I am a firm believer that sweatpants, a T-shirt and an assortment of sugary snacks can be a human’s best friends, but sometimes these need to be abandoned in favor of finding your social and professional niche within the IU community. While it sounds daunting, and not at all as easy as blasting through a marathon of Law and Order: SVU, it is an extremely important skill. I will, in full disclosure admit to not mastering this yet, but it is important to make connections for professional development, and for you own mental health; grad school is hard, and having a circle of people you can talk to can make the process easier.
If you are a first generation college or graduate student, it might be especially hard in establishing those connections. Knowing who to talk to, and what to talk about can be a challenge. As a minority student, this can be even more challenging. Finding people who look like you, and have similar struggles will make it easier to adjust.
The best way is to discover your own interests: find some things you are interested in. IU is ENORMOUS. There is a club for everything you can imagine. I’m not attempting to douse this in hyperbole, but there are a numerous clubs and groups on campus that will give you an opportunity to do fun things while meeting new people, and perhaps get in on a new social network. I prefer to make these interactions happen organically, and what better of a way to do that than to join some people for an evening of salsa dancing, board games (join at your own risk; this is also how you lose friends) or fencing? Search the IU database, or even use Google to find some activities others are doing here at IU. This is
Join some multi-cultural centers! I admit, I was afraid to join the Black Graduate Student Association, mainly because of my own difficulty in coming to terms with my own Black identity, but they are a very enjoyable group of Black scholars who are interested in diversity, and act as a support group. I met one of my best friends just by jumping in and going!
If there is a minority group, there is a culture center just for them! Try the Asian Culture Center, or the LGBT culture center just to name a few. I underestimated the value of having groups like this until I joined. Not only do they make you feel welcome, you also feel like part of something that will help other minority/marginalized students in the future.
Also most of them will have food. I enjoy being frank about my intentions. You will be fed.
There is also a lovely Minority Graduate Student Lounge that gives you a location to just relax, and mingle with other graduate students. This is also a great networking opportunity as well, because you can exchange ideas, research interest and get to know others on a somewhat casual basis. Also…food.
Another way of positioning yourself with in the IU community is to go to events put on by your department. You might not be overly interested in every topic, discussion, or colloquium being presented, but make an appearance at some of these; they might be interesting, and it is a good way to meet visiting professors, professionals and others who might be helpful later on when looking for a job.