Shelby Purdy graduated in 2016, with a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Philosophy. She’s proud of her Appalachian heritage and loves hiking with her sweet pup, Blue. By her own admission, she probably owns too many house plants, but assures us that they are all “mostly” thriving. She currently lives in Nashville, so it might not surprise you to learn that she’s a big fan of live music. Roger Waters is a personal favorite. And she’s also a bit of a foodie, willing to try anything, and sufficiently invested that she’s been known to tear up while watching Master Chef.
Shelby, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule for this. I thought I might start by asking what first got you interested in philosophy.
Well, I initially took a philosophy class to satisfy an elective requirement. My friend recommended Intro to Ethics with Professor Tudico because it fulfilled the elective credit, but she said it was also thought-provoking and informative. She was right. I fell in love with philosophy after that class and changed my major shortly thereafter. I grew up with a dad who taught me to question everything, but philosophy helped me hone that skill. Philosophy immediately drew me in because the content focuses on learning alternative viewpoints, reasoning, and communication skills. I also believe philosophy allows you to connect more with yourself, the world around you, and the unknown. Philosophy was refreshing after growing up in a conservative, small town in the Bible belt.
It's amazing how often that first exposure to philosophy can be so transformative. I had a similar experience when I first began college, in a course taught by Stephen Makin. Aside from Intro to Ethics, did you have any other favourite philosophy courses at ETSU, or any particular memories you’d like to share about your experience studying philosophy?
Philosophy as Conversation is the class that truly drove my desire to major in philosophy. I remember this class bringing up a lot of feelings for the entire class, but it provided a safe space for us to explore our belief systems. I also thoroughly enjoyed any class I took with Dr. MacAvoy - Existentialism, Philosophies of Feminism, and Contemporary Continental Philosophy. The ETSU Philosophy Department offers many classes that appeal to a variety of interests, but I would encourage folks to take a class or two in a subject they are less familiar with or they may find challenging.
Excellent advice, and congratulations on taking three whole courses with Dr. MacAvoy. If only we were all so fortunate. What’s been happening in your life since you graduated from ETSU?
When I graduated college in 2016, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I was not sure what I wanted to do yet, but I knew that philosophy would be valuable regardless. I decided to get a job at Planned Parenthood. I wanted to work in the advocacy handle, but ultimately, I worked as a healthcare assistant in abortion care. I realized I loved the medical field. It's intellectually challenging and never monotonous. It also provides the opportunity to reduce stigma and offer non-judgemental care in the sexual and reproductive health space. I pursued a Master of Science in Nursing from Vanderbilt University and graduated in 2021. I am now a Registered Nurse, Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, and Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner. I am currently working at an OB/GYN practice in Nashville.
Wow – it’s fantastic that you’ve found such important and meaningful work, and work that seems to have taken on a great deal more significance in light of recent events. Would you mind saying a little about how the SCOTUS Dobbs versus Jackson decision has either impacted your job, your patients or your colleagues?
To say that the SCOTUS Dobbs versus Jackson decision has significantly impacted my job, my patients, and my colleagues would be a big understatement. I no longer work in directly in abortion care, but rather a general OB/GYN practice. Regardless, the decision influences my day-to-day work life. On a weekly, sometimes daily, basis I am talking with patients about how the SCOTUS decision impacts their care. I am providing information on where people can access abortion when they have an unwanted pregnancy. I am explaining how this decision does not currently impact miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy care. I am replacing IUDs (intrauterine devices, a form of contraception) early due to patients' fear that they may not have access to this care in the future. I have seen tears, rage, confusion, and disbelief in exam rooms. For those of us working in this space, this decision is not surprising. We have been preparing for this for years. The SCOTUS decision will not stop elective abortions. It will decrease access to medically safe elective abortion care.
