Originally featured in the January 2018 newsletter
Anjanette Vaidya, School of Arts and Sciences, Class of 2018
How did you get to Rutgers?
I definitely had a non-traditional path to Rutgers. I had a difficult childhood and I dropped out of high school in 9th grade, and began living on my own when I was 16. When I became pregnant with my daughter at 17, I scrambled to pursue an education to be able to provide for her. I obtained my GED through adult night classes while working and then went on to community college. Once there, my Psychology and English professors expressed that I should attend graduate school. They had this infectious belief in me that I hadn't seen from my teachers since I was very young, and they were adamant that I apply to a university right away. I was the first in my family to even attend a community college--higher education was not part of the life I had been brought up to pursue. I didn't think I could get into Rutgers, and worried about how I would be able to afford it, but my professors guided me through the process. My English professor invited me to her home and fed my daughter cookies while she helped me fill out the application and explained how to apply for financial aid. Because of her, I made it here.
What challenges of work/family and other responsibilities did you face to continue your education?
Reaching the doors of higher education was a miracle in itself, but once here my abusive relationship with my daughter's father intensified, and I had a lot of court dates to attend. Additionally, the lack of affordable and reliable childcare together with a general feeling that I didn't belong here--this feeling I had that I couldn't really be a scholar-- overwhelmed me, and I dropped out. I recall disappointing one of my professors whom I respected deeply but I was scared to tell him the truth about the challenges I faced, I was ashamed of my circumstances. I lived with that shame and the shame of not being able to live up to my potential for many years. Much later, my circumstances improved. I broke away from my abusive relationship, met my husband, and got married which caused my financial situation to change. This enabled me to come back to pursue my degree, and I have managed to maintain a 4.0 ever since. With any luck, I will graduate this August 2018 with highest honors, walking in May.
How has your experience been at Rutgers?
My first time attending was very lonely, very isolated. I felt as though I was the only student here juggling work, raising a child, and classwork. I didn't open up to a lot of people, and didn't feel included in any way. My life experiences felt so far from the norm of my fellow students, who seemed so care-free in contrast.
My more recent experience has been completely different. I say that I came back for my B.A. and for justice for other young mothers. I had to seek retroactive withdrawal to clean up my past record, and that act caused me to critically examine my experiences and I realized that the 'personal is political', and that what happened to me had to have happened to others, and it caused me to seek out other student parents and to found 'Rutgers Students with Children'. We are now an official student organization that promotes the visibility and support of student parents on campus. I have dedicated so much of my time here to advocating for student parents, meeting with administrators and faculty members, just creating networks of support that can keep student parents afloat. I have had the privilege of speaking nationally on the need for student parent programming, and have been able to host workshops, conduct research, and even mentor teen parents in local high schools. This past fall I started a non-profit organization that holistically addresses the needs of parenting and pregnant people, particularly young single mothers, in their pursuit of greater access to resources, including higher education. I work with women I have met here, who are my fellow students. So as far as feeling isolated, I have found my place here. I know some amazing and inspiring folks.
What advice would you give to other adults at Rutgers?
My advice to other adults is to try to enjoy your time here. Even though I am now a lot older than many students, as I mentioned, I have found genuine friends here, whom I care for and respect. I had to stop thinking of them as 'kids' and get to know them as people. I might be the mom figure who is shushing folks in class, but I am also the friend who can share stories about life or a laugh, commiserate about a paper, or study for an exam. I have made connections here with people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and have benefited and grown as a person. Don't dismiss fellow students due to age and other differences--we can all learn from one another. Another piece of advice is to openly communicate with your professors. Many of them are sensitive to the challenges of work-life balance, and are happy to assist in your success. Whether that be getting you a special permission number, recommending a resource, being a listening ear, or even cheering you on when things feel impossible. I know I have needed all of the above at different times. This university is huge, but you can still make it your community.