I came back to school at UMass Boston in 2012, in the midst of my divorce, with a baby who was only several weeks old. The only real job I’d ever held onto, the only time I’d ever had a regular boss and an office, was as a prostitute. My child’s father was demanding full custody in court, and the reversal of a restraining order I’d been granted to keep him away from my family. Life was bleak and hard, and I was a traumatized, undersocialized individual, someone not ideal for the university.
The truth is, UMass Boston was not my first choice. It was my last option. And I was not any instructor’s first choice, but a difficult student who took up a lot of their time. If they were able to deal with me at all, it was because I never once walked into a classroom with more than twenty or so people in it, often had classes of a dozen students or fewer.
This is what it takes to transform the lives of students like me. This is the only way for UMass Boston to keep carrying out its urban mission. And it is, I suspect, totally incompatible with becoming the sort of school that is a first choice, an attractive destination for fresh-faced teenagers from untroubled suburbs. This whole first choice thing might be lucrative, but I feel it as a betrayal.
The many fine Non-Tenure Track instructors at UMass Boston were willing to work with me, even when I was prickly and disrespectful, even when there was no guarantee I’d ever get it together. Even when I needed to leave class early to get my kid, or when I had to show up late because I’d been in a courtroom fighting for her safety. I worry that future instructors, people who have been fired and hired back and made as insecure as possible, people with some huge number of students to worry over, will be too frazzled, will not be able to work with anybody whose needs are so complicated. I worry that the opportunities UMass Boston offered me will soon cease to exist.
And that’s a shame, because my life right now is wonderful; the life UMass Boston made possible for me is wonderful. I graduated with a major in English, minors in professional communication and creative writing. I graduated with a 3.9 GPA and dual honors theses in English and creative writing. I graduated with years of experience copyediting for newspapers, having interned at DigBoston and worked for the school paper. I graduated, and I moved to a midwestern university. I’m attending the MFA fiction program there, one of the more competitive in the country, and I feel so lucky. My daughter is happy and healthy, and so am I.
I have begun to rack up awards for my short stories from magazines like Glimmer Train, New Letters, and Mid-American Review. An agent from New York recently wrote to ask if I might want to show him a novel sometime, and an article was written about me for UMass Boston’s alumni magazine. I appeared on the front page of the university’s website, which made me prouder than I can say. From here, the future looks brighter than ever.
All I want is for other people to have the chance I did, to turn their lives around, and I don’t think they’ll be able to do it at a school where overwhelmed adjuncts struggle with overlarge classes. In fact, I’d say administrators’ salaries are the thing least necessary to this process. Perhaps some of those should be cut instead.
Cady Vishniac is an MFA student in fiction. Her stories have won contests at New Letters, Mid-American Review, and New Millennium Writings.
Copyright 2016 Cady Vishniac. Reprinted with permission of the author by Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.