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Doctoral student activist melds work on horror, hope and helping hands


Portrait of graduating ASU student Clarissa Rubio Goldsmith, who is wearing glasses and a black, high-necked shirt.

Graduating ASU student Clarissa Rubio Goldsmith is now a career coach at the University of Minnesota, where they are working to develop identity-based programs and helping students from marginalized communities find success and fulfill their dreams. Photo courtesy Clarissa Rubio Goldsmith

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December 02, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

Clarissa Rubio Goldsmith was relieved to return from cold, snowy Minnesota to the warm, sunny desert in 2016 to attend graduate school at Arizona State University. Goldsmith, who grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and uses they/them pronouns, took a year off between undergraduate and graduate studies to become an AmeriCorps VISTA member. Their assignment was working for Lifetrack, a nonprofit in Minneapolis focused on employment for immigrants, refugees and people with disabilities.

Upon admission to ASU, they were granted the competitive, university-wide Graduate College Enrichment Fellowship for the first year. This allowed Goldsmith to concentrate on coursework while receiving a stipend and tuition waiver. They served as a teaching assistant in the Department of English during the following years and taught first-year composition courses. This fall, they are graduating from ASU with a PhD in English (literature).

Goldsmith’s research focuses on Latino and Chicano horror and graphic productions. On the strength of their academic promise, they received the Department of English’s prestigious Katharine Turner Dissertation Fellowship for American literature in 2021–22. Goldsmith’s dissertation, which they successfully defended on Aug. 24, was titled “Hope Despite Horror: Theorizing Oppositional Horror and Aesthetics of Resistance in Multicultural Horror,” and was about how horror is more than a genre. Their theory is that horror manifests in marginalized communities through real-life violence and oppression perpetuated by state powers. Goldsmith has been successful in presenting at top conferences in Latino studies and has co-authored and published a chapter with Professor of English Lee Bebout on Latino horror in Jonas Cuaron’s “Desierto.” Goldsmith is now a career coach at the University of Minnesota, where they are working to develop identity-based programs and helping students from marginalized communities find success and fulfill their dreams.

We had a chance to interview Goldsmith to learn about their experience at ASU and goals for the future.

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

Answer: My "aha" moment was more like a bonk on the head when my chair, Professor Lee Bebout, looked at me like I was an idiot and said, "Well, why don't you just study horror?" This came after me talking his ear off at a conference about this French horror film I had just watched. I had always loved horror, but my intent for the past decade or so was to study Latinxgender-neutral term for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America literature and political theory. It hadn't occurred to me that the two fields could meld. I am deeply passionate about issues that affect my community, and have been a dedicated activist and advocate for immigration rights, and the sociopolitical issues of the U.S.-Mexico border. My work began to shape a theory of resistance based in Latinx social theory and my love of horror. My chair saw what I couldn't, and I am so glad, because I was truly able to follow two passions that I had thought couldn't converge. 

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

A: You can't throw a stone in the English lit program without hitting a medievalist, and it turns out that some of them are pretty great!

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU for both practical and sentimental reasons. I wanted to be in a department that had faculty members working in my field, as well as financial support for several years. But, more than that, I wanted to be home again. I had lived in the Midwest for far too long and wanted to come back to the Sonoran Desert, where I had family and it didn't snow. As the adage goes, you don't have to shovel heat!

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: While I took several incredible courses with Professor Bebout, who was also my dissertation chair, what I think I learned the most from him was how to write high quality academic work. He guided me through the transition of writing seminar papers into writing papers for publication, and he gave detailed (and decidedly non-brutal) revisions. I'll never forget the notes I got most often: "slow down" and "citation needed." But you know what? I did usually need to slow down, and I ended up with just a gob-load of citations that were, apparently, needed.

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

A: Don't forget to have a life. I've watched friends abandon the very concept of sleep, or reject invitations, or cry over their work. And I've watched friends laugh with each other, throw parties, and play Dungeons and Dragons. Both sets of friends were successful in their programs, but one group seemed a lot happier.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I hate to give away the secret of my favorite cafe. I'll just say, if you know, you know... Oh, alright, I'll tell you: Gold Bar cafe on Rural is the be-all, end-all of study spots. Opens early, closes late, tons of natural light, great coffee and they don't play music. But please, keep it to yourself.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I currently work as a career coach for the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Yes, I went to all that effort to leave the Midwest, and now I'm back in the cold where I do, once again, have to shovel snow. I love working with students on finding success after college, as well as developing identity-based programs that directly benefit students from marginalized communities find success and gainful employment. But at what cold, shivering, snowy, wet cost?

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

A: While $40 million won’t fix the immigration system, there are several humanitarian groups along the U.S.-Mexico border where that sum of money would have the power to change countless lives. Organizations like No More Deaths/No Más Muertos, Derechos Humanos and Colibrí Center are dedicated to ending migrant deaths, as well as connecting family members to relatives who have gone missing or may have died. These organizations do incredible collective work, and $40 million could lead to radical change.

Written by Sheila Luna.

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