In the past week or so my phone and email have been exploding with conversations about the imminent closing of Antioch College and what if anything current students, alumni, faculty, staff and administration can do to cause the board of trustees to reverse their decision. The press release from the college can be found here. They state that they are closing the doors with the intention of reopening in 2012. The college community obviously has concerns with the closing and not too many folks seem to be buying into the idea that the college may reopen in a few years. The belief that if Antioch closes it will not reopen seems widespread.
When I first heard the news my inclination was to blog about it here but wasn't sure that folks would consider the news to be nationally relevant or interesting. Later in the week when I read this alumni account of the closing on the Huffington Post, I realized that it was nationally relevant and that I felt like I had something compelling to share with the other queer folk regarding Antioch and the possibility of it closing in 2008.
Horace Mann, who was known as the father of public education, founded Antioch College in 1852. Horace also bears a lot of the responsibility for me attending Antioch many years after his death. During what would be Mann's last public speech, which happened to be given at an Antioch commencement ceremony, he told the graduating class to "be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." Well add a hate crime (specifically the murder of Matthew Shepherd) that was over covered by the media that scared me into realizing that sometimes the penalty for difference is death to a media campaign designed around Mann's quote and you got a college that I couldn't resist.
So despite my mother's objections and my best friend Rhonda's family's utter contempt for the idea the two of us enrolled and began studying as undergraduate students at Antioch. She was drawn to the innovative media arts program and the cooperative education program. The coop program required students to do five four-month long internships in order to graduate. I was drawn to the history of a commitment to social justice evidenced by activism against war, anti-racism and notable alumni such as Coretta Scott King as well as the campus community government system. Antioch was committed to being a self-governing institution. Decisions as small as what the theme for the weekend's party would be or as big as a new faculty hire were made by committees that consisted of students, staff and faculty members. Students and staff were treated as equals in governing the college. This was all to create effective citizens out of students and to produce students who knew more than the theory of social change but understood the daily workings of collaboration, civil debate and compromise.
The college also had an intense commitment to interdisciplinary approaches, the liberal arts and diversity. One of the most important features in my mind was the refusal to give traditional grades instead giving students narrative evaluations. These often page long evaluations of student performance in a given class gave more detailed information about student learning and the quality and focus of the students coursework in the class.
All of this aside Antioch has also been very important in my own development as college often is to most folks. I went there with one of my best friends and met the other one there. It was the first place I met adult queer folks who were happy and successful. It was where I fell in love with Logan, my first male transgender partner. It was this relationship that led to me becoming an activist around transgender issues. So it is fair to say that like many alumni I had a very complicated relationship with the college and wouldn't want to go back. However, I don't doubt that it has a very important place to play in the landscape of higher education in America and that losing Antioch is not just a loss for the Antioch Community but is also a loss for radical activists everywhere.
In the coming weeks I will continue to update readers about the College and will probably share some personal reflections about my time there.