I've written before about writing in community, and the importance of creating spaces where people can share frustrations, resources, and support each other in making and meeting writing goals. I also think that for black women, women of color, queer folk, and other underrepresented demographics of graduate students, creating a community of scholars who share similar concerns and hurdles throughout the trajectory of the program is crucial. Schools, departments, or advisors can facilitate this in official and unofficial ways (black graduate student organizations, small group independent studies, semi-formal working groups, etc.) but students can also form these support cohorts themselves.
What's love got to do with it? Why create these communities?
Accessing a community to confirm our experiences and to affirm our concerns and suggest strategies for navigating them is an important part of self care. We have all read and heard horror stories, and some of us have experienced them, about the way that our selves, our interests, and our work can be met, in our departments, with outright hostility or marginalized in various ways. We need a community of others who can encourage us as we walk in our work and who can remind us that we bring important perspectives and experiences into graduate school with us. To remind us that in many ways, we already know what we need to know, in order to persevere through our programs. This article reminds us that women of color have a harder time finding appropriate mentor matches, and the crucial ways in which mentors with experiences similar to our own are able to advice us in situations we may face along the way. In the same way that there may be very few faculty of color in our departments, there may be few students of color as well. It is worth reaching beyond the confines of the department, through the use of online platforms, or through networking at university events and conferences, to pull together a community of scholars who can support each other.
How to create communities of support?
This article discusses a group of 8 black women at Indiana University who formed a sister circle that all started with a Facebook post. Someone reached out asking if there were other black women working on their Ph.D.s like her, and a group was born. This blog post suggests six concrete ways to build sister circles. It's geared toward women faculty, but these strategies can certainly be undertaken by graduate students. This post on Seattle Black Feminist last year is a call for a sister circle that resulted in the creation of a listserv. The creation of support groups with like minded people who can talk about issues faced in graduate school is as simple as reaching out and beginning to pull a group together. Many of us are probably already doing this in informal ways, and the important thing to remember is to do what works for you. Create the community you know you need. We are now a good way into the summer months, and some folks may be feeling a little out in the wind, without a schedule to keep us bumping into our cohort or submitting work on externally imposed deadlines. Consider calling for a coffee meetup or a Sunday dinner, or even a Google hangout, to touch base with your group.
And then do what?
Discuss your current projects, share CFPs, ask for feedback on abstracts. Be a sounding board for someone who isn't sure how to proceed when they think their advising relationship isn't going well. Drink coffee or tea. Eat snacks. Discuss any of a predetermined series of topics: conferencing, hunting for funding, organization strategies for job search season, etc. Talk Shondaland. Do whatever you want. Just be there for each other.