Interview: Dan Shoemaker

He’s the bearded guy from the reunion picture that ran in the Times, “the one that looks most like an old hippie,” for whom the Oscar ceremony is a holy day. A teacher at Bowling Green in Cultural Studies and Antioch class of ‘92, Dan Shoemaker has become one of the more frequent visitors to campus to reconnect with the Alma roots, most recently for a film lecture last weekend. The Record has a conversation with the man from the 90s about movies, SOPP, and “being a good Antiochian.”

What is your favorite movie?
The Third Man, with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. It’s beautifully shot, and it’s sort of post modern in a way because the protagonist keeps doing  all these things he thinks are the morally right things to do, but because he doesn’t understand the context he’s in, they’re the wrong things.

What were some of the main events that happened during your years at Antioch? Was there a lot of stuff happening while you were there?
Well, it’s Antioch, so there’s always a controversy happening on campus. Are you talking about [what’s] important to me, or important to the community in general?

Well, both. Whatever really sticks out in your mind.
Well, probably the biggest thing that happened while I was attending Antioch was the first discussion of the Sexual Oppression Prevention Policy. At the time, it was a very polarizing discussion on campus. The initial draft of the policy, as it was presented to the community by the women of the Womyn’s Center, had, I think, about 10 or 12 points to it. Two of them were unconstitutional, and the Dayton Daily News reported the Dayton ACLU’s opinion that too much of the policy was unconstitutional. …One of the policies that was unconstitutional was that people who had been accused of a sexual offense were supposed to be removed from campus on the basis of the accusation before any hearing happened. So there was a due process question, and I think a lot of men were threatened by that. So it was very polarizing, controversial, and in a lot of ways it was very unpleasant to be on the campus at the time.

It also happened during the quarter -we were on the quarter system then- where two of every bad thing that could happen on a college campus happened: we had two college students die that quarter and it was a tremendously difficult time. I think we lost about half of the entering class. However, the result of all that turmoil is, or was, a sexual prevention policy as you know it today, which I think is a great policy. It’s been widely instated and how can you argue with a policy that merely asks people to establish consent? … I think the SOPP as it exists is a triumph. It’s a triumph like a lot of other Antioch triumphs; something really good came out of something really bad.

It really bothers me when I read criticism of it in the press that a lot of people who are commenting on it don’t understand that it was initiated by students. They make it sound like it’s some kind of top-down regulation imposed by crazy liberal academics on a student body that just wants to party. It just bugs me how they don’t understand how it came about.

I’ve heard that many alumni have felt cut-off from Antioch. Have you personally experienced any of this?
No, Antioch was a life-changing experience for me. I’ve not been as connected as some people, I think, but I’ve tried to stay abreast of things, and I think even more so since the announcement … One of the good things that’s come out of the crisis is that it’s put me back in touch with a lot of Antioch people I knew and have fallen out of contact with. It has introduced me to a lot of Antioch people that I didn’t know previously, and whom I think are really great people. So, I feel a lot more connected now than I did previously, even though I felt sort of connected before.

Do you have any advice as to how we can make the gap smaller or bridged between Antioch and its alumni, or is that irrelevant to you?
No, I wouldn’t say it’s irrelevant. I think there are a lot of alumni who have been alienated from the college because of the university governance structure and unhappiness with the university, a lack of confidence at the college and determinance on destiny.

How would we be able to decrease that lack of belief in the structure, or in Antioch’s current state?
By making the college more autonomous, which is what the alumni board is trying to accomplish, in addition to keeping it open.

Do you have anything else to say to the community?
[Laughter] Sure, I could think of a couple of things: first of all, I want to say that everyone I spoke to during the teach-in, and after my talk this weekend was respectful, if not indeed courteous, whether or not it was something we agreed upon. So, I’m not buying any of this “toxic culture” stuff. I was also impressed with the intellectual quality of the discourse I had with Antioch students, so you all should feel proud of yourselves and mad about how you’ve been misrepresented.

I guess the second thing is– how can I put this…  if the Record is trying to talk to me, it’s only because I’ve been a good Antiochian. And you all should try to be good Antiochians. I’m a little reluctant and sort of embarrassed to be interviewed because there are a lot of people who are doing many more important things than I am doing. It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything, but mostly … I’ve been complaining, which I think is part of a basic Antioch skill set; develop your criticism … and analysis. I had the misfortune of getting my picture in the New York Times over reunion weekend which, I guess, gave me a certain amount of stature and raised my public profile, but not in ways that translated to any kind of leverage.

So do you feel like it shouldn’t have been your picture in the paper?
Well, I think it only happened because so few people got to ask questions for the Board of Trustees and I was the one that most looked like an old hippie and therefore supported the Times’ inaccurate representation that everyone at Antioch is taught to smash the system. My most meaningful Antioch experience was my internship at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, where I was not taught to smash anything! I feel bad that my picture was used as an illustration of The New York Times’ stereotype of Antiochians.