The Neighborhood and The Department

A lot of academics in my discipline speak of their respective departments as a community. The one we have in Communication Studies at the University of Texas is considered pretty strong.

But I don’t think of our department as a community.

For me it feels more like a neighborhood.

I grew up in a pretty tight-knit neighborhood that had a lot of families that partied pretty hard together. We had two kinds of parties: 4th of July, and whenever we felt like it. The first involved shutting down our street, being loud and obnoxious, and having the cops show up–to the free BBQ we gave them. The second kind usually started with the phrase “well, Ray and Tina are out in their driveway with the stereo up. What can we bring over?” Plan or no plan, both ended up with the adults in the neighborhood going long into the night.

I feel like I have somehow stumbled upon that same thing here in my graduate department.

This past weekend a bunch of my fellow graduate students, and some professors, celebrated a birthday in the form of a house party, complete with DJ and dance floor. The party was deemed “sold out” by the host, as both the smoke machine and guests repeatedly came billowing out onto the back porch, where the designated champagne sabering area was. It wasn’t anyone’s first time being at a house party where the cops made an appearance. But I’d be willing to bet it was that officer’s first time responding to a noise complaint at a party full of people with Masters’ Degrees.

Then the Superbowl, a day where no plans were needed, we all just “knew” to show up at our own designated “driveway.” Combining our “refined” tastes as graduate students (kegs and champagne) the night involved a lot of yelling, obnoxiously critiquing the power dynamics at play in various Superbowl ads, and a Rockband marathon going long into the (school)night. An actual neighbor, upon seeing the keg the birthday boy and I were unloading from my trunk, asked if we had any for her. Of course she was invited, this is how it works.

Most of the original families from the street I grew up on no longer live there. Some do, but for the most part they’ve moved on to different places. Yet from time to time they still meet up and throw the same parties. The Neighborhood is more a dynamic than a place. I feel the same thing about The Department.

For my family back home who want to know what graduate school has largely been like here in Austin, you already know.

For my new friends here, a bit of a glimpse into how we all ended up in this place.

Except here we are ALSO getting our PhDs.

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About Joe Faina

Rhetoric & Media Professor, Writer, Humorist

Posted on 02/07/2011, in Academia, Adulthood, Austin, California, Murka, Neighbors. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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