Wonder Women

Dr. Cassandra F. LeClair

Dr. Cassandra LeClair is a lecturer at Texas State University. Her classes and lessons focus on the way that individuals communicate, cope with, and negotiate identity. Her inspiration to continue research and education comes from the desire to increase understanding about communication surrounding crisis, traumatic events, and relational disruption.

1. If you could conduct your own interview, what would you ask yourself about? 

It is all too easy to talk about the happy times, the accomplishments, the future goals and all the fluff, but the gritty stuff and the major life challenges are so important to talk about. My self-interview would focus on the tough things I’ve experienced, along with my healing journey. My life’s work is about encouraging people and teaching them how to share their stories, and I now strive to model that for others.

2. Where were you born?

I was born in Breckenridge, Minnesota and grew up in South Dakota. I eventually moved to Nebraska to work on my PhD.

3. What was your path at college? Major, studies, etc.

During undergrad, I studied psychology and communication studies. My master’s degree is in communication studies, and I started teaching as a TA during this time. I was only 21 and taught 75 students my first day. It was awesome, and I loved it and thought, “This is what I’m going to do.” My PhD is also in communication studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. My area of expertise is interpersonal and family communication, and I have a secondary focus in rhetoric and a specialization in women and gender studies. 

4. What’s your favorite book right now?

I’m currently reading four different books because I am trying to start a business. One of my friends just sent me The 4-Hour Work Week. I’m trying to get better at working smarter not harder. 

5. Can you tell us a little about your career? How you started, faltered, got back up, and how it got you all here today?

In 2008, I arrived at Texas State University as an assistant professor. A couple of years later, my health began to falter. My kids were three and five at the time, and I sought medical attention, only to be told – repeatedly – things like, “You’re a woman. You have young kids, and a demanding job. Here are some anti-depressants.” I’m all for anti-depressants, when they are needed, and had taken them previously, but I knew that wasn’t the problem.

My official lupus diagnosis was in 2011. I took medical leave and resigned from the University in 2012. Not only was I very ill, but I felt like the lupus hijacked my life purpose and identity. I withdrew from life and was bedridden for several years. For months, I wasn’t even able to eat, subsisting with a feeding tube. I laid there thinking I was dying. There were a lot of ups and downs during that period, but I achieved remission. In 2016, my friend and colleague from the university saw how well I was doing, reached out, and suggested I return as an adjunct. I worked part-time for 2 years, returning as a full-time lecturer in the fall of 2018.

In spring 2018, I experienced another personal transformation, which propelled me to a new space in my career. My partner, son, and I were involved in a collision with a drunk driver. The what-if aspects of the wreck triggered childhood trauma. I was sexually abused, for years, by a family friend. In the aftermath of the wreck, I gained so much clarity about my compartmentalization of the abuse, and how I had never truly processed it and healed. I had been so determined not to let the abuse affect me but not addressing it and dealing with it meant it continued to retraumatize me.

The wreck became the catalyst for my book. I teach about feelings and in the years after the accident, I realized fear had been a major player in my life. After the accident, I worked deeply on the trauma, and my goal was to to be able to help others own and share their stories and picking up their own mics, so to speak. 

I want to hear about all the bad stuff that you’ve been through, because it’s part of you and your story. We do such a huge disservice by giving people the impression they can only talk about the happy things. On social media, we see the happy stuff, but when somebody actually has the balls to be authentic and real, people think they are crazy or unstable or too emotional. We live a world of extremes instead of recognizing there’s an acceptable and healthy range of emotion. 

Despite everything I’ve lived through, I am one of the happiest people I know, and it’s because I truly believe all the difficulties and experiences I’ve had, help me relate to people on many different levels.

Despite everything I’ve lived through, I am one of the happiest people I know, and it’s because I truly believe all the difficulties and experiences I’ve had, help me relate to people on many different levels.

I can step up and use my expertise and experiences and talk to people and teach them ways to share their stories. I love this! And I’m very excited for the future and moving what I’ve been doing in the classroom for so long beyond the university walls and relating to people on a whole new level. 

My book is called BeingWhole, and it is comprised of three parts, Being Broken, Being Afraid, and Being Whole. The book is not a typical memoir or autobiographical account of the abuse and illness. Rather, it’s the story of my brokenness, the patterns I created to survive what happened to me and, finally, my journey to healing. I worked tirelessly to heal and the awakening that my traumas and my challenges didn’t have to continue to define me was pivotal. I now see helping others on the same path as my life’s work, which brings meaning to the heartache and the suffering. 

6.What are your mornings like?

I get up, make coffee, let my dogs out, and sit down to write. The first couple of hours of your day are your most productive while you are fresh and focused. What I had been doing was picking up my phone, skulking around Facebook or consuming the news and then, before I got out of bed, I felt overstimulated, or I might see that my friends went out without me and feel a bit sad. I don’t need to wake up and be sad or depressed by the state of the world. I was waking up and immersing myself in an environment that wasn’t positive for me, and who can change that? Me.  

