Nostalgia, for some a warm and fuzzy word that expresses honor for the wisdom of your predecessors and respect for the past; for others it’s a synonyme for backwardness and lack of adaptability to the new.
It is putting on a pedestal the imperfect because it conveys a feeling. It’s what fuels places like Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, where the the cherished traditions and glorified experiences of the father become the promises of the son and his daughter after that. History and memory in these places are captured in historic buildings that never crumble. I can only assume that on a campus where the choice is between moving into Dickens’ or Byron’s old room, black mold and poorly done grafity is not an issue.
Nostalgia is allowed, it seems, encouraged even when it is backed-up with ever impeccable buildings and supplemented with state of the art new computer labs, as if to prove that one has not stayed behind.
But what if the buildings are crumbling? Recently, the media with willing quotes from those who should defend us, has all to often made a parody of Antioch. Our decaying buildings become indicative of our loss of academic rigour, piercings and tatoos a reason to declare our spiritual demise. What we are left with is nostalgia for better days long out of reach.
If attending the meeting in Cincinnati has done one thing, it is to counter this. Those attending showed that we are rich in thought and spirit, we were intelligent and compassionate, eloquent and creative and we hold on to what our predecessors have left us with because have made it our own and we value what it entails. To speak with the words of alumnus Larry Rubin “To say that our product is based on nostalgia shows a misunderstanding of what we are about and it shows a misunderstanding of what education is about. It is about collective memory, not condos.”
At Saturday’s Cincinnati meeting, many community members expressed their satisfaction at finally being able to meet the members of the Board of Trustees. The pleasure to be able to interact face to face with the people behind the institution was genuine and candid. An exterior observer might wonder why, considering the circumstances… But Duffy explained it well at the stakeholders session: “Antioch is an intimate place; our students care about intimacy”. “We want to have a relationship with you”, he declared to the Board in our name.
Antioch is a place that favors intimacy; and the question has already been raised: if the college does stay open, how big should it become? Nostalgics of the late 1960s ‘golden age’ sometimes hold the 1500-2000 students model in reference. Toni Murdock, in her recent PhD Commencement speech, refers to her “dream” of a “virtual commons” as the university of the future. This idea goes in the direction of current patterns of globalization—as described by her principal reference throughout the speech, Thomas Friedman—in which the physical space becomes increasingly disregarded, at great loss for the local.
The Antiochian values of bottom up action, shared governance and community solidarity are contrary to that vision. They call for resistance against any such attempts at uniformization and dehumanization. They call for the recognition of the collective through respect for the individual, and the sacredness of personal interactions.
Whatever a future Antioch College may come to be, I hope that it will always remain an intimate community. The so often undermined power of intimacy sometimes resurfaces despite it all, and authentic interactions might still hold more value than is usually attached to them. We can look for proof in the outcome of Saturday’s meeting.