Ga-Du-Gi – Building Community

As graduate students, how do we build communities?

This is something I’ve really been thinking about and struggling with lately as a community is something I have found I require in order to be successful in life whether that’s academia, business, or just in my personal relationships.

Community is in my blood. It always has been. Ga-Du-Gi is a Cherokee phrase/concept that loosely means working together for the good of everyone. It’s something that I knew I needed before I even knew why or what to call it. This is part of why I liked the topic of mindfulness in my previous post because it’s through mindfulness that I really connect to my culture, my people, and who I am. As someone with an invisible identity, being in touch with who I am keeps me grounded daily. But that’s really a topic for another day…

When I had this realization about “ga-du-gi” being an innate part of who I am, I began to really see it all I did. It was in my 4-H career – working together to make the best better for those came after me in the program and in the world. It is in my choice of profession – a biological systems engineer works with systems and people from all different backgrounds and expertise to try and solve the problems our world is facing. It is in my passion for teaching and my teaching style – very collaborative, community-based, & caring.

As I mentioned in class last week, last semester was really hard for me… I couldn’t seem to get a handle on anything I want to do. I felt overwhelmed, tired, and down a majority of the time no matter what I seemed to do. And the worst part was I couldn’t figure out why. Nothing had changed. Sure I had a lot of responsibilities, but I always had and nothing new had been added to my plate from the semester before.  What could have been different???

It wasn’t until the very last week of courses that an answer came to me. I was reading research on Native students in higher education and something just clicked. I had lost my community. Moving to VA from OK all by myself was more daunting that I had thought it would be. Even though my husband was able to move out here last January, it still gets me sometimes that my community is a 1000 miles away – our family, our friends, our church, everyone it seems like at times. We had thought we had started to build a community here but as with grad school, things change. People graduate. Others get busy with writing, field work, etc. And I started to feel really alone again. That was the feeling that haunted me all last semester. Loneliness…

So one of my goals in 2017 is to build my community. But I’m honestly not exactly sure how. My advisor is worried about my research. He thinks I have too much “extra” going on. He might be right but I need to find a community. So back to my original question, how do we as graduate students build and maintain a community? Does your research group fulfill that for you? If not, where else do you find it? I ask here, unsure if anyone will hear much less answer, because I long for the conversation and I don’t really have anyone to ask. So I’ll ask again into the black void of the internet, blog-sphere –

Who is your community?

2 Responses so far.

  1. A. Nelson says:

    These are really important, essential questions, Qualla. I think the answers vary with individual circumstances, and we should talk more about this in class. For now I’m going to say that yes, my experience has been the blogging and twitter have helped me develop and nurture relationships I wouldn’t have had access to without these kinds of tools. I empathize with the loneliness — it makes everything else seem so daunting. Want to have coffee next week?

  2. E. Clark says:

    As an out-of-state student who was new to VT as of August 2016, I completely understand your struggles. I spent 6 years at Kansas State University and became part of a wonderful and supportive community there. When I first arrived here at VT, I really wasn’t sure who “my people” would be. Thankfully, my department is one big family and has quickly become a community I feel a part of. My recommendation would be to reach out to those in your department, since they are likely to have many of the same interests (at least career/research-wise) that you do. If your department isn’t the most “community oriented”, maybe look into other social or professional groups on campus that interest you?

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