Natalie Turrin hails from Toronto, Canada, and is a Ph.D. student in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at Emory. Natalie has worked for the past year as the Graduate Fellow in the Center for Women, and will be working in the Office of LGBT Life this summer. Aby Parsons, Co-Chair of GALA, interviewed Natalie about her research on the relationship between genetics and feminism, her experiences as a queer international student at Emory, and her not-so-secret life as a roller derby superstar with the Atlanta Rollergirls.
Aby: You’re originally from Canada. What brought you to the U.S.?
Natalie: Emory brought me to the U.S.! After I finished my Master’s degree, a mentor who had completed her PhD in the South recommended that I take a look at what Emory’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program could offer. I visited her office one day because I wasn’t sure what my next move would be and she turned to me and said, “I think you should apply to Emory.” So I did and I was accepted. That was six years ago.
A: You’ve had an interesting academic journey from a BA in genetics to a PhD in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Can you tell us about how you merge these two fields in your current research?
N: Towards the end of my undergraduate career, I had figured out that I didn’t actually want to be a scientist but I was really interested in thinking critically about science, if that makes sense. My research considers how science shapes what we know about gender and sexuality, that is, how science makes sense of difference. At Emory I found my mentor, Dr. Deboleena Roy, who was also originally trained in the sciences. Emory’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program offered me a place where I could ask different questions about science and genetics.
My research project investigates what epigenetics, a branch of science that maps gene-environment interactions, can offer theories and knowledge about human health and difference. My dissertation examines how epigenetic research on nurture and the fetal environment can inform feminist theories of the body. I examine primary scientific research to consider how genetic science has re-conceptualized the relationship between nature and culture, and I trace the effects of this paradigm shift for race, gender, and human health.
A: You’ve spent the past year as the Graduate Fellow in the Center for Women at Emory. What have been some of your highlights from working in the Center?
N: Working at the Center has been a wonderful experience! The staff with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working have provided vital mentoring, and I have really enjoyed working as part of a team. Being able to get up and go to work with an amazing group of women, staff, and students has been the highlight of the fellowship and my time at Emory. I am also very proud to have played a role in planning programs, from the Women of Excellence awards to our annual lecture honoring the legacy of Mary Lynn Morgan, an alum of the Atlanta-Southern Dental College, which became the Emory University School of Dentistry in 1943.
A: One of the coolest things about you is probably that you have a super awesome alter-ego – Nattie Long Legs! How did you get involved in roller derby, and, most importantly, how did you get your derby name?
N: I began playing roller derby shortly before I moved to the South, but I really didn’t get serious about it until I joined the Atlanta Rollergirls. I train almost every day, on or off skates, and derby is my entire world outside of Emory, including my social life, fitness regime, and community. I currently skate for Atlanta’s all-star team, which is ranked in the top 15 internationally, so training takes up a large part of my time. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of an incredible group of athletes. I skate under the name Nattie Long Legs because I stand at nearly six feet tall!
A: Roller derby has a reputation for being a queer-friendly sport. Why do you think that is?
N: Roller derby was revived by communities that many would have considered to be “alternative,” and in the early stages of the revival it was a mix of spectacle and sport, which I think has played a role in why it has been an important place for queer community-building. Most of us found roller derby as adults, which I also think has something to do with the kinds of conversations about identity and inclusivity that members of roller derby communities, big and small, have been able to create. We were adults and so no one was going to tell us how we were supposed to look, dress, act, or how to present ourselves to our audiences. The motto of our governing body, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (https://wftda.com/) is “by the skaters, for the skaters,” and so policies and practices around inclusivity have been shaped by the people who make up the derby community.
A: How has your experience at Emory been both as a queer student and an international student?
N: Emory has been a very welcoming place to me and I have been fortunate to find wonderful friends, colleagues, and mentors through my home department, the Center for Women, and within the wider community in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Working in the administrative arm of the campus community has helped me appreciate all of the efforts to build inclusive and safe communities and spaces on campus for students from all walks of life.
A: What do you miss most about Canada?
N: I miss a lot about Canada! I miss public transit because I grew up in a city with a comparatively functional transit system. While I love the people who I have met here, and the differences between Canadians and Americans are subtle, sometimes I miss just being around other Canadians! I also miss being close to my family, though I travel home often. That being said, I don’t miss the cold, and I cherish the southern hospitality and people whom I would call family in Atlanta.
A: Tell us about your plans for the remainder of your time at Emory and after graduation.
N: My plans are to complete my doctorate while continuing to explore the administrative side of the university at Emory.