Why did you come to Willamette—and why major in English? 

Initially, I had planned to go to school in Washington, but when I received my financial aid and merit awards for Willamette I quickly reassessed my plan. Then, after learning about the small class sizes, individualized attention, and the diverse opportunities available at WU—my brother graduated from here in 2013—the choice was clear. Since a child I’ve seen myself following in my mother’s footsteps and becoming a registered nurse, which posed a bit of a problem, as WU doesn’t have a nursing program. Thankfully, there are post-baccalaureate programs I can pursue after graduation.

Honestly, I fought my insatiable need to be an English major for my first two years here and was planning on creating my own major instead. I’ve been writing poetry and songs ever since I can remember, and that led me to take a few poetry classes my first year. Once I realized I had taken multiple English classes each semester and enjoyed them more than any other discipline, I finally broke down and declared my English major. This of course just made my advisor laugh, as she knew I’d be an English major since College Colloquium. What I like most about being an English major is that I can eventually take everything I learn into a completely separate profession—psychiatry. I am a firm believer that literature and creative expression are extremely beneficial when it comes to coping, and I plan to incorporate them into my practice.

Speaking of Colloquium, you were awarded a College Colloquium Summer Research Grant, right? What was your project, and how did it go?

Yes! My project was titled “Changing Ableist Views Within Medicine: Educating With Music” and was a multi-faceted project based on Professor Hobgood’s colloquium, “Disability in Literature and Culture.” The class really opened my eyes to the oppressive state of our ableist culture and made me reflect on how I’ve seen medical professionals view and treat bodily differences. One part of the grant was to return to my high school (North Salem) and teach a 3-day session to the Health Occupations classes. Those sessions included an overview of disability studies, the history of asylums in Oregon, microaggressions, and the importance of proper language use with the hope that students would implement these traits into their careers.

The grant culminated in an original 17-track electronic-pop concept album, “Pariah: Asylum Fury,” which centered on disability activism and representation. My songs feature instrumentals, vocals, and lyrics that explore some of the current conflicts within disability studies. I included visuals painted by Michelle Sullivan, and photos taken by Emma Sargent and distributed a limited number of physical copies during performances and presentations in the Spring of 2015. (Find it online here: https://soundcloud.com/tempestgriswold.) The entire process made me learn a lot about myself, what I can truly do if I devote myself fully to a project, and even changed my career path from becoming an ER nurse, to a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

Tell me about your favorite English class so far.

That’s a very difficult question, as they’ve all built upon each other, and all have aspects that I loved! I particularly enjoyed Literature of Asian Diaspora, as many of the novels we read connected to mental and physical differences. The class discussion was also phenomenal, as the professor posed great questions and my fellow classmates were always prepared and had varying outlooks on the text. However, I wouldn’t have had the same experience without classes like Close Reading and Introduction to Literary Theory, which really challenged and changed the way I interpret texts

What campus activities are you involved in outside the classroom?

I’ve worked with Campus Safety since the first week of my first year, and I’ve just started another job with Disability Services on campus. I’m also a facilitator for Take a Break, which is an alternative spring break program where we do service learning centered around specific topics. My co-facilitator and I are creating a completely new subject this year, crafting our trip all around disability studies. I’m also in the process of getting a dis/abled student organization started on campus with the hopes of increasing representation and providing resources and support for students who identify as disabled as well as their allies. This past year I’ve given presentations about executive functioning to first-year classes, and I’ve presented brief overviews of my grant at various convocations and other events.

Do you have any advice for prospective English majors?

Don’t confine yourself. I originally thought that majoring in English would only be beneficial if I wanted to become a professor, though this is so far from the truth. The skills you obtain through the core classes will completely restructure the way you interpret language and will prove helpful no matter what career you end up in. Another word of advice: take Close Reading and/or Introduction to Literary Theory before other creative writing classes! I’m still kicking myself for not being able to implement all that I’ve learned into my poetry classes, as I took them all my first year before completing the core classes.

What's the future got in store for you? 

In all honesty, I have no idea! Hopefully, by the end of my time at WU I will have released another EP, written a lot more poetry, completed another grant, and increased the representation and access for students with differing abilities. After graduation I hope to attend a post-BA Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program and work toward having my own practice. 

Tyler Griswald
Willamette University


900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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