Probing Antioch College's Novel Psyche

Radicalism -- Part 7even

(Complex industrialized societies function today because their members have had the values of greed, rigid discipline and voracious competitiveness inculcated into them. The point is that these values, contemptible though they may seem, do enable the system to operate without breaking down, which means that garbage does get collected, food-markets do market food, consumer goods do get distributed, and the countless interlocking services necessary for modern human existence do get performed in a reasonably coherent manner. The challenge facing radicals is to show that they can replace these ugly and barren values with their own value system which stresses co-operation and freedom and yet prove equally capable of running a complexly organized society. Otherwise our dreams for an equitable system will remain dreams.

The battle has been joined in microcosm among educational institutions and Antioch College in Ohio is the furthest along at proving that a radical conception of education, free from the artificial and corrupting constraints of traditional education, can be made to work successfully. As the following article points out there are problems yet to be resolved but Antioch was, and continues to be, a glorious experiment--one that must be made to redeem itself if it is to serve as a step on the way to constructing a just society. -- Editor)

The dogs are many and friendly, and they are all over Antioch--in the classrooms, the dorms, at meetings, with the President and at the mid-night films. But their light-hearted presence sometimes seems like no more than a camouflage and foil for the tension on the campus where they make their home.

I saw them first at a Greek feast, which one of the students had organized for the last Saturday night of the fall trimester. A lamb was taken whole out of the fireplace (still a little bloody) and afterwards there was dancing or watching-dancing from the beams on which so many people had stretched out. Before I left Cambridge, I had been told, "If you speak with someone at Antioch for five minutes, it is assumed you will sleep with him." This had caused a moment of uneasiness about going to visit a cousin of mine there, but he was a good guide. I asked him about the intimacy I felt at the Feast, and he told me that it was in this house in "the glen" that most of the T-groups were held. Memories must have been rampant, since almost everyone at Antioch had been in a T-group at least once, and it shows.

Other experiences in the "at least once" category include weekly nude co-ed swims in the college pool (or a more seasonal variety of frolic under midnight rain). Also, weekly "touch festivals" in the gym, with such exercises in trust as giving yourself to a random mate to blindfold you and help you rediscover the familiar environs under his guidance. I do not believe that the surrounding middle-western folk are quite aware of all that goes on at Antioch.

At the end of the trimester, exuberance dims for most as they are forced to crop wild hair in order to go out to jobs. The air is full of their poignant explanations: ". . . work for the Commerce Dept. . . . going to Alabama . . ." The girls are wistful, too. "We have to hurry a whole year of usual college life into three months. Friendships and everything go more quickly, end faster."

Next trimester, 900 different Antioch students will have moved to Yellowsprings, Ohio. There is nothing absolutely regular about this alternation, however. Some students are away for six or nine months on work-study programs abroad, in Scandinavia or Mexico, for instance. When they return, some teach courses (for credit) on topics in which they have become competent: a course on the American Indian was given last trimester by a sophomore who had spent his preceding work term among the Hopi Indians.

Some stay around Antioch for their work term. The dance troupe has become quite good, they say. Some just stay around. There is the case of the student who refuses to take a French course, and while waiting for the college to change its language requirement, has taken over the local film monopoly, teaches the folk-dancing courses (which satisfy physi- cal education requirements), goes to Greek feasts, etc.

Other students change "divisions" to meet the other part of the student body, to get away from Yellowsprings in the winter, or for personal reasons--like the white boy and black girl who found it uncomfortable to go on seeing each other on a campus which has recently become extremely race-conscious. Almost all of Antioch's eighty-to-ninety black students live in segregated dorms which whites do not enter. The African Studies department, which will soon have its own building, offers some courses for both blacks and whites, others for black students only.

Conversations revealed a significant, if concealed, "backlash" sentiment at Antioch. I was told of resentment which apparently grew up between three non-black students who were at Antioch and the black students from their high-school community, and of shooting incidents which have occurred. More generalized and extensive seems to be the bitterness among white students who for the most part have grown up in "liberal" homes where racial integration was considered to be the goal.

This tension was made very real to me at the Saturday midnight showing of "The Chase," a Marlon Brando film involving racial violence in an East Texas town. Everyone came into the auditorium singing ("Up with People" was on the loudspeakers) and dancing in their seats. The black students, with one or two exceptions, went up to the balcony where they usually sit together. Anyone who thinks the Brattle unique should go to Antioch to find real audience participation: for the first half hour we couldn't hear the lines for all the calls (mainly "Do it in the road").

As the subject matter of the film became apparent, however, lighted cigarettes thrown from the balcony added to the restlessness in the theatre fostered by the violence on screen. Finally, a group which had been drenched with water from the balcony started the call for "lights." Most just sat and blinked at each other, questioning and anxious, when the lights went on. Some, hot and troubled, were calling for the film to go on, while others already were slipping out into the night. Soon we all scattered, disheartened, when the film was called off.

There are no easy answers for anyone at Antioch. Self-examination and self-questioning are an almost constant state of mind for both the students and the faculty-administration. To keep the atmosphere alive, "structure" is conscientiously rooted out (the grading system is only one aspect of the escape from institutionalized channels: course credits simply are either accorded or refused, often by the student himself rather than by the professor). The principal governing board of the college, ADCIL, is composed of three faculty members, three administration people, and three student representatives. Its decisions are discussed, and new proposals debated at an informal meeting with5Greek Feasting