Courtney Colligan

Courtney Colligan is a current PhD candidate.


What are you studying at Pitt?

I initially began my studies as an Early Modern scholar focused on cross-gender performances and corporeality in that era. However, my interests shifted following the study of a production of Shakespeare that used incarceration as its dramaturgical structure. My dissertation explores arts advocacy and performance-based groups that work with both incarcerated and returning citizens. I’m interested in how performance practices lead to self-actualization and rehabilitation in opposition to the violence of the carceral state.

How has the PhD program helped you move towards your personal and professional goals?

The PhD program has been instrumental in defining who I am as a scholar, a practitioner, and even an activist. The faculty supporting my desire to work for social justice institutions and exploring alternative careers beyond academia empowered the types of projects I took on, particularly in the summer months. The sharing of interesting articles related to my research or the general emails of intellectual excitement really helped ground me in the department. Having an advisor who cares about you as a full-fledged human being and supports your dreams means more than I can adequately describe in this short paragraph. Graduate school can be isolating and incredibly difficult; thus, being in a program where you’re valued and encouraged to speak your opinions is beneficial.

Is there a research opportunity, production, internship, class, etc. that has been instrumental to your time at Pitt or in helping you form your post-graduation goals? If so, please tell us about the experience.

I have had the absolute pleasure of working with Special Collections at the Hillman Library for a few summers and have become very close with some librarians. The department faculty supported my interests in archives and performance, which resulted in practical performance work with Special Collections. Building projects across campus departments has allowed me to hone my passion for performance work in local communities. Furthermore, Pitt’s interdisciplinary programs, such as the Mellon-supported “Making Advances” workshop in association with the History of Art and Architecture program, allowed me to continue working in archives and developing my skills as an archivist and researcher.

What do you hope to do when you graduate?

I have quite a few different dreams following graduation…it’s difficult to pin them down! I’d love to work in archives and museums in Pittsburgh, particularly in the Education Departments, and bring in a wider variety of visitors as well as develop exhibitions and lessons that reframe and challenge the conventional histories of “Great White Men” in these spaces. I will continue working with the Unit Literacy Group out of SCI Somerset and volunteering with the Abolitionist Law Center’s CourtWatch program. I would love to help expand both organization’s missions.

What do you enjoy doing outside of academics?

I have two rescue dogs who are essentially my entire world, and yes, I will share pictures if you ask. Outside of obsessing over dogs, I fully admit I have a skincare obsession and would love to have been a makeup artist in another life. I did ballet for 18 years, and maybe I’ll pick it up again post-graduation. I think it’s imperative to have varied and completely disparate interests while in grad school – your research does not have to become the only part of your identity!

Is there something you would like to share that you wish we asked you about?

I think the discussion over mental health and sustainable work environments can be pushed to the side when trying to accomplish all of the projects that graduate school requires. I greatly appreciate the openness to which this department encourages and supports discussion about these topics and creates a healthier graduate school environment. I have friends and family members in other programs across the country, and it is absolutely astounding to see some faculty ignore the needs of their students. We need to acknowledge that graduate students are more than students, that they are teachers, employees, caregivers, partners, and pet-parents, and that with these roles comes a multitude of responsibilities. It’s all about a healthy balance, financial and emotional support, and a good phone reminder to turn in your library books on time.