What Makes an Antiochian?
“A lot of the older Antiochians looked at the younger Antiochians and said, ‘Gee, if I was 20 years old today, I would be like that.’” Steve Schwerner ’60
Any reunion or alumni chapter meeting is filled with a wide number of Antiochians from across the generations. Considering how often Antioch College reinvents itself, and how individualistic Antioch alumni are, it would be easy to think that the different eras of Antioch College alumni have nothing in common except for a stint in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Not so, said Steve Schwerner ’60, who once moderated a session called “Antiochians of Different Generations.” The panel featured half a dozen alumni, some nearing 50-year class anniversaries, others more recent graduates of the College.
“A lot of people were surprised at those sessions,” Schwerner said. “People from the 50-year graduating class were suspicious of the younger Antiochians, who were tattooed and pierced, and the new Antiochians were worried that the older Antiochians were totally different.”
At the end of these sessions, Schwerner recalled, panelists often saw a bit of themselves in their fellow alumni. “A lot of the older Antiochians looked at the younger Antiochians and said, ’Gee, if I was 20 years old today, I would be like that,” he said. “And for the newer, younger Antiochians, they were constantly amazed at the older generations having some of the same experience as they had and they were working on jobs that were making a difference.”
Those sessions carried a singular theme: What makes or defines an Antiochian?
This question is perhaps more important now than ever before. Antioch College has begun to recruit a pioneering class for the fall of 2011. These new students – future Antiochians – will be breaking new ground. They will be the first class at Antioch College two years after it negotiated for its independence from Antioch University, the first to complete their studies at the college that now integrates co-op, community and the residential liberal arts experience with language and culture study - and the first class since 1921 to arrive on a campus void of upper classmen to greet them when they move into their dormitories.
The 17,000 alumni of Antioch College scattered through the U.S. and the world know what defines an “Antiochian” more than anyone else, and in the coming months, the College will ask alumni to nominate students to apply for admission.
These students will be partners in rebuilding the College.
“One of the things that the admissions folks used to tell people was Antioch College was for self-directed, self-motivated students … the kind of person who could handle that,” Schwerner said. “What we should have been pointing out is Antioch College is a great place to go if you want to be those things but aren’t just yet.”
But self-directed students, and students who want to learn to be be self-directed, can be found on most college campuses across the nation. What are the unique experiences that bind Antiochians together?
“It was partly the work, but really it was the experience of learning a little bit about myself. It really helped shape who I am today.” Karen Mulhauser ’65
When asked that question, Antiochians generally offer the same response: co-op.
The cooperative education program at Antioch College demands that students alternate between periods of full-time coursework and full-time, paid, off-campus work.
No other liberal arts college in the country makes work a central part of the educational experience, and Antiochians agree that cooperative education is “transformative.”
Antioch College’s singular dedication to having its students alternate classroom study with off-site work throughout the entire program, agree alumni, means so much more than just vocational education.
Schwerner offers as an example: “One of the stories I always tell – ask anybody who went to college, who were their favorite teachers. Then, list every class they ever took in chronological order. Most folks can’t do it. Ask an Antiochian to list their co-op jobs chronologically, [they] will list every single job [they] had in chronological order, and [they] can list the street address that [they] lived at…everybody can list them!”
Karen Mulhauser ’65 reflects: “Most of my [co-op] jobs were related to my academic experience [but] it’s more than just about career path – it’s learning about life, how you fit in to the community around you; it’s about balancing a budget, learning to find a place to live...it’s learning about the responsibilities of showing up on a job on time. It’s the in-between being a dependent and being independent that helps students grow and mature that other colleges can’t offer.”
When asked about transformative co-op experiences, Mulhauser remembers the ones that shaped how she looked at the world.
Her first co-op was as a “play lady” at a hospital in Cleveland, she remembers. “I played with the children all day long,” she said. “I think what was most profound about this experience, was that I grew up on a farm, a small town where there was only one black family. At the hospital, most of the children were African-American.”
While in Cleveland, Mulhauser hung out at the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre. “At the beginning of my co-op experience, I was very conscious of being the only white person in the room, and by the end, one of the plays [Karamu] put on was A Raisin in the Sun. Sidney Poitier came to the opening night, there was a reception afterwards, and when I was going home afterwards, I realized it was an hour into the reception when I was conscious I was one of the few white people in the room.”
“People come to Antioch with a healthy skepticism about the world and a healthier desire to make it better.” Mark Reynolds ’80
Mulhauser remembers that she thought she was going to be a medical researcher after Antioch, and did most of her co-ops in the medical research field. However, “The jobs that I reflect on more were the ones that were not related to medical research,” she said. “It was partly the work, but really it was the experience of learning a little bit about myself. It really helped shape who I am today.”
Mark Reynolds ’80 also thinks of co-op as a transformative life experience. “Not only did [co-op] show me that there was already a community of like-minded folks even beyond Antioch,” he said, “it gave me the inspiration to prepare to join that community upon graduation.”
In the summer of 1978, Reynolds did a co-op term at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change in Atlanta. His co-op experience, detailed in an essay for Popmatters.com, was a troubled one, with mixed educational messages and lacking a practicum in progressive activism.
“For all the drama that went on during that [co-op], it turned out to have an enormous impact on shaping my understanding of the world – and was the place where, it seems in retrospect, the first traces of the development of my voice as a media professional with an activist bent (and, through the mandatory keeping of a journal, probably a writer as well) can be seen.”
