Amy Freeman can describe the life of most graduate students very simply:
“Life is full.”
Freeman is treasurer of the Braniff Graduate Student Association (BGSA) and an Institute of Philosophical Studies (IPS) student in literature.
The IPS is the doctorate-granting division of the University of Dallas, which offers programs in politics, philosophy and literature.
The BGSA, composed of a Senate and Executive Board, represents the interests of students in the Braniff Graduate School on matters concerning university policy and student life.
On top of coursework, many graduate students work full-time, have a family or both, though not all are as busy as the others, according to Freeman.
“As a graduate student who is unmarried and doesn’t have to work a lot of hours, I know a lot of undergraduates at UD who have as much or more going on than I do,” Freeman said.
With all these commitments, graduate and undergraduate students alike must guard and manage their time carefully.
As a result, Freeman said, it is very difficult for graduate students to mingle with undergraduate students, to the detriment of both.
Freeman, who graduated from Baylor University, stated that during her undergraduate tenure, mingling with other students, both graduates and undergraduates, was very important to her.
“One of my best friends in college was actually a graduate student, and I was really disappointed that it was hard to interact with undergraduates [at UD],” Freeman said.
Freeman said that the Baylor student center was a natural place for undergraduates and graduates to mingle and get to know each other.
“[At UD], it’s not that grad students don’t like to be with undergraduates, it’s that there isn’t a place where they can really bond like the student center [at Baylor],” Freeman said.
Rhett Forman, BGSA president, agrees that the current state of graduate and undergraduate social relations are lacking.
“Most grad-undergrad student interactions are limited to tutoring, the writing lab and the academic success office,” Forman said.
Outside of that sphere, social interaction is difficult for two primary reasons.
“It’s difficult to foster a relationship between the undergraduates and grads primarily because, one, the graduate students are older, and, two, because, especially among the masters students, we have full-time jobs and we’re just here at night,” Forman said.
Forman stated that he met many members of the soccer team through the writing lab, which eventually led him to help with the team’s strength training, since he is a competitive power lifter.
Forman also said that he has gotten to know several undergrads by working out in the gym.
“That’s been fun, training with the guys and helping them with workout plans,” Forman said. “That’s mostly been the extent of my interactions with undergrads.”
Forman roomed with an undergraduate student his first year in the IPS, and that helped him to connect to the undergraduate community, which he stated was very strong.
Community has been a problem even at the graduate level.
“Even among the graduate students it’s difficult to foster a sense of community, which a lot of us do recognize,” Forman said. “It’s a problem.”
Practical solutions could come from the BGSA.
“If we were to find some kind of practical solution to this, it would probably be best to go through BGSA so that we could sponsor something,” Forman said. “We can take some time to come up with some ideas that the BGSA could discuss.”
The BGSA will be discussing possible solutions to the social divide, but the responsibility does not rest solely on the graduate student government.
Forman said that the undergraduate Student Government (SG) does not interact with the BGSA.
Graduate students don’t feel as if they have much of a voice at the university.
“The undergrads are the ones putting [in] the most time [and] the most money,” Forman said. “It really is an undergrad focused school and it should be.”
Undergraduates should realize that even though the graduate students are pursuing advanced degrees, there are many crossovers in the curriculum.
“Our graduate core is modeled off of your undergraduate core,” Forman said. “It’s not as if we can’t have a good conversation academically.”
Both Freeman and Forman agree that if a student is seeking an academic mentor, the graduate students should approach their younger counterparts.
Some of Forman’s greatest conversations with undergraduates have been discussions about graduate school admissions.
Forman and Freeman both desire more social interaction with undergraduates.
“I’m delighted when I get to know undergraduates and help them learn the ropes,” Freeman said. “It’s worth the time. Undoubtedly, I’ll learn a lot, too!”