Pursuing a degree, with a family

Family housing at the University offers a rich experience.

Family housing at the University of Minnesota is a different sort of housing project. Though on the surface both the property and the lifestyle, with its woeful poverty and long working hours, may resemble its urban counterparts like a brother, the experiences of the students involved is entirely different. On college campuses across the country, including MinnesotaâÄôs, family housing is offered for those students who are married, have children or the combination of the two. Most often, it is the home to many doctoral students. The University has two, the Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative and Como Student Community Cooperative (CSCC), both located between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, with 464 and 360 families each. What sets apart the experiences of the students in family housing can be seen in the type of people that live in the housing. According to Commonwealth TerraceâÄôs website, to the students, Commonwealth may be the âÄúmost culturally diverse community in which they will ever liveâÄù âÄî diverse not just in fields of study but in cultural background, as well. Each community is home to the families of students who come from a plethora of disciplines and international origins âÄî more than 70 in Commonwealth Terrace alone. So how does this situation shape the experiences of the students who are involved in this living community? For one, it adds a whole new level to the moniker of âÄúdoctorâÄù that is often overlooked. We often donâÄôt think of the extraordinary sacrifices that must be made in order to attain that title and that way of life. I would be wrong to say that getting that Ph.D., M.D., J.D. or any other type of âÄúDâÄù was all about getting an education, because, like all of us in higher education and especially at that level, the degree can mean so much more. To many, it means the entrance to the fulfilling life of academia, the ability to contribute meaningfully to their field and, more importantly, the stable future it will provide for their families. Living in family housing, or at least learning to deal with the pressures of a family and its responsibilities while working on some of the most difficult coursework in higher education, is the shared experience that binds many doctorate holders together. I am the product of two generations of university family housing. My grandparents and parents both raised the beginnings of families at the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University, respectively. âÄúWe gave up everything we owned and put it in storage,âÄù said my mom in one of our regular telephone calls in which she tells me I need to be doing my homework. My three sisters and I, she said, hopefully now have a better appreciation for education and the sacrifices you sometimes have to make in order to get it after watching our dad dedicate so much to it. At least the living now is better than the Quonset huts the University used to maintain for their working family-oriented grad students. To put your family through university family housing can be a difficult decision to make but in the end can be a very rewarding one. Both Commonwealth Terrace and CSCC offer many activities for both parents and their children. Living together in a community of scholars who are, as the expression goes, âÄúdriven to discover,âÄù also must be good for the mind. In a recent poll on the CSCC website, residents were asked to find one word that defined their community. The suggestions included family, home, community and multicultural. I would suggest âÄúrich,âÄù as in, âÄúthat sure was a rich experience I will never forget.âÄù Thomas Johnson welcomes letters at [email protected]