Alfred University News

Wit and Wisdom winner explores female autism depicted in “Stranger Things” series

Ashton Julian, a fourth-year Alfred University student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, delivered their award-winning essay "Stranger Things: Robin Buckley and the Female Autism Phenotype Theory" at the April 18 Bergren forum in Nevins theater. The essay earned top honors in the 2024 Wit and Wisdom Student Award competition sponsored by the Alfred University chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Julian double-majors in English and Psychology, with minors in Film and Social Justice Studies. Their essay explores the depiction of the character Robin Buckley in the sci-fi series “Stranger Things,” identifying characteristics of the female autism phenotype and describing Robin as representing positive examples of a female character on the autism spectrum. Such a character is rarely depicted in popular culture, they noted.

A native of Julian, PA, near State College, Julian describes themselves as a fan of television drama and comedy with a strong interest in child psychology.  They currently are working on a sitcom pilot script and video production, “…” for their senior honors project in English and hope to work in either creative producing or creative development for television following graduation from Alfred University.

Their Wit and Wisdom essay grew from a paper written earlier for a child psycho-pathology class in the Division of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In an interview following the Bergren, Julian speculated on whether “Stranger Things” writers had been intentionally depicting a character on the autism spectrum ­– or whether they were trying to write a character struggling with anxieties that happened to overlap with symptoms of autism.

In either scenario, “We see a lot of ourselves in Robin Buckley,” Julian said.

They will graduate from Alfred University in the May 2024 Commencement ceremony. As an undergraduate, they have worked in the University Writing Center and served for three years as a peer leader for English Professor Alan Grove’s “Tales of Terror” First Year Experience (FYE) class. Julian has also worked in costume design for several student-produced film and theater productions at Alfred University.