The Antioch College experience is often referred to as “the three Cs”: co-op, classroom, and community. So it’s only natural that community is another concept cited that shapes an Antiochian.
Schwerner said of the panelists at “Antioch Through the Generations,” “A lot of people thought that … people would call it student involvement in decision making. It wasn’t CG in the narrow sense of being in community governance, but being involved in decision making that was important, that it wasn’t just play.”
Christelle Evans ’94 emphatically agrees. Evans, a co-community manager for the ’95-’96 school year, notes that the hardest, but most worthwhile, aspect of community during her stint as a CM was “dealing with the negative.”
Evans laughs as she remembers the Community Meetings held during her tenure as community manager. Held every Tuesday in McGregor 113, the mid-’90s Community Meetings were often so combative they were nicknamed “Community Beatings.”
“If something came up,” she said, “we would address it. Wasn’t always easy – didn’t always move forward. But we addressed it.”
“We were told we were adults. Students had the opportunities to be in charge of a lot of things that students at other schools didn't get a chance to.” Christelle Evans ’94
What Evans treasures most about her experience with the Antioch College community was the expectation that every person had a voice and could work on solving problems or perceived gaps in services. “The minute we stepped foot on that campus, we were told we were adults,” Evans said. “All of these adults said, ‘We believe you can do this.’ They gave us the opportunities to do it.”
At Antioch College, Evans developed and ran a student mediation program. “Students had the opportunities to be in charge of a lot of things that students at other schools didn’t get a chance to,” Evans notes with approval.
“I was at Emory, and their student government had an ‘adult’ in charge of running the finances,” Evans said. “We didn’t have that.” She notes that one of her employees in the Community Government office was a Budget Manager.
She continues, “I think it does take a particular type of person – you have to have certain characteristics – to deal with all the freedom and opportunities that [Antiochians] have. It’s important for you to be able to talk to people. I don’t solely mean being social, not everyone is an extrovert. But if something happens that you don’t understand or can’t handle, you have to be able to reach out for help.”
Mulhauser reflects on how the concept of community shapes Antiochians even after they leave campus. “While I was a student at Antioch, I was of course a member of the community, I benefited from all that community provided, but I was never really active in Community Government, Community Council or Administrative Council,” she said. “I voted, I knew who had been elected, I followed things in the Record, but it surprises me now that I did not take more advantage of the learning experience of community and community governance while I was there. Antioch was part of my very shy phase….but community became [ingrained] in the fiber of who I am.”
Another Antioch College defining ideal is that of justice and moving society forward.
“Almost everybody” at the Reunion panels, Schwerner said, “talked about a thread of what I now call ‘social justice.’”
Antioch College students and alumni devote themselves to the school’s motto – Horace Mann’s admonition: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
Reynolds said people come to Antioch College with a “healthy skepticism about the world and a healthier desire to make it better. They’re going to contribute to the overall body of knowledge…[They’re going to] move us one step forward to whatever it is to what we aspire to. Build something that wasn’t here and make it possible for others to move further.”
Many other colleges and universities boast of business leaders amongst their alumni, or respected artists, or even philanthropists of some renown. Antioch College, though, is quite possibly one of the only schools that have these, as well as alumni devoting their lives to activism and being change agents.
“The thing about Antioch people is that they are change-makers – and they’re not kidding around. This has been consistent through the years.” Karl Grossman ’64
“The thing about Antioch people,” said Karl Grossman ’64, “is that they are change-makers – and they’re not kidding around. This has been consistent through the years. Now, I don’t know about Antioch people when the college began operating in 1853, of course. Although, considering its initial history challenging aspects of sexism and racism, and Horace Mann’s call to win some victory for humanity, I suspect the special culture began very early.”
He continues, “Because of the nature of my journalism – on issues like the deadly dangers of nuclear power, schemes by the United States to weaponize space, the toxic stew of products and processes U.S. corporations have cooked up with government doing little and a cancer epidemic the result – I’ve been on the college lecture circuit. At no college other than Antioch have the presentations ended with the students in attendance responding immediately with plans to take action on the issue at hand. That’s been the continual response at Antioch: what are we going to do! – and let’s start doing it tomorrow! Action! Activism!”
“You really do have people across the class years who have really done something that has touched a community wider than their own,” Evens said. “To me that is a very Antiochian thing, it’s what our motto is, it’s what we’re called to do...to look beyond ourselves. It’s a wonderful life mission.”
Mulhauser said an Antioch College education instilled in her a sense of social responsibility. She recalls participating in a day-long faciliated seminar as president of the Alumni board in the ’80s. The facilitator asked those in attendance to sum up the meaning of their Antioch College experience in seven words. Mulhauser’s response: “Social responsibility, social responsibility, social responsibility, social.”
“Antioch helped to shape the kind of life that I have had,” Mulhauser said.
However, hewing to the Antioch College motto is not without its drawbacks. Schwerner remembers, when he was Dean of Students, going to Chicago and meeting with a group of alumni. “[They were] talking about this albatross - ‘Am I allowed to die now without being ashamed?’”
Mulhauser, when she was the co-op community coordinator in Washington D.C., was given a birthday card by one of the students. On the front, it had the famous motto. On the inside, it said “So I guess you can keel over any time you’d like to!”
She laughs. “I have it framed in my office; it’s a treasure.”