Synchronizing wheels: Privilege, power, and difference

By Steven Duffy ‘77

Every other month a small grassroots Antioch College Alumni Affinity Group (AOC) gathers on a conference call.  Although it normally begins at 8:00 p.m. on the dot, there are some of us who are Type A Antiochians and arrive at 7:55 p.m. or so.  (If you arrive earlier and are by yourself on the line, you are treated to a seemingly endless loop of the “Chariots of Fire” theme song until another human joins!) Usually Karen Mulhauser ’65 and I will often find ourselves to be first with each other at the party. 

While we were waiting for Athena Frederick ’82, chair of the AOC, to join we had some gentle chitchat. Karen’s question was, “are the students doing anything to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington?”

As that was the end of July, I was not yet aware of anything.  All of us on campus are so busy that it’s enough to get through the minute that we are in.  If folks go en masse to D.C., it may happen at the spur of that moment.  Karen’s question did not go unheard, although not immediately answered. The following day at the library I asked Scott Sanders to bring down the bound volume of The Record from August 1963. The headline reads, “125 from Area March in Washington” and I asked a student at the desk to bring up many of the popular bound journals from that particular month: such as Ebony, Look, Life, Newsweek, and Time.  Bob Fogarty, editor of The Antioch Review, passed by and of course grazed through the pages and seemed to be entertained by the some of the other tidbits in The Record.  He also had comments on how and who covered the march and suggested we might try Commonweal. What was covered and how it was covered is for the curious grazers!  Strangely the Ebony from neither August nor September covered the march, but the September issue’s table of contents had an article in it by Medgar Evers, titled “Why I Live in Mississippi.”   

I was already thinking about what to do with Karen’s question even before the 8:00 p.m. phone call got in gear.

 The AOC group sometimes jokingly considers ourselves as a group to be “geographically challenged” as we are from all over the country (although many from this group have actually gathered in conjunction with New York City and D.C. chapters and during Reunion events). The group is even from diverse decades. We all have something in common—the hope of getting to a common destination. That destination, of course, is a more inclusive and diverse Antioch College.  

A major catalyst to getting this hope-filled endeavor started was Elaine Comegys, former associate dean of students. Elaine always was thinking about ways the College community could improve in all things inclusive and diverse. Long after her retirement, Elaine was an ever strong and gentle presence at Reunions, Community Meetings, and even on a bench in downtown Yellow Springs, holding court. Some locals even thought of Elaine as Yellow Springs’ unofficial mayor. Many Alumni Board members from the early 2000s, including yours truly, would gravitate to her. Her sense of wisdom, humor, love, and gentle nurturing nature were magnetic and even healing.  If Elaine felt something might be missing from what was going on, such as diversity or an injustice of any sort, she would laugh some and then point or push the closest person onto the proper path.

Some of Elaine’s suggestions involved Reunion and award nominee ideas. After Reunion 2006 where Jewel Graham was given the J.D. Dawson Award, a group of a dozen or so Antiochians who came to see Jewel gathered around a picnic table by Pennell House and banged out a preliminary vision and mission statement. In that brainstorming session was the idea for a Walter Anderson Award, some sort of alumni-related fund and the idea of providing mentoring or alumni reconnection. Money was also slammed on the table during this brainstorming as if the group at the picnic table were playing a hot game of bid-whist. Despite a turbulent period of College suspension the group met fairly regularly and during Reunion 2010, 10 people chipped in and established a first fund under this group’s umbrella. 

This first fund is called the Alumni of Color Fund, a subset of the Antioch College Annual Fund. Over the past few years with about 30 gifts this fund has amassed almost $20,000. It has a great flexibility in purpose and is meant to be a small help in strengthening either alumni- or student-related matters related to diversity. I have wondered whether another sub-group might emerge to add another dimension like an LGBT group. Perhaps down the road. Can anyone find 10 intense friends and some donor intent?

