The Importance of Community

Despite being in the midst of grief and loss, I’ve discovered light where I’m planted, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Receiving Recognition

I am not the kind of person who enjoys attention. I overwhelmingly prefer working in the shadows, but when someone needs to step up, I’m comfortable filling that role. Graduate school has not been what I anticipated or wanted. I did not expect a pandemic to occur when I was applying to school. The pandemic has changed the world and how we connect. Being a graduate student at the worst of a global pandemic caused potentially irreparable changes to how we connect as humans. Ultimately, it had a negative impact on the community that existed at UAB.

I was determined on starting grad school with a community. That’s why I went back to school: to learn from others and be part of a community that was collaborative. I spearheaded organizing meet ups for students that were safe and at local parks like the Vulcan or Railroad Park and attempted being the most authentic version of myself. Unfortunately, taking on the role of a caregiver (less than a month after starting school) separated me from school and my peers. I wouldn’t change any of that. Taking care of my mother was a priority I happily took on. She deserved that and so did I.

Despite having a challenging first year, I got involved in things I was passionate about such as the Informatics Club and Black Graduate Student Association. This year, I added to that by getting involved with the Graduate Student Association as the Professional Development and Leadership Chair as well as the Student Advocacy Board in hopes to make a difference in a community I was - frankly - desperate to be part of.

To my surprise, UAB’s Office of Student Involvement & Leadership recognized me earlier this month with the Inclusive Campus Commitment award for my embodiment of the phrase “I believe I have the power to build an inclusive UAB.”. I’m still shocked that someone thought so highly of me and recognized how much I sincerely believe we all deserve “to be treated with dignity, respect, and self-worth”. This award is a direct reflection of how my mom raised me to never judge others or think I was better than others, and I wish I could give it to her.

One of the student organizations, the Informatics Club, I’m involved with was awarded the Campus Impact Award for our hackathon that we helped organize in August 2022. I’m incredibly fortunate to have peers (Tarun, Lisa, Santhosh, Ari, Valeriya, Dana, Samuel, Emma, Christine) and staff (Blake, Ryan, Nafisa, Amanda, Zhandos) I can organize events with, be inspired by, and learn from.

Lastly, I was elected as Graduate Student Government President, a role that I plan to use to advocate for students. If I haven’t already, I plan to earn the trust and support of graduate students at UAB.

What Accomplishments Mean To Me

Many people have expressed how proud they are of me or congratulated me, and while I’m truly honored, my first thoughts were about how I wished I could tell my mom about it all, and I can’t. I wouldn’t be any aspect of who I am without her. She was my biggest cheerleader and never let me forget that I was capable of accomplishing any of my goals. The past few weeks have left me flooded with emotions.

Moreover, my accomplishments are a reflection of the people in my life, and I think that’s true for all of us in this world. Our accomplishments are a reflection of people helping us to be our best and doing work that people often don’t recognize. I wonder what the world would be like if we didn’t have individual awards. What if we just valued everyone’s contributions equally? Everyone does their best, and no one becomes their best without countless others contributing directly or indirectly. That’s true for science and life.

I’m greatly appreciative the support from my family, friends, peers, mentor, lab members, UAB staff, UAB faculty and administrators, and the many others I’ve never encountered who are working behind the scenes making sure I can be my best. I won’t ever forget that support.

Where I Belong

Even with all of that support, I feel a huge void in my life (maybe it’s just the grief talking). Those accomplishments don’t define who I am, and I don’t quite feel a sense of belonging at UAB. My lab, my friends, and my family have done their best to support me, but I’ve always felt that I invest more in others or in ways that aren’t reciprocated. I think that could be attributed to my poor interpersonal skills or inability to communicate my own needs, but I don’t know the way forward to improving that.

That’s always been how I’ve felt about my place in the world. As a teenager, I struggled with developing friendships. I thought college would change that, but college was a difficult transition in that way. I eventually made friends who I am still close with, but after college, it’s been significantly more difficult. While I’ve made friends since that period of my life, distance and other life priorites make those friendships harder to maintain. Furthermore, as a person who doesn’t date or have real interest in having romantic connections, it’s a seemingly much lonelier world to navigate when others have that to lean on.

I’m still searching for that feeling of connectedness, and I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find that on this path.

But I have to try.

Shaurita D. Hutchins

Shaurita D. Hutchins

Graduate Student Trainee

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