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2020 Barrett Honors College grad Sisko J. Stargazer’s name and honors thesis inspired by 'Star Trek'

By

Nicole Greason

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Sisko J. Stargazer may be the ultimate “Star Trek” fan.

Stargazer is named after his favorite character, Capt. Benjamin Sisko from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," and “Star Trek” also was the inspiration for his honors thesis.

Stargazer is graduating Arizona State University this month with a Bachelor of Arts in film and media studies, as well as two certificates – one in LGBT studies and another in international cinema – with honors from Barrett, The Honors College. He also is a Dean’s Medalist in The College at ASU, a designation that recognizes the highest achieving students from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. 

Stargazer, who grew up in Yuma, Arizona, came to ASU in 2018 as a transfer student from Arizona Western College and an All-Arizona Academic Team member with a full-tuition scholarship. 

Stargazer’s thesis is titled "Ex Queer Scientia — From the Queer, Knowledge: Gender & Sexuality in the Star Trek Universe."

“'Ex astris, scientia' (From the stars, knowledge) is a motto from Trek's Starfleet Academy, so it felt fitting to adapt it to my title. My thesis explores the evolution of Trek's portrayal of queer identities, focusing primarily on 'Deep Space Nine,' 'Voyager,' and 'Star Trek Discovery,'” Stargazer explained.

Stargazer, whose dad was a Trekkie, came across DVDs of the original “Star Trek” series in high school and started watching them for fun.

“I loved it instantly. I learned to question and think about so many things I'm not sure I would have thought about before,” he said.

“Many people are inspired by the vision of a future where humanity has progressed beyond its prejudices to just learn and explore for the sake of it. And even though Trek has its flaws, I really adored that vision of the future. I've seen every episode from every series to date and I'm still very in love with it. There's so much to immerse yourself in when it comes to Star Trek,” he added.

In addition to immersing himself in the adventures of “Star Trek” and his academic studies, Stargazer volunteered with the Barrett Honors College Recruiting Department, helping promote the honors college to prospective students. 

He participated in panel discussions with students at Western Arizona College about his experience as an honors student and the process for completing an honors thesis.

We asked Stargazer to reflect on his time at ASU. Here’s what he had to say.

Question: What is an interesting moment or accomplishment in your ASU career?

Answer: Truthfully, getting the chance to become a grader in my own department was a big moment of validation for me. ...The pandemic was difficult and at times I felt like maybe what I was doing didn't matter much, but then I began to hear back from students about how my feedback and reaching out to them helped so much. I value inclusivity and accessibility above all else, so I do everything I can to be helpful and let students know that they can trust their professors and graders. Maybe it may seem minor, but I really treasure those moments where I helped a student because I know what it's like to struggle too, and I want to pay it forward by helping. 

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I was first interested in journalism, but I had the chance to work with my (community college) mentor for a capstone project. I had been growing in confidence so much at my community college and I decided that, for once, I was going to do something I really wanted to do. I decided to write an expansive paper on the evolution of LGBTQ+ representation in cinema. I was an amateur and was mostly left to my own devices. I had to be careful with what I brought home, too, because I lived with homophobic parents. One professor would even have stuff shipped to her home to bring to me for my project. And I eventually wrote 50 pages and received a special award for my work. It meant so much to finally do something I loved and one day, I realized I wanted to specialize in this — film analysis — instead of just news writing. I quickly switched my journalism major at ASU to film and media studies and I've stayed the course since. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: It was actually in ASU Counseling where a conversation led to a new realization: progress doesn't always have to be completely positive. You can struggle and still succeed. You can be terribly sad and happily hopeful. These dichotomies can exist and I don't need to invalidate all of the good because of the bad. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was first interested in journalism and knew that the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications had a great reputation. I was easily accepted but once I decided I wanted to shift my focus to film, I had to reassess my choices. Even then, it was an easy choice as the FMS program had everything I really wanted. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? What was that lesson?

A: Definitely Dr. Daniel Gilfillan, a Film and Media Studies faculty member. I've taken multiple classes with him now, but there's one moment that really stands out to me the most. I was having a really tough day because the most supportive ally in my life had expressed frustration and I had lost nearly all hope. I was hurt because if even the most supportive person in my life was like this, what did that say about the rest of the world? 

I talked to Dr. Gilfillan about what was going on. I got to talk about being trans and how difficult it can be to have people use the right pronouns and not resent you for it. That it's hard to not lose hope sometimes. 

Not only did he validate my feelings, but he said that it's OK to be weary sometimes. It's normal to have periods where you can't be as strong as you're often told you need to be. I felt silly, but he recognized that I was dealing with deeper stuff.

I learned that there's still hope out there. I learned that I can find support if I'm open. And I learned to better recognize when staying away for mental health is a good idea and when it isn't. 

Dr. Gilfillan restored my hope at a time when I felt so low. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don't be afraid to reach out for help. There are so many people who do want to help you and see you succeed. As a grader, I've been allowed to be more lenient with students who reach out or respond because, a lot of the time, students have really valid reasons for missing assignments or being late. 

We're all human and we all struggle, but we should also help each other when we can. At ASU specifically, there are many ways to find help. From your professors to ASU Counseling to the Council of Coalitions to SAILS (formerly the Disability Resource Center). 

It's OK to struggle, but you don't have to struggle alone. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I love The Design School building. It has a library and so many random spots for you to relax or quietly work. It's also just across the street from a cozy Starbucks. I've alternated studying at these two spots so many times. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'll likely wait a year or two, but I do hope to engage in graduate studies soon and see where the future takes me. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I feel unqualified to answer this as there are so many issues that call for reform and justice. But I think one area I'd love to invest in is creating safe spaces for trans people across the globe and enabling better access to health care for them, especially in regards to HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and gender-affirming surgeries as well as legal things like name changes.