Sharing her personal struggle with a health issue helped an Indiana University East student win a new scholarship.
Erin Bristow’s essay about the years of despair, medical treatments and gradual acceptance of her infertility moved IU East’s English department faculty, who selected her as the winner of the Judith A. Roman-Royer Scholarship.
“It took courage to enter the contest, but my thought was that I want people to understand my perspective and maybe help destigmatize infertility,” Bristow said. “It’s not easy to share this story, but I think it’s important.”
Bristow said she spent a lot of time working on her essay, called “More Than the Sadness,” and she felt she had nothing to lose by entering the contest.
“My goal with this essay was to accept myself more, so I thought sharing this part of myself with others would help me find that acceptance,” she said.
Bristow said she’s been brainstorming the essay for years.
“I’d started it but not finished it many times,” Bristow said. “Last semester (fall 2017) I took a non-fiction writing course that helped me turn this idea into an essay I was happy with.”
To qualify for the campus scholarship, English department faculty asked students to submit essays ranging from six to eight pages that would move readers, tell them something new and have a strong voice.
The donor of the scholarship has encouraged students to hone their writing for many years. Roman-Royer taught 19th century American literature and numerous other courses such as Composition, World Masterpieces, Women and Literature, Introduction to Fiction, Introduction to Poetry, and Introduction to Drama at IU East from 1986 to 2006.
Roman-Royer has written non-fiction and autobiography throughout her life, starting when she was a child. She published some poetry when she lived in Bloomington while going to graduate school. She also published a book based on her doctoral dissertation, titled “Annie Adams Fields: The Spirit of Charles Street.” Fields was a publisher’s wife who was a well-known literary hostess.
The educator was inspired to further IU’s mission, and to encourage others to give to the university, she established the Judith A. Roman-Royer Scholarship.
The contest is open to all IU East undergraduates, with the winner receiving a $500 scholarship. Bristow plans to use her scholarship toward her summer session tuition.
Bristow is exclusively an online student who lives in Indianapolis with her husband and their two dogs.
“It’s difficult to write about failure and infertility is a topic that seems kind of taboo in our culture,” Bristow said. “I don’t think it should be shameful or taboo, though. It’s just a part of life; by showing this essay to strangers I’m trying to overcome the weird feelings I have about admitting I’m infertile. I’m not ashamed of it, it’s as much of who I am as any other part of me. I’ve got brown eyes, I have seasonal allergies, I’m infertile. It’s just part of what makes me me. I’m trying to get to the point where I’m comfortable talking about it openly, and this essay has helped in that process.”
Bristow will graduate in December with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Technical and Professional Writing.
She decided to return to school for a degree in English at age 41 after working as an MRI technologist.
“I chose IU East because as an adult working full time I was looking for an online degree from a university I trusted,” Bristow said.
Bristow said she has been “pleasantly surprised at how in-depth the classes get regarding interaction between students and professors.
“My core English classes have taught me how to analyze and appreciate everything from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot; my concentration classes have helped me become comfortable creating and designing websites and professional presentations,” she said.