grad school and the death of kinship

it has begun to seem to me that grad school, despite being ostensibly a place where one is supposed to “network” and build connections with other writers and scholars, its purpose of grad-school is actually the opposite: to fracture possible relationships between writers and academics and to dissolve any chance at the formation of true affinity groups, kinships, or even basic friendships. this is in part to prepare grad students to be part of a cheap labor-force for universities and disincentive grad students and adjuncts alike from unionizing or in any way not to feel completely abject from and alienated by their passion and potentially revolutionary ideas.

i have begun to think about these things, in part, due to the recent case of avital ronell, whose position of power at a university allowed her to terrorize, and harass her students both psychologically and physically. however, i think these issues are worth thinking about right now due to some of my own recent stressful experiences here at my MFA.

i have not encountered anything as extreme as avital ronell’s reported harassment (and certainly not sexual in the way avital’s harassment was), but i have encountered some stressful conflicts with other people in the program. it seems to me that one of the primary conduits of interaction in grad schools is this kind of emotionally intense (maybe even abusive) conflict—another being simple neglect.

a few the ways conflict and neglect are created via the structure of grad school (or at least just this program):

  • grad school ultimately encourages competition by design. students are always forced to be competing—competing for spots on the grad litmag, competing for publications, competing to get the thesis advisers they want, competing for university resources, etc. etc. this is all to prepare them for the more brutal competition within the university labor pool for even halfways decent jobs.

  • “third spaces” are inherently absent—there are no real spaces were all grad students can meet up and talk, like a staff lounge. instead, conversations end up being isolated in offices and end up being heavily divided by year/cohort. this encourages rumor mills. the lack of good third spaces on or near campus also results in program-wide predisposition to use bars as a primary social space, resulting in social activities among grad students which focus more on partying as the main vector of socializing rather than forming bonds as scholars, artists, or simply as people (to be clear, partying is fine, but parties alone cannot feed a healthy social culture).

  • disengaged faculty. i don’t blame the faculty necessarily for this, but rather the administrative factors which also creates conflict among faculty themselves and keeps professors for truly engaging with grad students as potential future colleagues in a field or fellow artists. furthermore, if professors are acting towards each other and their students in ways which resemble conflict and neglect, then these behaviors end up feeding into the psychology of their students.

all this results in a loss of passion and a deterioration of relationships between grad students. i can see how dead-eyed and stressed out some of my peers are; i’ve experienced, both directly and indirectly, the ways in which this stress and the lack of good social outlets within this program create conflict between grad students and keeps them from creating lasting connections. just seeing and experiencing that kind of thing ends up wearing you down, too—contributing to a feedback loop of negative emotions.

to be clear, ultimately, i am learning a lot here in grad school, and i am becoming a better writer. i’m having fun, too; i do not regret getting my MFA here. however, i do wish there was more space in this program for the possibility to create true kinship networks and affinity groups.