During our bi-monthly calls, the AOC does what many Antiochians do so quintessentially well—we debate, discuss and talk from experience.

Deep feelings come out, both in an intellectual and visceral way.   During cycles of calls we have debated over what to call ourselves and what any changes, even in language, means to some of us. The group’s acronym, most conveniently, has remained the same and the destination is the same. We have found that Antiochians from different decades also have a diverse set of memories; some good and some not so.

The original AOC group was the “Alumni of Color” Group.  If one bears in mind that this work might really be partially everyone’s destination and everyone’s work, then it’s also just a matter of including friends, allies, spouses (who might be different), or significant others.  However, the other underlying constant truth is that color continues to be a giant elephant in the room. Then anyone brave enough can be an Antioch Alumni with Courage of or for Diversity. We may continue to argue over punctuation or prepositions but the proposition remains the same.

In between hammering out our own vision and some revision, the group has felt that co-op stipends are a frugal and judicious use of this Alumni of Color Fund. Also possibly in the works is a possible request for some assist to help with food or transportation to an upcoming GLCA (Great Lakes College Association) Student Leadership Conference of Color. This year that conference is at Denison College, so only gas and food assists may be necessary. Perhaps sharing one’s journey with others and learning leadership skills are good uses of this tiny fund.

As the group’s wheels have been turning, a similar campus group has been meeting: the Antioch College Diversity Committee.  Its vision, mission, and values are very much in line with the values that Elaine lived. You’d would think she was sitting in the corner and probably laughing some. Promoting acceptance, appreciation, and celebration of all, to empower the community to embrace human diversity in all its manifestations, collaborative exchange, meaningful interactions. The values include diversity and inclusion, respect for self and others, integrity, trust, open mindedness, compassion, fairness, self-awareness, reflection, and growth. An event a year ago was a movie night at the Little Art Theatre. The movie, Higher Learning (1994) was shown to a College and Yellow Springs community audience, followed by a student-run facilitated discussion. The campus group also sponsored a first-year dance last year and meets weekly to discuss campus climate and needs. Recently a group has gone to see the new release Fruitvale Station at a nearby mall.

The campus and the alumni group have some membership overlap and the groups may eventually synchronize some with each other. Both groups are looking at long-term needs and goals.

Many of the discussions in both the alumni and campus groups deal with similar issues and histories. The talk sometimes skirts issues we all live with or hide from, such as who has “privilege, power, and difference.” For some reason the title of a book that was used in classes here about a decade or so ago comes to my head as a library “grazer.”  One fun thing about being here for decades is I have a handle on all sorts of books that we once read or were supposed to have been read.   They are like all friends who are friends of friends.

Although we have not used that book for a while here I can tell you that it never stays on the shelves. I wish I had $10 given to the AOC fund for every other Ohio library that has requested that book from us.  We might have some extra co-op stipend money! Throughout the years I have been to various presentations and workshops about privilege, power, and difference. It is a long-learning curve sometimes and not always a comfortable one to navigate.

Recently, during the Global Seminar class on Education, some students interviewed me about what I thought it meant to be educated. The first fun thing that came to my mind was an old James Thurber cartoon that certainly made me laugh.  At a faculty cocktail party were two ladies who were whispering, “He knows nothing but facts.” I gave the students that old New Yorker cartoon and tried to tell them that the power of an Antioch education would add experience so they would know more than just facts. 

Hopefully, many will have the right cross-cultural co-op or abroad experience that will shake a few things up and into place when it comes to learning about things on a visceral level.

Finally campus does hum and even sing with a variety of cross-cultural events in between. I just don’t have the time and space to tell about them.

However, if you have 12 minutes and a way to listen to the following link, you might get a feel and a listen for something that is evolving at the Coretta Scott King Center and is the perfect note(s) to end this grazing!

http://www.wyso.org/post/inside-world-house and for more information on the Antioch Alumni of Courage for Diversity: https://www.facebook.com/groups/106340386072470/ or contact me!