here with her daughter, Josephine, who is 20 months old. Photo by Hillarie Mae Photography

December 08, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

Extreme athlete Paulette Stevenson is completing one of her toughest personal challenges to date: earning her doctorate. Stevenson will graduate this fall from ASU’s writing, rhetorics and literacies program and with a certificate in gender studies, having recently defended her dissertation titled “Transnationalizing Title IX: Neoliberal Formations of Women’s Sport.”

As if this accomplishment wasn’t enough on its own, Stevenson finished her doctoral work just six months after becoming a mother for the third time. To top it off: the energetic powerhouse is also a full-time instructor in the English department in addition to being an ultramarathon runner. (She has said she first tried triathlons, but “sought a more adventurous sport.”)

While Stevenson’s hometown is Kankakee, Illinois, she’s made her home in Arizona for now. We caught up with her between trail runs and extreme parenting duties to ask a few questions.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: I entered the PhD program at the height of my term as a competitive, sponsored athlete. In my English classes and my women’s studies classes, I was reading and writing about 21st-century feminisms — including intersectionality and transnational feminism. My “aha” moments came from using the texts I was reading in my courses to examine the feminisms being articulated in my sport (women’s running). I specifically began seeing the history of the first woman to run a marathon differently, as I understood how the rhetoric aligned with white, liberal feminism.

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

A: I learned the power of supportive, challenging mentors that help a project thrive. While I am situated in a specific discipline (rhetoric and composition), my research questions straddled many different disciplines. My committee members (Maureen Daly Goggin, Keith Miller and Heather Switzer) were vital to letting me explore across disciplinary borders and allowing me to have an open conversation with different fields.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’m local, I have three kids, my partner has a thriving career in the valley, and I also teach full-time here. So, my decision to “come back” to school (graduated with my MA from ASU in 2009) was easy because it was ASU. Also, there’s no question that ASU’s programs in writing, rhetorics and literacies and women’s studies are powerhouses in their respective fields. So being able to learn from highly intelligent scholars was delightful bonus.

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

A: Relentless forward motion. The endurance athlete in me knows that you can’t comprehend the entirety of a race. A degree has so many moving parts, and if you try to do everything all the time, you’ll be overwhelmed by the largeness of it. I wrote my dissertation piece-by-piece. Take one task at a time and complete it, and eventually the little pieces will make up a whole.

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

A: I really dig the strong coffee at Royal Coffee Bar.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Of course I will be continuing to teach my freshmen in ENG 102! I am also applying for jobs at local community colleges and non-profits. Developing my dissertation into a book is high on the list as well. More immediately, I am looking forward to spending some downtime with my kids (Georgiana 6 months, Josephine 20 months, and Alexander 11 years), my husband (John), and my two dogs (Mara & Momo).

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

A: I would build a center for social justice policy that would help lobby for anti-racist policy but also educate American citizens at the grassroots level on the importance of anti-racist and intersectional policy.


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

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