Words of Wisdom (for my first year grad school self)

After two years in Iowa, Student Affairs, and trying to be an adult, I think I’ve learned a few things. While I am not now nor ever perfect, I think it both responsible and important to pass on a few life lessons I’ve learned. To anyone reading that may be starting their Grad journey, these are not an ends to a means. To someone struggling to be themselves, you are your own author. To the person rolling their eyes, bye.

It is ok to not be happy. Not everything will go according to plan. You may not like a professor, a class, a work assignment. It is ok to feel like the odd one out, stressed, and hopeless. Make your journey full of dissonance. Rejoice in the small things and don’t stress the big things.

You won’t be friends with everyone. The cohort (and program) is small in comparison to the rest of the University. You won’t get along with everyone. In fact, you can go your whole 2 years being able to count the social time you’ve spent with your classmates on two hands. THAT IS OK. Your cohort is not everything and don’t buy those happy-go-lucky fantasy stories that may be sold to you.

You have to speak up and advocate for what you want. Looking back, there is so much I should have asked to do. I was both worried about speaking up and was lazy thinking opportunities would fall in my lap. You have to watch out for yourself, advocate for unique experiences, and build that resume.

Do a practicum/internship outside of the University. Your University is great, but you will learn SO much more if you do a practicum/internship. I made my practicum visits a day-long event and did not worry about time. I was able to multi task by getting off my campus, building outside networks of support, and doing some real meaning making.

Find your social and support networks outside of your program and assistantship. Per the fact you won’t be friends with everyone, you need to find a friend and support group outside of well, your graduate experience. Connect with people in the law school. Find a student org. DO SOMETHING. If you spend all your time in HESA you will quickly limit your experiences.

Dedicate time for you to get away from Iowa City. There is so many cool things in and around your state. Check out websites like onlyinyourstate.com or just google search things. That randomly “wold’s only/largest xyz”, yea go check that out. That town with a cool name, go explore.

Actually read for class. You may either roll your eyes or think duh, but you will understand that reading is essential. However, you will have a temptation to not read, skim, or pretend you read. Don’t. Take the time to invest in yourself. Read, take notes, and make real meaning with your experiences.

Try to get a week or two ahead in your assignments. I discovered that when I got ahead in my assignments, getting away for a weekend was easier. Also life happens and you never know when something will come up that will prevent you from working on your classwork for a few days. If nothing else, for sure do this in the Spring semester of year two, you will thank me when the job search happens.

Don’t stress about comps. Period.

Start saving now for the job search. I know that is so long for now, but invest in yourself and save. Plane tickets, U-hauls, baggage checks, and airport food quickly adds up.

Don’t compare your journey to others. You do you and make sure you don’t get competitive. The program will say grades don’t matter, but if they matter to you then work hard for them, just don’t get caught up that XYZ got an A and you got a B+. Also when you do fail that first writing assignment, chill, it will work out and you will get better.

Reflect. Journal. Love yourself. Repeat.

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Public or Private: Who pays for college?

Recently in The Daily Iowan, it was announced that the University of Iowa Student Government was able to petition the board of regents to approve a new fee for students. This fee, approx. $12.50 in value, will be charged to students to help fund the UI Counseling center. Hopefully, the new fund will allow up to 8 new counselors to be allocated. Iowa is currently one of the most understaffed in terms of counselling services. UIC is led by Barry Schreier, who is the Counseling service Director, is an amazing professional that is needed at the University and has been a catalyst for change at Iowa. While this is great and also helps to draw attention to mental health on college campuses, I argue it is also hurting an important cause: the public benefits of college.

Currently, most politicians (specifically the right but known on both sides of the isle) would argue that college is more of a private than public good. Not only is this fallacy incorrect but problematic. While UISG is doing great things, this new initiative is creating an even larger burden on students to pay for college. Currently, the student debt crises is a hot topic and will continue to be as states slash education budgets (because education is “discretionary”) and pass the burden to the students. I could spend all day telling you about students who are predispositioned to not being able to afford college and the social oppression in our society, however I will save that for another time. What I will tell you is that cost to attend college have increased and what is the easiest thing to do in order to raise funds: charge the students. State governments – and even institutions of higher education – are to blame.

College not only benefits those who obtain the degree, but also society. Through positive externalities, college attainment improvements society in numerous ways. Having a better educated work force decreases unemployment, increases spending, and strengthens the economy. However, due to the lack of funding (federal, state, and even institutions such as Iowa) I argue that education is not properly valued, is neglected, and is a missed opportunity for bettering our society. I praise UISG and their efforts to better support their constituents. I praise those who work to improve the living conditions of all those who are oppressed due to our fucked up system. However putting a band aide on a gash the size of Texas will not heal the problems we face. What needs to be done is reevaluation of education: increased paid for K-12 teachers, increased pay for student affairs professionals who are overworked, increased resources for special and developmental education, increased money for all of education. We will never make true change until we attack our problems head on and actions needs to start with education.

From Cotton to Corn: Grad School Year One

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Let’s be clear from the start, my transition to Iowa this year was awful. I have been in “survive” mode more than “thrive” and I even began a new grad school search in November. In my experience, I was sold a perfect picture of grad school from peers, supervisors, and institutions: cohorts that become automatic friend groups, opportunities all around, and all the adventures at your fingertips. We have done this to ourselves. We think of our experience in school and try to make it the same/think it will be the same for each new member. I genuinely struggled this year. I failed assignments, I cried, I wanted to quit and pack my bags for Mississippi (probably first time that has ever been said in the history of the world). To put it bluntly: this year was shit.

