Dennie Eagleson ’71, while on a faculty trip to Cuba,
Through Her Lens
This article appeared in the Yellow Springs News in the fall.
a charged time.
It was the late 1960s and colleges around the country were full of energy and anti-war sentiment. Antioch students were involved in a myriad of projects and demonstrations. Sometimes students would simply pile into a bus to go to Wall Street or the Pentagon to do a demonstration as a community event.
The College, like the country, was heading for a decade of monumental change. Two years after Eagleson’s graduation, a student strike, precipitated by federal cuts that resulted in many students losing their scholarships, shuttered the campus for weeks. And the College, already in the middle of an expansion project that would create thirty-five campuses at one point, would reincorporate as a university, a change in structure that ultimately, in 2008, led to its closure and an alumni movement that resulted in its re-launch as a once-again independent institution.
A former tenured professor of photography and core faculty in the student, faculty and alumni led Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute, Eagleson has witnessed and documented the College at times high and low during the last twenty years.
Dennie Eagleson (middle row, third from left) with students and other community members, Spring 1971
Recently, Eagleson moved back into McGregor Hall, into an office a few steps from the suite that once housed the media arts faculty. She has been hired as the creative director for Herndon Gallery and coordinator of the artist in residence program. Eagleson, like her colleague Louise Smith ’77, dean of community life, is an Antiochian whose personal and professional paths intersected on the College that prepared her for life. Her story, told now as the College recruits a new generation of Antiochians, offers us an opportunity to examine many things about where we are now in our history. What is an Antiochian? Why do Antiochians care so much about their alma mater? And why is this little college in this little village in southwest Ohio worth saving?
Photos of Students by Dennie Eagleson ’71
- Maribeth (McManus) Joy ’00
- Yoram “Rami” Marcus ’02, Maribeth (McManus) Joy ’00, Laurel Mulholland ’00, and Beth Gutelius ’00
- Noah Robischan ’92 and Belinda McGuire ’92, Rosalie Ehrlich ’93
The Only Choice
Eagleson was destined for Antioch College: “We just assumed I would go here.”
To hear her tell it, Eagleson was destined for Antioch College. She grew up in Nebraska, where she was a member of a small, progressive youth group.Her mother was a professor of literature, humanities and women’s studies, and the family already knew several people who were attending the College. “We just assumed I would go here,” she said.
Despite the timing of her arrival in the late 1960s, Eagleson said the most formative experience of her time as an Antioch College student came not from political engagement but a co-op job at Project Inc., an experimental arts school for children in Boston.
The school hired some very talented teachers versed in the Bauhaus movement, including Detta Lange, who would influence Eagleson greatly. Working with Lange helped Eagleson define herself as an artist, to “learn to see as an artist.” .
While on campus, Eagleson felt a lot of creativity in the air and settled into the clay studio in the art department. “Clay suited me temperamentally,” she said.
She met her future husband, Alan Greenberg ’73, and made lasting friendships with many others.
“As an Antioch student I learned how to learn,” she said. “It made me fearless in taking on things I had some expertise in.”
Commencement by Dennie Eagleson ’71
- Louise Smith ’77 and John Fleming + Brie Jones ’06
- Corrie Bennet Boumgardner ’04 + Unidentified, Helen Harris ’06, unidentified
- Amy Goodman
- Melinds Kanner, Joya Lonsdale ’94 + Lauren Silverman ’04, Kris Meadows ’04 + Unidentified
After graduation, Eagleson, Greenberg, Michael Rogers ’71, and Janet Bowers started a group home in Plainfield, Vermont. They created a community-based model at the home and school, which offered academics, woodworking, ceramics, and outdoor activities.Residents were given voice in regular community meetings to come to agreements about the rules.
After two and a half years, Eagleson and Greenberg moved to Wisconsin, where she continued to work in a group home while Greenberg taught himself woodworking. They returned to Yellow Springs to start a woodworking business called Generations Woodworking.
In the late 1980s, Eagleson was hired by the College to photograph events. As a result of her re-involvement with the College and her professional work in the area, she was invited to teach photography as an adjunct professor.
Eagleson was a self-taught photographer. While she’d taught ceramics before, she never taught photography. Teaching at Antioch was a wonderful fit, Eagleson said. She loved teaching and helping students to use a camera to translate what they cared about into visual compositions.
