A few weekends ago, I found myself with a close group of 10 writers in the basement of my dear professor, Joe Weil. We ate food that was homemade and soul-warming, shared poetry in different languages and played music on a Roland keyboard. The crowd was composed of undergraduates, graduate students and two Binghamton University professors: assistant professor Weil and his wife, adjunct professor Emily Vogel, both of whom teach in the English department. This is the most recent instance that I have experienced of bridging the gap between various populations at the University.
While enriching, this experience is not part of the norm — it’s clear that there is a lack of connection between undergraduates and graduate students outside of the classroom. Usually, the interaction is solely based on a student-to-teaching assistant (TA) relationship. I firmly believe that BU would benefit to lessen this divide of undergraduates and graduates who feel uncomfortable and out of place speaking to one another.
It is understandable that this divide exists. Graduate students are older, some in their 30s, and often are only on campus when necessary for classes, 10-15 hours per week at the most. On the other hand, undergraduates often base their entire lives around the Brain, and many are stuck without personal transportation to get off of campus. Through conversation, I’ve learned that several of my fellow undergraduates do not feel comfortable calling graduate students their colleagues and feel a palpable separation from them.
We already have programs to integrate new freshmen into the University, such as the Emerging Leaders Program and University Fest each fall. However, few programs exist to bring undergraduates and graduates together outside of a classroom. An increase of connection would benefit both parties. Graduate students could serve as role models and teachers to their undergraduate peers, while undergraduate students could provide valuable experience to graduate TAs by serving as their students and providing a pupil’s perspective.
There is something incredibly enriching to be found in an environment of collaboration. Last year, a friend and I, both freshmen at the time, were part of a graduate student-level reading group, thanks to my British literature TA. This experience provided us with our first introductions to literary theory and personally reaffirmed my passion of the study of English.
I am one of a few undergraduates in each of my upper-level creative writing workshops. The graduate students that compose each of these classes offer insights that I have learned far less about and the age differences do not bar us from offering edits on one another’s pieces or sharing positive feedback. This type of environment is much rarer in a science program, for example, when graduate students have already taken the courses that undergraduates are currently enrolled in.
We are in desperate need of more connection between undergraduates and graduates. It would be thought-provoking and profound to form small groups of mixed undergraduate and graduate students, as a type of forum. Often, undergraduate students pursue graduate degrees after four years; graduate students who are studying their areas of interest could be incredible mentors over the course of a few semesters, serving as an expert and a guide. Graduate students could host seminars on their current studies, which undergraduates could attend.
These untapped interactions could further expand our shared academic knowledge. I believe that if these types of role models were present and well-known, then more undergraduates would be liable to pursue graduate work. We have a strong, valuable alumni network here at BU; it only makes sense to expand it to form additional connections before graduation as well. It is key to consider this opportunity to draw the BU community closer together.
Kara Bilello is a sophomore majoring in English.