One of the most recent students to complete Monmouth College’s Honors Program is on track to have an experience similar to that of one of the program’s first graduates, Brad Nahrstadt ’89.
Ashley Musser, a senior from Nokomis, will graduate in May with a major in English and a minor in political science. Nahrstadt, an attorney who is now a member of the college’s board of trustees, majored in both of those subjects before entering law school, which is also Musser’s planned destination.
Musser’s experiences completing her capstone project fueled her interest in pursuing a career path similar to the one taken by Nahrstadt, who is a partner in the Chicago-based law firm Williams, Montgomery & John.
Musser’s project, a 28-page paper titled “The Rape-Prone Cultures of Italy and America,” stemmed from experiences she underwent while studying in Italy in 2010. In addition to an incident involving inappropriate touching while traveling on a bus, Musser also was the victim of several “catcalling” incidents.
“Women (in Italy) don’t go out alone at night,” she said. “It was suffocating – I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do.”
She had hoped that the degrading treatment of women in Italy was a regional anomaly, but the more she studied the subject, the more she realized how common it was in her native country.
“I thought Italy and America would be different, but it’s not that different here than over there.”
Musser, who became especially interested in a trend of “blaming the victim,” said her Honors Program paper focused on two famous cases in which the accused were acquitted – a 1991 case involving the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s nephew, William Kennedy Smith, and Italy’s “Blue Jeans” case.
“The court concluded that the woman couldn’t have been raped because she was wearing blue jeans, and that jeans can’t be taken off without help,” explained Musser. “It made me realize that as far as we’ve come, we’re not as far as we think we are. It’s really hard to convict rape. If you go home late with a man, you’re setting yourself up. It’s easy to blame the victim.”
Musser soon came to realize that she can try to be part of the solution.
“This paper gave me a first chance to really learn about the law,” she said. “I’m applying to seven different law schools, and I’m looking forward to talking about the paper on interviews. It really sets me apart.”
She’s thinking of specializing in international women’s rights or getting into law related to non-profit or government organizations.
Unlike some of the students in this year’s entering class, Musser did not come to Monmouth with the Honors Program in mind.
“I was noticed in a history class my freshman year,” recalled Musser. “I scored 100 percent on the first exam.”
She has enjoyed her classes on New York City and the aging process, and she’s currently taking “Global Climate Change,” which is taught by associate professor of biology Tim Tibbetts.
“It’s not what I expected, but it’s been interesting,” she said. “We study how weather affects our lives, including economics, agriculture and everyday living. One of the things we’ve learned is how the Industrial Revolution changed the weather.”
Taken in sum, Musser said the Honors Program has “made me think differently. It’s especially helped me with reading and analysis. I got the opportunity to do different things that I wouldn’t have done in my major. I learned how the brain works and how strokes occur, and I studied how a city like New York ticks. I’m able to look at things differently than I might have before, and it’s also encouraged me to be a more active student on campus.”
Some of her extracurricular activities include theatre – her favorite role was Paulina in “Death and the Maiden” – the Pre-Law Society and Students Organized for Service. She is also a member of two national honor societies – Sigma Tau Delta (for English majors) and Alpha Lambda Delta (for freshman students).
And who knows? Maybe one day this talented student will be active on campus yet again, continuing in Nahrstadt’s footsteps and serving as a member of the college’s board of trustees.