The Batten Community: Support in the Face of Adversity

Students in formal attire smiling

         As a second-year postgraduate MPP student, one of the most important lessons I have learned in life is that things won't always go according to plan. Regardless of whether the problem seems manageable or far out of your own control, Batten taught me that it is necessary to have other people in your life to support and guide you through the troubled waters. 

         In my first year at Batten and UVa, I experienced a series of setbacks and obstacles which challenged me unlike anything else ever has. Although I am a first-generation student, my family supported me through grade school into college. Beyond some light teasing (which I admittedly enjoy) for my Southern/Appalachian accent, as a white man, I have never experienced sexism, racism, or really any discrimination that would prepare me to deal with extreme adversity.

         My first year at Batten began quite the same as the other members of my cohort. As the pandemic raged, we did the best that we could to cope with Zoom classes, restrictions on gatherings, and social distancing during the few in-person events we had. It was not perfect, but the Batten School did the utmost to ensure that we had the tools we needed for success in our classes and our internship search. I was lucky enough to be offered an internship with the U.S. Embassy to Ireland in Dublin, which I readily accepted. Prior to January, 2021, I could not have asked for a better experience at Batten.

         Soon, however, things began to fall apart for me outside of the classroom. Between the death of a housemate and loss of some of my support network, I was left in the lurch. I thought that I would persevere if I threw myself into my coursework and my job, yet the hits kept coming. I was notified by the State Department that, due to COVID, my internship would be cancelled, and then soon after, my family dog passed away unexpectedly. My mental health began to plummet. Now, on top of a challenging course load and my job, I had to contend with finding a new internship, figure out how to cover extra rent, and emotionally come to terms with grief. I was, in short, unwell.

         Enter the Batten community. On the advice of friends and family, I reached out to people in Batten that I felt ought to know of my situation, if only so they might know what was going on if my grades suddenly tumbled. I had no intention of asking for help from anyone; I was far too proud to do so, as I thought these were personal challenges for myself, and only myself, to overcome. Nevertheless, the help was quick to roll in. My professors and TAs were made aware of my situation and never failed to offer me all the support they could. Meanwhile, the amazing Dean Rockwell worked with UVA to eliminate the financial burden of extra rent. Perhaps most important were my dear friends in my cohort who were always there to listen when I wanted to talk about these various challenges, individuals who I had only known for a few months. And herein lies the message of my story.

         The Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy is not merely a public policy school, nor is it merely one of several schools which constitute the University of Virginia. It is, above all, a community. Unlike other public policy programs, it embodies, and lives each day, what I believe to be a foundational tenet of good public policy: neighbor helping neighbor. This help is not provided as a condition of a larger transaction; it is provided because it is the right thing to do. Most importantly, this sense of community is not taught. 

         With the help of the Batten community, my fortunes gradually began to change. I passed all my classes, found a different internship--with the help of Batten’s Career Services team--which I ended up loving, and I got the professional help I needed to improve my mental health. These outcomes would not have been possible without Batten. Although the concern for finding a job has already set in at the start of the semester, I worry less knowing that the Batten community will be there to give me any and all help they can provide, as I would do for them. Ultimately, my decision to join the Batten community was one of the best choices I have ever made. I look forward to serving the broader Batten community not only in my final year here, but also for the rest of my life.  

Ethan Betterton