Sophie Murguia isn’t usually on this side of an interview.
“I’m so nervous right now,” she said.
For the past four years, Murguia has been heavily and integrally involved in The Amherst Student. She was managing news editor as a first year and editor in chief from her sophomore year to the end of her junior fall semester, after which she served as executive advisor to the editing staff.
When I asked her about other extracurricular activities Murguia did during her four years at Amherst besides The Student, she replied, “This is where I’m boring. Most of it’s the newspaper.”
In reality, Murguia had other commitments outside of The Student. She wrote for the Circus, a student-run literary magazine, worked for the Common, an Amherst College-based literary magazine, and performed in Amherst Dance. Still, none of these took priority over her work for The Student, which sometimes superseded even academics.
“I would block off all of my Tuesday,” she said. “I wouldn’t do any schoolwork and I would just do the newspaper. It has to be your first priority. I often had to push aside classwork or find a way to make it work because whatever the problem, you’re the person responsible.”
Friends like Kiana Herold ’17 know Murguia for her passion and dedication to journalism.
“It’s so nice to see people in their element, and she’s so in her element in the news office,” Herold said. “I remember a lot of different issues that came up that she had to deal with, and just seeing the degree to which she cared about those different things and how determined she was to handle the situation was rather inspiring.”
Roots As A Writer
Murguia grew up near Silicon Valley with two parents involved in the tech industry, and her younger sister is now a computer science major at Barnard. Murguia, however, has always retained a love for writing. “In high school I definitely felt like everyone wanted to be an engineer or a doctor, and I liked English,” Murguia said.
She has known that she wanted to be a writer in some capacity since first grade. “When you’re a kid who likes books, you think, ‘I’m going to write fiction,’ and that’s what I thought for a very long time, probably up until high school and maybe through my first year at Amherst,” Murguia said.
“Eventually, I realized that what I had more of a compulsion to do was journalism. It was more of a gradual realization, but I always knew that I liked books and liked to write.”
Murguia was particularly interested in using journalism as a tool to serve the public good.
“I think my personality type is that I need to be out in the world doing things and talking to people,” Murguia said. “Part of the appeal of journalism for me is that I realized I felt more of an ethical compulsion to do it.” Journalism, Murguia said, “holds the powerful accountable” and “creates an informed citizenry,” all of which are priorities for her.
A Faith in Ethics
Murguia’s interest in ethics carries over into the classroom. She took several classes, including her first-year seminar, with Professor Nishiten Shah in the philosophy department at Amherst.
Shah’s first impressions of Murguia were of a quiet student, but her first paper left him “stunned.”
“It was far superior to anything I’d seen, and it wasn’t just superior for a first-year student,” he said. “Her final paper in that class, I now use as an example of how to write, not only with my first-year students, but with all of my students. It’s not only amazing how much she is able to absorb in class, but also how well she thinks with her pen.”
Murguia continued to have an interest in philosophy throughout her time at Amherst. “I actually took, depending on what you count, about six philosophy classes,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a major just because I didn’t want to do the requirements. All I care about is ethics.”
Friends like JinJin Xu ’17 would even use the word “ethical” to describe Murguia. “It’s a strange way to describe her, but she literally wrote her thesis about ethics,” Xu said.
This reflectiveness stands out to Xu, both in and out of class. “In classrooms where a lot of students, especially freshmen, are hoping to impress, she was not like that at all,” Xu said. “When she does speak, it’s always with such thoughtfulness, weight and passion that it’s almost a force that gushes out. That’s true for both inside and outside the classroom. There’s always a kind of thoughtfulness and passion driving what she says.”
Murguia’s passion for thinking deeply and reflectively is infectious, as Herold can attest.
“One night we went to Antonio’s at ten because we were hungry,” Herold said. “We ended up sitting there, having a really long, reflective conversation for three or four hours and realized it was two in the morning and we were like, ‘What are we doing here?’”
A Process-Oriented Thinker
Murguia’s interest in ethics and its connection to literature came together in her thesis, the idea for which she has since senior year of high school, titled “Reading Experimentally: How Short Stories Cultivate Ethical Thinking.” It explores the connection between ethical thought experiments and works of short fiction by Alice Munro and Lydia Davis.
“Basically, these kinds of short stories, these literary thought experiments, teach us to read experimentally,” Murguia said. “And by that, I mean they teach us to take an experimental attitude toward our own ethical lives that are playful, hybrid, iterative. Analytic philosophy tends to be very universalizing and abstract and impersonal, and so much of the literature I’ve read at Amherst tends to be the opposite of that.”
Murguia’s work on her thesis, along with her time in Professor of English Geoffrey Sanborn’s “American Extravaganzas” course, has taught her how to view life, especially intellectual life, in a more unfinished and process-oriented way.
“Embracing that unfinished-ness has been a big thing that I’ve learned,” she said. “I’m decently proud of the final product, but I don’t think it’s amazing. I can think of issues with it as a larger project and also on a sentence-by-sentence level. I’ll go through it and cringe. But the process was really worthwhile and taught me to see the world in new ways.”
This mentality is one of the most important things Murguia will take away from her time at Amherst.
“Before I came to Amherst, I was much more focused on achieving things in the sense that all high schoolers are taught to do,” she said. “That mentality is a really good one to be freed from. I’m just a lot more focused on being in the moment and focusing on what I’m learning every day. That’s something I’ve learned from people at Amherst.”
An Investigative Future
After she graduates from Amherst, Murguia will head to journalism school at Columbia University, although she doesn’t know exactly what sort of journalism she’ll focus on yet.
“Some days, I think I could be an immigration reporter or a health policy reporter or report on women’s rights, and I want to start to explore what kinds of journalism I’m interested in,” Murguia said. “I want to be more intentional about where I’m going after grad school.”
When I asked Murguia where she sees herself in 10 years, she first laughed, but then proceeded to answer the question quite confidently.
“I hope that I’m working as a reporter doing some kind of meaningful journalism that is holding the powerful accountable, doing all that,” Murguia said.
“I can see that taking a lot of forms. I’ll be happy as long as I’m doing work that has an impact of some kind, and as long as I’m a reporter and I get to be out in the world talking to people and learning something new every day.”