Letter from Louise Smith, ‘77 Professor of Theater and alumna

“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
-Blanche Dubois

Since the announcement that we have been given a reprieve from suspension, the theater department has been immersed and focused on the opening of “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams. All term, I have been struck with the resonances between the play and our situation here. It started when John Fleming, the director, put out audition notices in which he crossed out the word ‘Streetcar” and wrote the word “College” so that the poster read “ A College named Desire”.  I thought about how Blanche is a lot like the college: fallen on hard times and in the midst of a hostile environment that does not fully understand her. But I’ve also thought that the faculty, staff and students are a lot like Stella; devoted and pregnant with possibilities. And who would be Stanley?  Watching the play, I identify us all with Blanche and wonder who are the strangers that we depend on? Alumni, the village of Yellow Springs and the larger higher education community have all expressed that they are rooting for us. The alumni and town have made a valiant effort that paid off with the news that the suspension was lifted. My elation was short-lived.

As I listened to the list of conditions in Saturday’s Community Meeting, and as the days unfold with new conditions and complications, I wonder if these “strangers” would have been so kind if they knew all of the conditions that were placed on us in this “victory”– that we could not build on the inspiring narrative of a dedicated community saving a precious resource, recruiting students with our story but that it was never planned to recruit students this year. I was particularly concerned about the town of Yellow Springs and wondered if the alumni pledges would indeed come in given that we are still very much under the thumb of the university for all intents and purposes. Frankly, I felt betrayed. I understand that we need to wait for the Ohio Board of Regents to give us the go-ahead, and that we would be irresponsible to recruit students to a college where we could not deliver a good education, but to plan on not recruiting means that we plan on not being who we are.

`At the end of ‘Streetcar’ Blanche goes crazy and is carted away.  I do not want this fate for myself. But in the shifting and unfolding realties we are confronted with every day, I am beginning to feel a little crazy.  On the one hand, I hear our own administrators, PR people,  townfolk and alumni, say that they wonder about the faculty: are we up to the challenge? Are we high enough quality?  In the words of Stanley Kowalski: “Let’s cut the re-bop!”  Teaching at Antioch College this term has been rewarding. I feel privileged to work with the students and  excellent colleagues I have here.  In the theater, our production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” is one I feel proud, even though we have battled leaky roofs, infestations of ants and raccoons and had our budget for instructional supplies was  cut by 42% this year.

There is a spirit this term. People are doing good work and I am proud of us. We are a ”A College Named Desire”,

Louise Smith, ‘77 Professor of Theater and alumna