There is currently a six-week abortion ban in the state of Tennessee. Medically speaking, a person typically does not know they are pregnant until around four weeks gestation. This is typically the time a person would notice a missed period (menstrual bleed) due to pregnancy, prompting them to take a pregnancy test. This effectively bans abortions in the state of Tennessee due to scheduling conflicts, financial and travel barriers, 48-hour waiting period laws, etc. On August 25, 2022, abortion will be banned in the state of Tennessee with the exception of medical emergencies. Often people are wondering, "what can I do to help?" Call your elected officials and advocate for access to safe, legal abortions in our state. Donate to local, grassroots abortion funds in your area. Planned Parenthood is a powerhouse in this space, but they receive thousands of dollars from various donors. Local abortion funds provide direct access to safe abortion care to people living in your state. Abortion Care Tennessee (ACT) is one example of a local fund (donate here: https://abortioncaretn.org/). If you or someone you know needs access to abortion, you can find help here: https://www.abortionfinder.org/.
Thank you, Shelby, for the insight, the advice and the really, helpful information. Clearly, we could continue talking a lot longer about the current state of reproductive healthcare, and the impact Dobbs has had, so I’m grateful that you’ve provided those links for any readers who would like to learn more. I’m also sure the last few months have been an immensely difficult time, so I hope you’re personally finding ways to cope.
Circling back to something you hinted at earlier, could say a bit more about how the skills you developed through studying philosophy have helped you professionally?
Sure, absolutely, so the medical field requires strong communication and reasoning skills. These are vital during interactions with patients, to ensure proper patient care and improved health outcomes, and also with colleagues. "Asking why" is also vital to nursing and the medical field. Philosophy constantly expects you to ask why you believe something and have a reasonable argument for your beliefs. "Asking why" makes me a better healthcare provider because it allows me to assess the myriad of biopsychosocial components of a patient's health status and formulate creative ways of managing their care.
One of the big morals I’ve taken away from the Covid pandemic is that effective communication and self-reflection is hugely important, especially with so much misinformation in circulation, so I’m glad to hear you mention both. And of course, it’s really gratifying to hear that philosophical acumen is useful in a field such as your own. Do you think philosophy enhanced your life outside your career in any particular ways?
Philosophy has given me deeper spiritual and interpersonal experiences. In college, philosophy provided a space to question the spiritual beliefs I grew up around and gave me the tools to assess my own spiritual beliefs. Through philosophy, I can communicate my worldviews and understand others' worldviews on a deeper level. The logic, writing, and communication skills obtained through my philosophy degree have also allowed me to better grapple with the social and political realities we find ourselves in.
Overall, philosophy has enriched my life in ways that I didn’t realize it would when I took that first course. There is more to be gained by obtaining a philosophy degree than a career and a paycheck.
That all sounds really positive. Final question(s): you wrote a fantastic Honors thesis on the concept of personal identity, and the ways in which identity can be shaped. Are these issues you continue to think about? Do you think the ideas you discussed have influenced how you interact with other people? You talk a lot in the thesis about Foucault’s concept of a space of surveillance and Hannah Arendt’s concept of a space of appearance. When I was reading about these I was trying to decide whether these are useful concepts for thinking about internet identities and social media platforms. Do you have thoughts about that?
I explore the concept of identity in my thesis, and this is certainly something I still think about. I still feel the environment in which one lives impacts an individual's experience, beliefs, and values. This references the "space of surveillance" in my thesis--it is hard to achieve absolute isolation. Despite this, I do not think these "spaces of surveillance" are deterministic. As individuals, we have opportunities to explore alternative points of view and ways of living. Our environment around us does not need to define who we are or how we view the world. The "space of appearance" defies the "space of surveillance" in this way. Social media platforms serve as both a "space of surveillance" and a "space of appearance."
For example, this can be seen when looking at political news and opinions. A lot of people tend to see similar political points of view on their social media feeds. If a "space of appearance" (i.e. alternative political viewpoints) is not available, then it may be easy for someone to fall into normative belief patterns similar to their peers. This may or not be a good thing, and it would certainly depend on the content one is seeing and how that content impacts others. Regardless, the internet is a vast space that is comprised of multiple identities and ways of experiencing the world. I think it is important for people to find a "space of appearance" to question the normative, dogmatic beliefs they find themselves surrounded by. This, at the very least, gives a chance for people to fully articulate why they believe or care about something.
Thanks Shelby, for a great interview. We wish you continued success in Nashville!