She gradually developed a full-time curriculum and completed an MFA in photography at the University of Cincinnati in 1994.
Ultimately, she became a tenured associate professor.
When the College closed, Eagleson was working as an associate professor, teaching in the media arts as part of the cultural and interdisciplinary studies program.
Antioch College was a great place to be as a teacher, Eagleson said. She loved teaching courses that helped people find themselves and create projects that addressed their deepest concerns and passions. Many students incorporated concepts drawn from environmental science, women’s studies—anything in which they had an interest.
She taught a broad range of courses, including creative photography, documentary, and topics in history and theory.As technologies changed from analog to digital, she was able to transition the curriculum into the digital realm while still keeping aground in film, darkroom, and experimental processes.
But tension existed between the College and the university. A “Renewal Plan” developed with minimal faculty input would mandate “learning communities” across the curriculum. The faculty responded to the mandate by creating a core curriculum that investigated big ideas from multiple perspectives.
Eagleson worked with literature professor Jean Gregorek and anthropologist Beverly Rodgers to design a course called American Identities that looked at Appalachian, Native American, African American and Latino communities through literature, anthropology, and documentary photography. “We were all stretched across our boundaries and were able to experiment with different teaching and learning models,” Eagleson said. “It was a difficult time but offered some new opportunities for research and growth.”
There were other strains on the campus community as well. Decreased enrollment and retention, staff and faculty attrition, and deferred campus maintenance added to the heightened tensions.
Many faculty members, including Eagleson, remained with the College, “still compelled by the challenges and rewards of teaching a bright, intellectually curious student body,” wrote Gregorek in her essay “Towards an Autonomous Antioch College,” published in the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom. “Indicators of academic quality, such as national ranking of student engagement, number of students who obtain Fulbrights, rates of acceptance to top graduate programs and of completion of Ph.D.s, remained extremely strong, and we felt there remained much to be proud of as we fought to carry on the Antioch legacy.”
At a meeting of the faculty and staff in November 2007, the university announced that as a result of financial exigency, the College would cease operating at the end of the academic year, on June 30, 2008.
“The rug was pulled out from under us,” Eagleson said. “It was devastating, heartbreaking.”
The announcement mobilized students, faculty, and alumni. A small collective remained in Yellow Springs after buildings were shuttered. They formed the Nonstop Liberal Arts institute, a college in exile, and Eagleson was a member of the core faculty.
A Revived Antioch
Eagleson still feels strongly about the creation of Nonstop. The concept was powerful, she said, a “grand convergence” of the minds and hearts of everyone who wanted to keep Antioch College from remaining closed.
While documenting the College throughout this period, Eagleson has had a lot of contact with many of the people involved in the movement. It felt good to be able to contribute in that way, she said. She was hired to continue her work as documentarian when the Board Pro Tem (now the Board of Trustees) negotiated the purchase of the College and its assets and re-established Antioch College as an independent institution.
Portraits by Dennie Eagleson ’71
- John Sims ’90
- J. Gregg Williams ’95 + Pat Linn + Unidentified
- Leland Clark ’41 + Steve Schwerner ’60 + J.D.Dawson
- Amy Trompeter
Her images have been published on the College website and are featured prominently in each issue of this publication. She consulted the Morgan Fellows— former faculty colleagues who were hired as scholars in residence—to write the arts curriculum at the new College. And when the administration welcomed a newly hired faculty following national searches, she was on hand to document their arrival, photographing the eleven-week faculty orientation. She was also the first photographer to take pictures of Antioch’s newest students, first capturing portraits that appeared in the previous issue of this magazine and later documenting the ten-day student orientation.
“The revived Antioch gave me a way to participate and meet the new faculty and students and see that there’s a lot of great and positive energy around the place,” she said. “There are lots of difficulties, but the students have taken on the responsibility” of perpetuating the institution into the future.
“I love their willingness to take the risk, and their maturity in understanding how much their participation means, how they’ve responded to the model,” she said. “They don’t see classical methods of higher education as a path. They’re here for the purer experience of learning from this model and testing in the world. They’re interested in learning skills and applying and have a passion for social justice issues.”
It is, she said, “an extension of Antiochian spirit.”
Brendon Deal ’15, a Horace Mann Fellow, is an assistant in the Office of Communications. Gariot P. Louima is the chief communications officer and coordinator of the Writing Institute.