However, among all the failure, struggles, and loneliness, I made some self-discoveries. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, the profession, and just life in general. I’ve read some difficult articles, been challenged in class, and met confrontation head on. In true Rebel fashion, I challenged what was preached to me in classes and pushed myself and others. Now that the dust is starting to settle and I prepare for the summer and my two months of hard time on the beach at FGCU, I have a few things that I wish to share to the world about my adventures on the other side of the Mississippi (and 10 hours further up river).

  • Loneliness. Moving to a new school, city, and state was hands down the hardest challenge I’ve faced in my life (privilege acknowledged). I have taken for granted all the many friends I’ve made along the way. I forgot what it was like to be a stranger in the crowd, the new kid on the block, the person that is from a place no one has been they ask “why did you come here?”. I have spent my share of hours and days by myself, without someone to casually hang out. Granted, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some great people and finally have a small amount of friends, I still feel as if I am all alone. No one could have prepared me for this. However, I now revel in my loneliness. I have time to reflect, think, and meditate. I have learned more about myself than I could have ever done in the crowds at the Square of the Grove. I’ve learned to be ok silence and to sit in the quite. No I won’t go to a movie or bar by myself but I can go and eat a nice sit-down meal, go exploring, and shoot hoops for hours without talking to anyone. I’m always open to meeting new people but I now can handle being the only person I know.
  • Dating. It hasn’t happened. I’ve done the whole tinder, bumble, you-name-it apps. I’ve meet people through people and even tried the whole “lame pick-up line game” at the grocery store, bars, and the likes. I do not know what it is, but the belles up here aren’t the same as they are back home (must be the lack of sweet tea). Granted, I’m a white, cis gendered male so I have no room to complain about the dating culture (privilege acknowledged), but it has been “awkward af”. Granted I have some things to work on personally both in terms of myself and my past emotions, but still they don’t tell you about the difficulty of separating yourself from undergrads and trying to find a cute date. Not to mention the fact I live in a residence hall (but I have my own apartment!) and that tends to put an even more awkward twist on conversations. I’ve learned a great deal of patience and grown calmer in my spirit. I have journaled my struggles and don’t mind laughing with friends on my failed dates. I still am an eager beaver, but I know that my future is in fate’s hand and I am only playing my part.
  • Culture. The people here are weird. This whole “Midwest/Iowa nice” thing pisses me off. People run all over each other and are so damn indecisive. There isn’t any sweet tea, they put peppers or hot sauce and call it “Cajun”, and don’t even try and ask me about the tailgating (they do it in parking lots, they were this gaudy cover-alls, and they just stand there staring at each other drinking shitty beer). “Country” and “being from the South” to them is just a flannel and camo pants, talking in a “funny accent”, and kissing your cousin. They think they “know football”, “know what good soul food is”, and “know what hot weather is”. The amount of times I have shook my head, bit my tongue, and kept a level head this year when people talk badly about my home is astronomical (granted the South has a shit ton of problems, Iowa isn’t that far behind). However, I’ve learned every town, city, and state has its own unique culture. I’ve learned not to make Iowa like Ole Miss and to always learn in every situation. I’ve learned my way of living is just one of multiple realities. I’ve learned so much about my own culture back home and have noticed the many underlying privileges I have. It may not be Ole Miss, but Iowa is kinda nice.
  • Self. If you ask anyone around here what my name is they will (more times than not) call me Justin Kyle. JKT is a pet name, Justin is what I’m called when I’m in trouble or in Tulsa (long story), and Kyle is just another name in the crowd. I’ve always loved how my two names roll together and I spent the first part of the semester being so self-conscious about it because if I wanted to go by that, it would be “odd”. People have met me at various times of my life may be confused as to why this is. I’ve always struggled with making my own identity, name, and reputation. From Kell (oh high school) to Myrtle (because people my freshman year that it was hilarious), the words I’ve gone by have been many, but they just haven’t been me. In all the loneliness, awkward dates and talking about myself, and being a stranger in a new culture, I’ve discovered so much about myself. The things I have uncovered, re-discovered, changed, and shunned are many. The greatest of all, however, is my true name. A name that means the world to me. A name that gives me pride, makes we stick out, and truly captures my identity. Justin Kyle is more than just a couple words that confuse the hell out of people, it is who I am now from this point forward. The greatest thing I have learned since coming to Iowa is this: The man I was and the man I want to be is up to the man now to change. I am the author of my own path (in the hands of my God). We go to college to “find ourselves”, so even in grad school you can learn more about yourself.

The mistakes I have made in my life can make a grocery list jealous. I’ve pushed away people I have loved and not realized it. I’ve done what I can to impress others. I’ve been unauthentic, self-centered, and an egotistical bastard at times. I’ve done a lot, I’ve learned a lot, I still have a winding path ahead of me. Grad school has been hard, but it has been the best for me. No matter how much I wanted to leave, I know I couldn’t. I had to make myself learn by living in dissonance. I had to get out in order to come back home.

There is no telling what is in store for me from this point on, but I will take it head on with a stiff drink of Maker’s Mark, momma’s prayers, and passion for making a change. William Faulkner once said “to understand the world one must first understand a place like Mississippi”. For me, I’m trying to understand the world so that I can one day go home and make a difference. Iowa has given me a great deal of challenges, but a year in and I’m still going. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got 800+ students to move out of my damn building and drive to Florida for another experience. Cheers.