If there is one thing that I heard often before I entered graduate school and even when I arrived, it was that this experience can be an isolating, lonely one…IF I make it that way. As a result of hearing these words of wisdom from friends and mentors, I made it my business to be intentional in creating a support network while building and sustaining community on campus.
As a woman of color at a predominately White institution (PWI), I know firsthand how important it is to build a community of support. From taking you to the airport and buying you food when you’re waiting for your paycheck at the end of the month, to being a listening ear and shoulder to cry on when you’ve been stereotyped or ‘micro-aggressed’ in a classroom…AND (what I’ve learn to value a lot this semester) accountability partners, to make sure I’m reading and writing when I need to be.
Bloomington, and really any college town, is very transient. Students are in and out, getting degrees, then going into the workforce in another state or even another country. Despite the constant movement, community-building is a MUST! Without my community here in Bloomington/IU, there is no way I would still be in my program.
One important thing to note when you’re building your community: Diversify it! Yes, it’s important to surround yourself with people who are like-minded with similar backgrounds, whose stories may be similar to your own. But don’t count out those individuals who may be different from you…not only with aspects of culture, but particularly, research and program. The majority of my community represent programs that are not in education (like mine). But, that does not mean that we do not experience similar challenges. So, we feed off each other, listen to each other, and encourage each other as we pursue our goals.
Also, remember that it’s not enough to build community, but we have to work hard to sustain it. In graduate school, it’s so easy to operate in silos, getting our work done, teaching classes, taking classes, conducting research. And we can lose sight of everyone else in our community. When this happens, these support mechanisms weaken and the challenges get a little tougher to deal with. To keep from falling out of touch or disconnecting, simply check in from time to time. See how your friends and colleagues are doing. Take a break and have a movie night. Go to the opera. Do something that keeps you connected and engaged with your community. Why? Because your community easily becomes your family. 🙂