7.What would you tell your 20-year-old self? 

I would say figure out who you are. I didn’t know who I was and what I needed. I didn’t know what I wanted. I also didn’t realize, at that point, that I should figure it out.

I would ask my 20-year-old self, “ Who are you and what do you want out of life? ”

I would ask my 20-year-old self, “Who are you and what do you want out of life?” I’d also assure 20-year-old Cassandra it’s OK to take time to figure it all out.

8. When you were 20, what did you envision for your life at the age you are now? Is it different? How do you feel about that? Were there expectations you had to combat? Do you think it has worked out for the better?

I did want to be a professor, so I achieved that. But, I thought I would still be married. I did think my financial future would look different than it does. When I was 20, I thought I was going to make all this money because of the degrees I was willing to take on, whereas now I have this huge education and this job, but I’m still piecing it together financially. I suppose the money thing sounds like a complaint, but I can’t truly complain about where I am at because it really is what I wanted. I have everything I want. I get emotional talking about it, because it’s so awesome and I didn't think I would ever get back here because I was so sick. 

Does it suck that I only make $49,000 a year with 14 years teaching experience and a PhD? Yeah, it sucks that our society doesn’t value this role more than it does, but my job gives me flexibility to write my book and take my kids to school. I couldn’t have predicted that this was what my life would look like, but I wouldn’t change any of it either. Except maybe the salary. I might change that!

9. What is something that brings you joy/what is your happy place?

When I’m in the classroom, I do not have a bad day at work. I just get to go in and have these amazing conversations. In terms of leisure, I love paddle boarding. It’s one of my favorite things in life. I love the water. It brings me peace, and I am fortunate to live in a town with two rivers nearby.

10. What is the strongest/most important relationship in your life right now?

It’s my kids. I mention them a lot, but single mom life is a challenge. The emotional labor of being there and being in that role is incredibly rewarding and also challenging and exhausting but, again, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

11. How do you best take care of yourself?

This one took me a long time to master. I didn’t realize who I was for a long time, so I thought I was highly extroverted. But, I'm actually more of an introvert. The relevance of that is I’ve learned I must have time for myself. I have gotten better about protecting my time and stating what I need again. Even if I just have 15 minutes. I don’t need a whole day to take care of myself. I can be nice to myself for 15 minutes. 

12. What inspires you? 

People's passion. It’s amazing to see someone doing something they love with passion, creativity, and joy. I find positivity inspiring – authentic positivity – just really talking about your truth. I want to know how people got to where they are and what drives them, but also what they’re excited about doing. 

13. Who do you consider to be another badass in your life (can be multiple people)/ who would you want in your circle of badass women?

I’ve really got to figure out how to become best friends with Brené Brown, and I would definitely accept a call from Oprah’s people.

14. What do you think is the best way to be an ally?

Listen with compassion, kindness, and empathy. If I can listen to what your lived experiences are and show you compassion, empathy, and kindness, I think that at least gets us to a starting place where we say, “How can I help without being the voice for you”.

If I can listen to what your lived experiences are and show you compassion, empathy, and kindness, I think that at least gets us to a starting place where we say, “How can I help without being the voice for you.

I’m not here to be a voice for anyone because I don’t want to take ownership for things I haven’t experienced or speak for others. I encourage others to pick up their mic and do the speaking and advocating. And, I’m still a highly educated white woman at the end of the day. It is important to acknowledge our privilege and talk about it. People don’t want to admit what they don’t know. It is so important to acknowledge it and be willing to learn more. 

15. What are the ways in which people our age (young women in their twenties) can best educate themselves (politically, socially, economically…)

Look at viewpoints that differ from your own. Seek them out. With all the algorithms, you can literally only be shown what you know or what’s in your bubble, your echo chamber. The willingness to consider other opinions and to keep learning is so important. Often people think they only need to be solid in their own opinions, but if you listen to others it only helps to broaden and refine what you think. 

16. As a woman, in 2019, how do you navigate, deal with, associate with politics?

This is challenging for many of us. It stresses me out quite out a lot, especially since I’m very emotionally sensitive and I feel other people’s energies and I absorb it all. Even just going on Facebook and different groups, I experience a physical reaction and can get upset. I’ve needed to curate my time on-line. Facebook can be a toxic place, and I see the responses and feel the anger. It’s necessary for me to draw a line for myself. Coming to a discussion from a place of anger is not something I endorse. I have friends with whom I share very similar opinions, but the way we discuss and act upon them can be different. I’m really guarded with politics because of how exhausting I find it, which is sad because I want to have conversations. I think we need to figure out a way – all of us – to eradicate the negativity and back-biting and have productive conversations whether we are a regular person or in congress. I think the current climate will discourage younger people from getting involved because it’s seen as this terrible, negative place where no one can get engage without hostility which, ultimately, thwarts understanding, finding common ground, and making progress.

The Brights