Terms such as “liberal,” “feminist” and “philosopher” are akin to curse words in Utah Valley, which is unfortunate because they describe Professor Shannon Mussett who has one of the most brilliant minds on campus.
Those deterred by her intellectual positions are missing out on the truly significant insights she has to offer. Whether you are a conservative mormon mother or a radical revolutionary looking to change the world, you can learn from her life experiences and wisdom. She is, after all, simultaneously the mother of two children and committed to her academic pursuits.
Growing up in Denver, Colo. in a conservative family similar to many of our own, Mussett loved learning from the time of childhood. She was an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy and comic books which, upon entering middle school and high school evolved from a pastime into a full-blown writing obsession.
“I wrote stories and books constantly. I couldn’t stop doing it I had to do it. I read and I wrote all the time so I thought I was destined to be a writer, at least I had that dream,” Mussett said.
With this dream in mind as a restless senior, Mussett received a scholarship from Gaucher College in Baltimore, Md. Having been intent on a small liberal arts college without fraternities and sororities, Gaucher’s intimate and academically-oriented setting was a perfect fit.
“I lived in the dorms and it was almost instantaneous; I had come home and I never even knew what home was,” Mussett said. “Politically speaking, it was very easy for me to have my mind opened up by other ideas and different perspectives as well as multiculturalism.”
As a prospective English major still committed to becoming a writer, Mussett found she disliked her first exposure to college English classes.
“It is a ridiculous reason but I kind of felt like everybody had already read everything and thought everything they were going to think and had their opinions set,” Mussett said. “I felt kind of intimidated by that but more annoyed.”
Under the influence of her faculty advisor, who just happened to be the chair of the Philosophy department, Mussett signed up for introduction to philosophy as an elective course. She found it to be quite the opposite experience than she had been having in her seemingly predictable English courses.
“It just floored me,” Musset said. “I walked in there and nobody had any idea what was going on. We were all just looking at these books having no idea what they were talking about and we all had to start from ground zero.”
Mussett became hooked on philosophy and shortly thereafter it became her major. Without any concern as to what she would do with her degree, Mussett knew she was pursuing something worthwhile. Never had she considered graduate school or becoming a professor. Things simply worked out that way.
“We put too much emphasis on conscious choice when we really we just sort of have to let things happen and keep working hard and that choice kind of forms itself around you,” Mussett said.
Villanova University outside Philadelphia, Pa. became her grad school destination. Although she remembers the workload as “brutal” and explains that she almost quit in her first year, her persistence paid off in more ways than one, because it is also where she met her husband Michael Shaw.
“We were really good friends and then we started dating, and once we finally let that cat out of the bag everyone said we were insane and that it was professional suicide,” Mussett said. “A lot of academics marry each other but they end up teaching in different states and commuting and certainly two people from the same discipline in the same school getting jobs in the same hemisphere is nearly impossible, but we decided it is harder to find a life partner than a job, so we just made it happen.”
At the time, UVSC was expanding and they were considered as candidates before the school even knew they were married due to the fact that they have different last names. After interviewing, they were both hired and given tenure-track positions.
“That is just sort of how my life has been, there have been struggles and tribulations for sure, but these things just kind of fall into place and I feel really bad for highly motivated students who don’t have anything to worry about, the ones I worry about are the ones who don’t care,” Mussett said.
Recognizing the educational trend towards getting in and out as fast as possible, Mussett remains fervent advocate of liberal education and firmly believes in the value of being presented with options and in pursuing individual passions.
“I don’t like the mindset to go and get a practical degree and become a cog in the machine. You’re going to succeed better in life regardless of what you do if you do what you love. And that’s not fantasy or idealism, it’s true,” Mussett said. “Do what you love and you are going to go in directions you wouldn’t imagine you would go.”
If you are passionate about nothing other than life, seek out Professor Shannon Mussett and access the wealth of knowledge she has to offer. Her enthusiasm for literally everything is contagious and we could all use a rub off of brilliance every now and again.
Most influential philosophers:
Simone de Beauvoir, George W. F. Hegel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Sigmund Freud and Plato.
Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex,” Luce Irigaray’s “The Sex which is not One” and Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit.”
Science Fiction Author:
Philip K. Dick
Films that shaped childhood:
Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and “The Neverending Story”.