Come Together: Fighting the ‘Purification’ of Antioch

Come Together: Fighting the ‘Purification’ of Antioch By Jeanne Kay

An open letter to the community (that includes you, Steve)

Purity is the opposite of integrity—the cruelest thing you can do to a person is make her ashamed of her own complexity. The stories of our lives have no morals.

–Excerpt from Fighting for our lives, CWC.

Two issues are prevalent on the campus political agenda this fall: President Lawry’s would be coup d’etat over community governance and its bundle of repercussions (censorship of the Record, growing risk of expulsion…) and the seemingly unbridgeable gap between first and third/fourth years. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that those two are linked. If we newcomers feel estranged from the upperclassmen, it may not be our supposed puerility that’s to blame but our assumed inability to recognize the gravity of that first matter. “Our Antioch is fading away!? seems to be their leitmotiv, but what can we say after less than two months on campus? Can we even all it ‘our’ Antioch? On what grounds can we join the ranks of old-time Antiochians fighting for the integrity of their alma mater? We cannot root our commitment to a bond to an idyllic past, but we certainly know and care about the Antioch we applied to.

Now because of our relative inexperience of the old Antioch spirit as cherished by the old-timers, we first years might ask what all the fuss is about. We might see it as an exaggeration, a mere case of ‘good-old days’ syndrome, and detach ourselves from the struggle for the preservation of Antioch’s identity. I am writing now so that this does not happen. From the perspective I’ve developed after having sat with Steve Lawry at the Monday 10/2 lunch and the Thursday 10/5 breakfast, read his response to Daniel Solis’ intelligent open letter on Pulse, and listened to third and fourth years talking about their growing frustration and disillusionment at Antioch’s culture shift, I can only conclude that President Lawry’s controversial decisions of the past month have not been a series of spontaneous oppressive interventions in mere reaction to a chain of events but a carefully planned out attempt to make an authoritative stand. He is clearly set upon changing the Antioch culture and has been taking advantage of this start of term’s “incidents? to make it clear to the community that the intended power shift is on the march.

On ideological, personal, emotional levels, we have every reason to rise against the takeover endeavor. The mere idea that our culture of idealism is being threatened on the pretext of economic efficiency—however badly we might need it—should be enough to infuriate any of us. But does this intended cleansing of the campus radicalism even make sense on a pragmatic level? If I think about it, Antioch’s reputation of radicalism is the very reason why I came here. Politics and freedom, especially to the most extremist levels, are why I chose Antioch over any other place in the world. And if those are taken away, what’s left? State of the art facilities? A wide-ranging curriculum? An exhilarating social scene? Or just the overall excitement of living under Ohio skies? Frankly, if you pull out radicalism from Antioch’s culture, if you try to tame the wild forces that make it the unique place it is, these very forces that Steve Lawry dismisses as “corrosive to a learning environment?, and shift our culture from libertarian to merely liberal, then I might just as well move to any other neutral, mainstream college that at least has available Russian literature classes and dorms free of toxic mold! So why does the president seem so positively set upon taming Antioch’s culture a top priority? How does marketing and prospecting for new students fit into this logic? Two possibilities come to mind: either Antioch’s radicalism bothers President Lawry on a personal, ethical level, or he is genuinely concerned with our low retention rate and candidly believes the complaints he has received from discontented transferring students. If it were the case, all would come down to the mission statement, the core identity of the college. Is Antioch for everyone? No! But this answer isn’t as blinkered or elitist as it seems, for it is not based on superficial labeling of someone’s beliefs or identity, but on her ability to deal with our challenging them. In the majority of cases, I think, we are not saying: “Conservatives go home? or any kind of “if you don’t think like us, go away.? What we are saying is this: “We are a bunch of committed, passionate people, and our politics are part of our profound identities, so we will not be afraid to defend them and to confront you about yours.? And maybe not everyone is up to endure this kind of dynamics, which demands perpetual reconsideration of one’s beliefs and the ability to defend them. In this way, and in this way only, is Antioch not for everyone.

During his Monday lunch with first years, Steve Lawry cited the case of a student who dropped out because of his Nike sneakers being vandalized by some Antiochian extremists. He presented it as an example of radicalism being “corrosive? to the community and the kind of attitude he was determined to make disappear. This might look like a reasonable demand, considering that you don’t believe in the use of violent means in ideological struggles, (it is not necessarily the case— and although this might not be the point here, I believe it would still be good to acknowledge it), but it is not something to be enforced from the top-down. Imagine that I knowingly chose to go to a conservative college; I would stand in the minority on an infinite number of issues and I would face different kind of pressures—in a variety of degrees of violence. Would I still call the school president to complain because people have attacked my anarchist beliefs? Would I expect him to start a campus-wide campaign to promote ideological tolerance? Of course not. But because at Antioch the voice coming from the flock is that of the minority position, it changes everything. It seems threatening to the average person who isn’t used to it being expressed freely, who isn’t used to living in a place where our alternative realities are considered the norm. So any judgment, censure or condemnation of the means we use to fight for our minority positions is up to us as a community, and to us only. Bottom-up is the only healthy approach. And, of course, we will be hearing about the threat of physical violence as a latent upshot of too much libertarianism and as an argument for more control and censure. But we all know where instrumentation of people’s fears lead to, don’t we?…

A top-down attempt to transform any pre-established culture anywhere is not only dictatorial and oppressive it is also absolutely impossible. The only way Steve Lawry can succeed is by gradually phasing out Antiochians and replace them with the mainstream, tamed, innocuous students he wishes populated this college. Only by screening entering students at the source, in Admissions, can he ever obtain his dream student body. But that’s not us. Like ungrateful brats quintessentially incapable to please our exacting parents, we’ll never be up to fulfill our president’s expectations. Should we sigh in relief? No, because even if our identities are untouchable at the core, our freedom to express them in the open is likely to be increasingly jeopardized by the administration’s attempts to sanitize the campus.

“Antioch-this is/Your chance to come together/To unite and fight? reads a Haiku Declassified in last week’s Record. The idea that an ideological battle between part of the administration and Antiochians has started is slowly making its way to the stratum of first-year students. I am part of it, and ready to meet the challenge. Are you?

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