One of my alma maters, Minnesota State University Moorhead, has seen a lot of news lately, and most of it not good. Words like retrenchment, layoffs, and re-rostering are making the rounds and out from this are faculty comments about how all this movement feels not like forward momentums, but instead like a death, like they are “demoralized and decimated” and the most I can do is tweet about it when I receive updates from a friend or read a news article.
Minnesota State University Moorhead really was my home away from home for a long time and even now, while my current university is not MSUM, it is still MSU Moorhead that feels like home. I suppose that is why these cuts, this poor rhetoric that is being used, and my friends’ reactions hit me so hard.
I do feel as if I am going through the stages of grief.
To understand, I probably have to explain a little bit about why I am so attached to the university. I didn’t start my undergraduate years there, but oddly enough I started my undergraduate career at the university I now attend for my doctorate. I hated my first university as an undergraduate because, as I said back then, “everyone [here] wears khakis.” What I meant by that is that a lot of my peers there seemed a lot more middle class than I was. Their parents sent them beer money. They wore nicer clothes. They drove semi-decent cars that didn’t break down constantly. They seemed different to me.
On top of this, the arts wasn’t highly valued, and still isn’t, at the university I attended the first time, and attend now, in my last years as a student. I wanted to go to a place where there were writers, people who valued the liberal arts, and so I transferred to Minnesota State University Moorhead, though I played around with other schools half-heartedly, like University of Montana at Missoula and Evergreen State College. But everyone, including me, knew I would stick around, and so I left for MSUM.
I loved it. I absolutely loved it. And while there were many different reasons I loved it, such as the academics, the faculty, the friends I made, even the job at the library I had there, it did serve as a catalyst for a lot of changes in my life. It gave me time and place and introspection.
For one, it got me out of the dump that I had found myself in at the first university where all I did was party and sometimes attend classes. I also didn’t have any strong friendships, even after two years, at my first university I attended as an undergraduate because I just couldn’t find a place I fit in, though I did try everything, even attending club meetings and getting involved in other on-campus activities. But on my first day at MSUM, I had already met people who would turn out to be friends for life, or friends that i still have even today. In fact, I met my best friend my first semester at MSUM.
I also loved the faculty. I remember the year I left for graduate school for my MA program, asking my advisor if I would ever feel so at home at another university. She said I might not. She said I might never find the connections there as I did here, at MSU Moorhead. It bummed me out, and I didn’t want to believe her, but I realize now she was right. While I like my present university, and I respect and trust my colleagues, I don’t feel that same sense of connection with most of them, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy knowing them and working with them and want to learn from them. For example, my advisor is someone who I would love to be someday, even just a little bit, even if I just come away with a lot of his attitude and a little bit of his smarts, I would be happy. The rest of my committee is fantastic and smart as well, and I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with them. They are amazing people.
But they will never take the place of the people I met at MSU Moorhead.
I hope that doesn’t sound unfair in any way or that it doesn’t seem that I haven’t made connections with people while a PhD student. I have. And these connections get better and better all the time. But even after I am done with school for good, and walk away with what I hope to have, I don’t think where I am now will ever take the place of MSU Moorhead. I don’t know how they could.