From Bartender to Professor of Literature

Cathy Schlund-Vials, professor of English, at her office on Nov. 17, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
English and Asian/Asian American studies professor Cathy Schlund-Vials talks about how one of her professors inspired her as a graduate student, and how she hopes to help the students she now teaches. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

When she was an undergraduate at University of Texas at Austin, Cathy Schlund-Vials used to listen to 200 people complain about their pizza every night in her customer service job for a local pizza chain. It might not sound like a typical inspiration to pursue academia, but “it taught me something about the human condition and got me thinking about graduate school,” says Schlund-Vials now a professor and associate dean at UConn.

Even then, while pursuing graduate studies in Victorian literature at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Schlund-Vials wasn’t quite sure about this new path. Schlund-Vials thought she might stay forever at the Northampton, Massachusetts nightclub where she was a barback, bouncer, and bartender.

But then a professor changed her life, opening her eyes to literature where she says women of color like her were represented. Now, Schlund-Vials works to impact the lives of her students as a professor of English and Asian/Asian American studies and associate dean for humanities and diversity, equity, and inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Through her research into such topics as trauma, human rights, and immigrant/refugee narratives, Schlund-Vials says she pays homage to her heritage as the adopted daughter of a Japanese mother who grew up 20 miles outside of Nagasaki and was there when the atomic bomb was dropped and an American father who dedicated his life to the U.S. Air Force.

Julie Bartucca from the UConn360 Podcast sat down with Schlund-Vials to discuss the personal nature of her work, the ways she hopes to help students, and what she says is her current biggest struggle related to her research.

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