Meet the Majors

Erin Walsh ’22

American Studies

About Erin

Class of 2022

Hometown: Norwood, MA

American Studies

Minor: Korean

House: Capen

Other clubs, sports, activities:
Wind ensemble and WOZQ!

Describe your major completely incorrectly.
A major for people who spend an hour trying to pick a movie to watch, then give up and instead decide, in my case, to go on YouTube and listen to old Schoolhouse Rock songs or somesuch.

What do you see as a potential future dream job or career?
Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of international teaching fellowships I applied to in Korea and Japan. Longer-term, I hope to work in education in museums or libraries. I don’t quite have a dream job, but I hope to end up someplace where I can share interesting things with people and build community with others.

Could you tell me a bit more about your thesis, how you came to do it and what your conclusions were?
Back in fall 2019, I participated in the Smithsonian Program and spent the semester interning at the National Museum of American History in their LGBTQ collections. I was lucky to be able to work with the museum’s collections related to queer film and interview lesbian activist, photographer, and documentarian Joan. E. Biren. I became really interested in thinking about how lesbians have used imagination to claim a seat at the table of history, so to speak, and I started kicking around some ideas about queer history and film with my advisor, Alex Keller.

What ultimately emerged was a thesis about Cheryl Dunye’s film “The Watermelon Woman.” In the film, Dunye blurs the fictional and the factual to stake a claim to Black lesbian history. The process of writing a thesis during the pandemic was humbling and challenging and incredibly rewarding. I learned a lot about some really creative and inspiring work by Black lesbian feminist filmmakers and scholars like Dunye, Yvonne Welbon and Saidiya Hartman. I learned, more than anything, that archives are everywhere, in your home, on your cell phone, in the memories that you share with your friends and family, and that the most resilient, meaningful, and sustainable archives are those founded on an ethics of love and care for the stories they preserve.

The most resilient, meaningful, and sustainable archives are those founded on an ethics of love and care for the stories they preserve.

Could you talk a bit more about your experiences?
I think my American Studies professors gave me a lot of space and confidence to explore my interests, which could be a little all over the place at times. My topics for American Studies papers have pretty much run the gamut from American carnival attractions to alt-right conspiracy theories and Korean monster movies. I minored in Korean, I did research on the reception of German silent films, and I spent a summer leading public speaking programs with high schoolers in Japan. I also did the Smithsonian program, where I learned from museum professionals and got to bop around Washington, D.C. with a group of other museum-loving Smithies.

I’ve been really fortunate to have these experiences through Smith, and though the connections between these things can seem pretty tenuous, my American Studies professors have helped me appreciate how much broadening my horizons has enriched my learning in my classes. I think what I like most about my major is that no two people in an American Studies class have the same interests or experiences. My classmates have taught me about whole fields of study I never knew existed, and people are constantly bringing in knowledge from completely different places. It’s been a blast to learn with and from them.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share about your time at Smith?
Say yes to as much as you can! The pandemic really made me appreciate all the silly little moments with friends. I thought I would have a lot more time at Smith than it ended up shaking out – there are some Smith friends that I haven’t been able to see since 2020. Now, when I look back, I’m grateful for every time I decided that homework could wait and walked to Glazed with friends, or went to Seelye to do karaoke, or just talked into the late hours of the night. The homework can truly always wait.

Describe one moment with a professor that particularly sticks with you.
I don’t have a specific moment, but my Korean classes will always stand out fondly in my mind, and I’m grateful to all my professors from the Korean department, Professors Massey, Sohn, and Kim, for all the kindness and support they’ve shown me over the years. I’ll miss Korean Cooking Class, Seollal celebrations, and EALC talent shows.

What’s one upside of having completed your degree in January? Any downsides?
I really racked my brain over this one and I’m just not sure! I think it’s still a little too soon for me to say what the upsides and downsides are. It's kind of funky to feel like I'm in limbo right now, but maybe in a few months, I will have a better sense of the upsides and downsides.

Where has been your favorite spot on campus to relax? What spot will you miss the most?
Josten listening rooms! And lots of little nooks and crannies and closets that felt like secret places. I think I’ll miss the owl statue in Capen Garden most of all, though.

It’s easy to feel in college that you are swiftly running out of time, but I’ve come to realize that there’s always more time, and no single decision is destiny.

What’s your all-time favorite Smith memory?
Working reunion in 2019 and being too loud in Capen House with the lasses of Chi Pi Nu.

What’s one thing you wish you could tell your first-year self about your Smith experience?
Don’t stress too much! Well, first-year me probably wouldn't listen to that advice. But I would just encourage myself to really follow my interests instead of beating myself up for not knowing what I wanted to do. I think I felt like everything I was doing had to be leading to some specific, tangible goal, but first-year me didn’t have a specific, tangible goal, so I just took classes that I thought sounded like something a responsible person would take. It wasn’t until I started really following my passions where they led me that the opportunities and a sense of where I wanted to go started to open up for me. It’s easy to feel in college that you are swiftly running out of time, but I’ve come to realize that there’s always more time, and no single decision is destiny.

If another student was considering your major, what would you tell them?
Follow what feels interesting and resonant for you, even if you don’t think all the pieces will fit together at first. They will, eventually, and you’ll learn a lot of cool stuff along the way.

What do you think has been the most “Smithie” thing you’ve done in life so far?
Having a love-hate relationship with Mount Holyoke College (just kidding, it's all love <3).