Relationships Outside of Gradschool: “Okay Denise…”

Photo by

Photo by

With Winter in full swing, it’s just about time to start bemoaning the lack of having a significant other. Because I’m on that list, I’d rather curb this discussion to talk about relationships in a different light, particularly with one’s family, during the process of seeking a degree.

I am very close to my family. We have a strong bond centered around a love of food each other, support, and trust. That being said, when it’s holiday time, or time to go visit home, it can get a bit tense, especially when trying to go home and instill upon your family all that enlightenment that has come from higher education.

My sister and I lovingly call out “Okay, Denise,” in reference to the lovable, yet severely out of tune Denise Huxtable from the Cosby Show,whenever we start going off on tangents about how society needs to change, and that our parents need to get with the program of all the new progressive things we have learned while away. It is difficult to remember sometimes that your family is not the same as your cohort, and they aren’t in your same social sphere. While it can feel like everyone around you is learning the same things you are, it is important to remember that graduate school exists in a bubble.

I had become…a Denise with a Master’s degree…

In an attempt to force my views on my family, I was reminded very quickly that the school is very much so different than the real world. I had become accustomed to being in class, discussing a wide variety of topics that are often uncomfortable to others with my peers. It was easy to have these discussions because that was what everyone was interested in.

After going home, however, I learned that not everyone was up to date on the newest tool for social justice, interested in the ways research had been improved to develop a new model of XYZ product, or that there are new ways of conceptualizing our environments. While this had become the center of my life (reading up on new ways of approaching difficult subjects), it would be laughable at best to say others in my hometown had approached these same topics with similar vigor. Instead, making money, existing, and taking care of their families was their focus; something I had neglected to remember.

While away at graduate school, I had forgotten how to talk to “real” people; I had forgotten that not everyone is going to vigorously push for the newest cause; as a student, we have numerous resources (and backing) to push for change. It’s no coincidence that numerous social movements began with college students. Those outside the bubble of the university are concerned with…living, for back of a better term.

This thought, in no way means that my family and friends were completely close minded about these issues, but rather, they had more important things they were focused on; years before, my family had fought their battles with society, and were now at a place where they weren’t interested in picking up the sword and heading directly into the line of fire of whatever cause.

I felt ridiculous for not noticing this sooner. Just because I have been here toiling away for some time, enriching myself with literature on my preferred topics of interest, did not, in the slightest, make my case any more appealing to the real world. I had been relegated to “Denise” status; I hold a higher degree, and am applauded for continuing to do so. However, after attempting to engage others in conversation, I am hardly taken seriously.

In academia, professors have to, at the very least, pretend to care about your research, but at home, without tempering the conversation to a real-world context, my “education” is cornered to the simple ramblings of hot-blooded youth, who is none the wiser about the real world.

My intent with this post was to inform others to step outside the bubble once in a while. Writing papers, engaging with classmates, professors, and the overall college community is not the same as engaging with every-day individuals. This is not to paint either party’s status as higher or lower than another; we have different goals, tracks, and priorities. It is simply to call into focus that sometimes, we as academics forget that we are not always going to engage with our peers. With this status as higher degree bearing individuals, need to think outside our own realm, and work with the rest of the world; not seclude ourselves in our own academic environment. This way, we can serve our community better.