Preserve diversity! Be yourself.

By Steve Duffy ’77

Well to say the least, the past 10 years or so at Antioch College have often seemed like some giant super-storm.   At intervals winds of change have been blowing like this 2014 winter’s unusual polar vortex.  I don’t know whether I should consult our anthropologist, Kristen Adler, but sometimes in the midst of constant change and uncertainty one searches their soul for some things that might contain elements of ritual, habit, familiarity or constancy.  After the keys were passed to our new entity, campus reopened its first building and some of us first moved back to campus (South Hall), I felt a strange comfort in parking in the parking lot between the Olive Kettering Library, the gym and the tennis courts.  I had parked under the same maple tree for decades and that old little space was comforting in some visceral way. 

After two or so years in what felt like endless exile, crossing Livermore Street again felt like crossing the River Jordan.  We arrived maybe not yet at the “promised land” but one that certainly had awesome possibilities along with some uncertainties. Four years later we have three classes of new students and three rounds of faculty hires (soon to be four).  Also just four years ago or so a Community Life committee composed of decades of CMs and faculty was worried about how the soon-to-arrive first-year students would develop and cope without some older ‘peers’ around to give advice on how to navigate through an Antioch adventure.

With local and national alums’ mentorship that experiential gap has quickly been filled. It seemed like anywhere fledgling Antiochians went, their predecessors had parties, potlucks and deep conversation ready for them. Philadelphia, Chicago, D.C.,  and New York Antiochians have been awesome and generous with hospitality, experiential advice and more. Amazingly campus will have well over 200 students and more than 30 faculty by next year.  As someone from the pre-suspension “budget committee” who remembers that 2007/08 was a year with 286 FTES and 44 faculty members where we already are is miraculous, as well as having been accomplished during a time of great economic recession.

On top of new students and faculty come new renovations and new physical plant technologies.   With the construction for the new Wellness Center and the Central Geothermal plant the library area parking lot is packed with trucks, supplies and there is some geothermal line trench digging.  So it seems that “that” comfortably ritualistic parking space is occupied by the “future” instead of my car, at least for this current moment.  With ice, mud, machines and also by working a swing shift, a shift in parking lots has been an occasional necessity.  One recent evening winter evening walk to the old Student Union/Antioch Inn parking lot certainly was more than a brisk eye-opener.  With a fresh snowfall, a full moon and clouds hanging slightly above the Main Building spires, the campus seemed to be a winter wonderland.  In this polar vortex cold the snow squeaked under my feet and reflected the moonlight like millions of tiny crystals.  It was good to see North Hall warmly lit as well.  Recently I have also been parking behind what is now the WYSO building (the old Kettering Laboratory) and saw a bumper sticker on a icicle covered back bumper that said “PRESERVE DIVERSITY: BE YOURSELF.”  It gave me a good enough laugh to warm my insides as I headed the OK Library for the day. When I think of many graduates, I think of co-op and the people that help knit it together with on-campus studies and events.  Antiochians not only find their passion but with so much travel and interruption folks often as well learn to be comfortable with themselves.

If you were to come here, you might find much that is new, but you would also find the “familiar.” Recently a group of students who are organizing a group to talk about women’s issues left a campus flyer in the library photocopier. Although made in 2014 it is a really timeless flier.  And of course, with youth and a sense of humor why should a certain word have to have a masculine root in it?  So “Wombyn” it shall be!  Just like the bumper sticker, I had a good laugh. I knew that I had seen this before at a previous Antioch. So in the midst of change there is some comforting familiarity just like that parking spot. I shared this campus flier on some Antioch College-related social media pages and some alums were sure it was something from their era, 1980. The truth is that the world has fast-forwarded to 2014 but people have some of the same etymological thoughts and are dealing with the same issues. Hopefully the world has made enough progress that some of the same issues may be examined through a slightly different and less problematic lens. Or better tactics!

Mid-January also brought MLK Day celebrations in both Yellow Springs and on campus.   Richard Kaplan ’49 returned to screen his 1970 documentary both on campus and the Little Art Theatre and discussed his film and the era with the campus community.  Richard, with the help of Jesse Treichler, had been part of a group of Antioch and Wilberforce students that helped the Little Art Theatre end Jim Crow in 1942, well ahead of the national curve.

On MLK Day weekend there were some festivities at the Coretta Scott Center and then a campus march, which joined the traditional village march to the Central Chapel AME Church.  Speakers there included local church leaders and cousin of Martin Luther King Jr., Joel King.   The World House Choir, under the direction of Catherine Roma, provided a rich and activist tapestry of song.  Along with the regional 60-voice World House Choir were the Yellow Springs’ Booth Family drummers and the presentation of the annual Peacemaker awards.  Great, award-winning essays were presented by elementary, middle and high school students.  The adult Community Peacemaker prizes were given to Bill Houston (Faculty Emeritus) and Hazel Tuelecke, who have been long-term warriors for peace.   By the way, among the 60-voice regional World House Choir are two current faculty members, Sara Black and Gabrielle Civil. It was great to see old legacies being honored and also see new legacies in progress (my significant other is in the choir, too … icing on the cake).

One of the true joys of Yellow Springs is that it is often so much more of a comfortable tapestry that the outside world. You could look around the church and see a celebration of inclusion.  After the program there was hot soup, bread and fellowship for all who wished to stay.

A local Antioch alum who just graduated from Antioch University, but who finds the Olive Kettering Library her academic home, as well as being in the choir, now teaches sociology at Wilberforce University.

As part of her sociology class her students were required to come to the village march and the program at the Central AME church.  The students were also given chocolates and 12 questions as an assignment connected to what they experienced at the march and church.

One day this week at the library, that Wilberforce faculty member informally, along with Louise Smith, dean of community life, began talking about some potential future Antioch College and Wilberforce dialogues.  It may turn out that we can learn much from each other.  We may actually NEED each other as two small neighbors who struggle to build community in a world where although larger institutions thrive their students feel like they are just a “number.”  

By the way, Wilberforce likes the word “family” instead of community, but it feels mighty similar. Interesting how many things have re-occurring themes. If you are interested in the activist World House Choir check out the following WYSO story: “Song and Action.”

On a final grazing note the College recently would have passed one of Joe Cali’s ultimate standards.  After the first visit by the polar vortex and its significant snowfall, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and every other college in the area closed.  We, however, remained open.  That day, faculty from Ohio State, Miami University, Wittenberg University and Wilberforce University camped in with us.

A local resident and faculty from another college went grazing in the stacks and came up with a Bible that he thought might be useful in his upcoming “swearing-in” as a Yellow Springs’ School Board member. He came to the desk with a twinkle in his eye and an item called the “Jefferson Bible.” It appears to be an 18th century version of cut and paste.  It is the Bible text sans the miracles. I laughed when I heard about this Bible. What a blessing (maybe a miracle?) that one can be in a place where one stumbles on something new and someone new to learn from all the time.

I wonder what that means about how that person views public education.  Will there be no miracles? The next day I went to chat with Bob Fogarty.

I asked him on what Bible he thought a school board member might swear an oath. He eyes lit up and the answer was astoundingly immediate, the Jefferson Bible. Then came intellectual analysis.  Well, with Bob Fogarty, one would expect nothing less.

I hope you will come and park yourself on campus as you can.

Reunion is just a number of months away.  Come and see if we have worked any miracles or just come and examine the Jefferson Bible and, oh, be sure to be yourself.