“The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”
As a first-year master of divinity student, I entered Vanderbilt University ready to study and participate in the transformation of a world, which I feel, is in much need of healing. I wanted to be a morally courageous student who took on the challenges of intellectual rigor and effective community-based organizing. Well – after completing five weeks of school, I felt rather disappointed in myself. I did not know how to handle all that I learned, and I was with books far more than the communities of people I wanted to serve. And it dawned on me – though I had yet to learn the environment, I had the map of my experience drawn out before reaching the door.
Ironically, before coming to Vanderbilt Divinity School, I thought I understood, with clarity, that I needed to be open to a transformation of the mind that would best prepare me for the work I aspired to do. But I was wrong! I liked the idea of being open, but had yet to know, in my head and heart, the level of vulnerability that mind-renewal at VDS demanded.
As you already know, many students enter the Vanderbilt community from all walks of life. And what I have found is many of us admit that we feel responsible for altering our world(s) in some capacity and are eager to start this process at the beginning of our journeys. It is seldom, however, that I come across students who have proudly proclaimed the same sense of readiness to take on this task following the first few weeks of school. But fret not scholars, ministers, and activists, there is a reason for this season. And just in case that understanding slips your mind, here are some tips and quotations that may help you endure:
1) Learn your environment. There’s so much out here, especially on the Vanderbilt University campus at large. Give yourself time to learn the people, places, and resources around you. And learn about spaces that were not created for you. This will lead you to questions, challenge your thinking, and may challenge you to incorporate materials in your research that you have not considered.It will grant you access to the best eateries and the best community(ies) for your growth. It will also help you to learn the community’s needs. This is necessary if you plan to be an effective agent of change. Learning what is around you will only enhance and help you to appreciate more your educational experience.
2) Be Open. “Don’t be afraid to adapt new ingredients into your own techniques, and traditional ingredients into new recipes.” Jose Garcas
3) Be patient with yourself. If you have yet to figure out that perfect schedule, if you have said something in discussion that you would like to take back, and if you are questioning why you are here, you should not beat up on yourself. We all enter this space in ignorance to some degree; we all have to learn how to manage our schedules, and many of us question our purpose for being in this space. Be still. This is a part of the process in the School of the Prophets. And it necessitates kindness to one’s self.
4) Remember Deconstruction, not Destruction. Deconstruction is necessary for prophets who want to be serious about refusing to perpetuate dangerous interpretations and analyses of works. But unlearning can be a difficult and daunting task. It is not meant to damage you, and repair will come, I assure you. But until you get there (read the next tip).
5) Be in Community. Please, do not endure this experience alone. Be with those with whom you can laugh, cry, and converse about your deepest and sincerest struggles. Find people who will hold you accountable. Find study partners. Challenge yourself to commune with folk outside of your comfort zone. Do it all. It builds character, heals wounds, and prevents us from self-destruction.
6) Feed your needs. “I’m not done with the 400 pages I have to read tomorrow, I have a GABLE meeting this afternoon, I wanted to attend the town hall meeting for Ferguson after my church meeting tonight, and the season finale of Orange is the New Black comes on tonight.” Sound familiar? You can’t do everything. In fact you will burnout if you try. Struggle to find what your soul must have, with an occasional fun plug here and there, and schedule accordingly.
7) Be intentional about play. Don’t overdo it (you are a student, amongst a million other things). Don’t underdo it (you deserve a release). Live and Have fun.
I assure you that your first-year VDS experience is not in vain. I now stand as a second-year student who juggles work inside and outside of these walls, just as I anticipated in the first year. But I needed to be patient and allow myself to grow into this space. And admittedly, I am still working through and interrogating a lot of what I learned in the first year – this, I believe, is the point! But I feel more informed as a student and as an activist because of those challenges and trials. Honestly, if it were not for the first year, I would probably have left the world the same and just called it different. I hope and pray you can and will say the same.
Good luck and God Bless,
Shakiya Canty, MDiv2