Emilia Pasalic is a WGSS alumna who earned her BA in 2011 and went on to pursue a career as a scientist working in public health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this interview, we talk more with Emilia about her experience in the department and her current endeavors and interests.
Please introduce yourself!
I’m Emilia Pasalic. I graduated in 2011 with a BA in Women’s Studies and a minor in sociology. I studied the historical origins and social context of medical models for obstetric care and explored how those models of care impacted people’s contemporary lived experiences of agency and disempowerment during childbirth. I connected with the Institute for Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies again in 2014 as I pursued my Master’s in Public Health and concurrently worked as a research assistant with the IWGSS.
What was your most memorable experience in the WGSS dept at GSU?
I took a class on womanism and spiritual activism with Dr. Layli Phillips Maparyan that I really loved. The reading list was inspiring, we read autobiographies of people who put womanism and spiritual activism into practice. We also started every class by learning a different form of meditation. I took my first solo camping trip as part of my final project for that class. I had never taken a class that balanced course material with introspection and self-reflection the way that class did.
What have you been working on since leaving GSU?
So many things! Now I’m a scientist evaluating federally funded public health programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I also volunteer supporting art projects outside of work. Right after I graduated with my BA, I worked for a non-profit that focused on environmental justice in Georgia. I loved the work we did, but again and again, I would bump into barriers in the work because of… Epistemological tension? What I mean by that is people in power (decision makers and funders) clearly placed a higher value on knowledge gained through scientific methods and quantitative data collection than on knowledge resulting from lived experience or even rigorous qualitative and social science methods. In contrast, the people living in the communities most impacted by industrial pollution could tell stories that were a clear call to action that no reasonable person should dismiss, but we didn’t have the resources, funding, or expertise (narrowly defined) to show the kind of data that funders and decision-makers prefer. Without data (again, defined narrowly), there wasn’t adequate funding. It felt like a catch-22. I decided to go back to school to become more fluent in the kinds of research methods that those in power would take seriously so that I could bridge the gap between what communities knew and what those in power needed to know. That eventually brought me to public health.
How has a BA in WGSS helped you in your current work or projects?
In my work, I have to think a lot about the extent to which public health programs are and aren’t effective in the context of larger social determinants of health and systems of oppression. Gender studies introduced me to a lot of writers who continue to influence my thinking, like bell hooks, Judith Butler, and, Dorothy Roberts. Gender studies also introduced me to the idea that there are different ways to establish knowledge and that each of them can provide valuable insight to different types of questions, but no one way is more important than others. And that the more quantitative scientific methods favored by funders and decision-makers, while useful, can leave a lot left unsaid. It helps to balance that kind of research with an honest reflection of the expert perspectives of the people whom the programs serve.
Any advice for prospective students considering a degree in WGSS?
I have two nuggets. First, WGSS is a joyfully multi-disciplinary field. Look for cross-listed classes that interest you and take advantage of the opportunity to learn new disciplines and meet people from outside of the program. The second nugget is more about college in general. College is one of the biggest financial investments of your life. If you are paying for it yourself and you can work and go to school part-time to avoid some student debt, do it! Apply for scholarships even if you don’t think you’ll get them. It took me a few extra years to get my bachelor's. No shame. Take your time.
What are your interests and hobbies outside of school? What are you reading/watching/listening to lately?
I’ve had a lot of fun moonlighting as a carnie a few times a year with some artists who build and take fire sculptures, carnival games, and experiential artwork to different events across the country. I’ve been reading some Arundhati Roy books lately. The God of Small Things was an intensely beautiful book that lingered for a long time after I read it. I don’t think anyone really wants to know what it’s like to have PTSD, but the story illustrates the kind of sensory suppression, expansion, intensity, and time-shifting that can come from trauma. Maybe I’m not selling it well, but it’s a very good book. It’ll snap you right out of any numb, grey hole you may have fallen into if that’s a problem you ever encounter. If funny is more your thing, I recently watched Triangle of Sadness and I can’t stop laughing about it. The movie is about tipping over social hierarchies. It was filthy, tragic, and hilarious.