What They Learned: Olivia Legaspi ’19

For her thesis, the English major wrote two linked short stories, centered on themes of mental illness and coping.

If Olivia Legaspi ’19 learned anything from her seniors thesis, its that writing educates both the reader and the writer. The English major, who minored in fine arts and concentrated in creative writing, wrote a thesis that took the form of a collection of short stories. Legaspi’s work, titled How to Become One With Your Borderline Personality Disorder, encapsulates contemporary issues and personal experience.

“It is a collection of two linked short stories about themes of mental illness, intimate relationships and disconnection, impulsivity and restlessness, and coping,” said Legaspi. “The stories feature two different women, Zoe and Tanya, who have never met but attend similar colleges only three towns away from each other and lead lives that are parallel in many ways.”

Legaspi drew inspiration for her writing from a wide breadth of sources. Stylistically, as a writer, she was influenced by James Joyce and Claudia Rankine, two authors of distinct contexts and interests. Personal background informed Legaspi’s writing as well.

“Tanya is explicitly diagnosed with BPD [Borderline Personality Disorder] by a psychiatrist at her college, while Zoe copes with her struggles without the use of institutional systems,” said Legaspi. “My thesis work was inspired by my experiences living with this highly stigmatized disorder and attempting to cope with its symptoms within the institutional setting, as well as the recognition that we all struggle with mental illness on some level.”

Over the course of creating her thesis, Legaspi was able to understand more about who she is, while also receiving exposure to the greater project of authorship through a series of drafts and rewrites.

“I learned a lot about myself and what it takes to be a writer through this process,” she reflected. “My biggest takeaway is that writing about important things is very hard but ultimately worth it.”

Who is your thesis advisor?

My thesis advisor was Associate Professor Asali Solomon. Throughout the year, Professor Solomon gave me invaluable insights and guidance about the nature of fiction writing and the writing process. Through many rounds of drafts, comments, and meetings, Professor Solomon helped me understand what story I was trying to tell, what message existed within that story, and how best to convey that message. She also made many connections for me between the experiences of my characters and larger systems of oppression in the real world. For example, she helped me understand that the young women in my stories are struggling so much not only because of their psychology, but also because of their constant objectification by men and the indifference of their colleges towards their students.

What are your plans for the future?

I spent the majority of my senior year planning to take a job offer with a marketing startup, but decided at the end of the year to focus full-time on my art and writing instead. The growth I experienced during the thesis process and the positive reaction that my work has received were big factors in this choice.  I am currently working at an art supply store, and I plan to apply to interdisciplinary MFA programs for next year while training to become a tattoo artist.

Is there anything else you want to share?

My artist website is livlegaspi.com, and I encourage anyone interested in reading my thesis to reach out to me!

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.