Antioch’s gone, but its spirit lives

Sep 11th, 2008

By Holly Zachariah, The Columbus Dispatch — read the original article here.

YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio — Jesus smiled down on Isabella Winkler as she talked to her college students about violence, passion, gender roles and French kissing.

The six students in Winkler’s culture and interpretation class focused on the photographs of embracing couples and paid no mind to the stained-glass image overwhelming the sanctuary inside the United Methodist Church.

At about the same time, chemistry professor Kabuika Butamina was across town. He goes by only Kab. “Just one name, you know, like Madonna,” he said as he unlocked the back door of someone else’s home and led a ragtag band of students into the house.

His three students dropped into folding chairs and crammed around a poster-size whiteboard hanging in a back corner of the basement.

Kab foraged for a marker, then raised his arms high and stretched them wide.

“Welcome,” he told the students, “to Nonstop.”

Classes began this week at the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute, a new, unaccredited college
that’s not really a college in Greene County. Its professors teach in churches, their homes, the homes of others, the village hall, even at the local Buddhist meditation center.

Nonstop bills itself as “an educational endeavor that seeks to continue the values and traditions of the recently closed Antioch College.” What that means is it is a program run by former Antioch employees who lost their jobs when the famously liberal college closed in June.

Antioch was known for its political activism and social-justice leanings. The broke college closed despite the efforts of alumni, students, professors and Yellow Springs residents who tried to save it.

About $2 million raised by the alumni is funding Nonstop, which, they hope, will eventually become Antioch again. The Alumni Board wants to resurrect the college and run it independently, separate from its parent, Antioch University.

Until then, Nonstop’s organizers can’t use the Antioch name; they would be sued. Many of
Antioch’s traditions are evident but with “slight modifications,” said Chris Hill, a leader of Nonstop and former 11-year professor of media arts at Antioch. Twenty-two people are enrolled full-time so far for this first semester, and another 50 or so have signed up for at least one class, each of which costs about $300.

Some of the students simply are interested townspeople. Others are Antiochians who stayed in town. But there are newcomers, too, folks such as 20-year-old James Russell from Fort Worth, Texas.

He always had dreamed of coming to Yellow Springs. Through online chat rooms and news stories he watched the fight to save the school unfold. As an Antioch revival movement grew, he realized he simply had to come.

Russell arrived in town three weeks ago with little money, no job, a couple of boxes of clothes and what he describes as left-leaning signs to decorate his walls.

He has applied for a Nonstop scholarship, is paying a family $100 a month for a room and hopes to land a job, maybe at the local newspaper.

He also is learning to ride a bike, a habit that’s practically required in this laid-back town, where the downtown shops sport names like Dingleberry’s, Garden of the Goddess and Mr. Fub’s Party.

Russell is a skinny guy who talks with his hands, describes almost everything as “the coolest thing ever” and cannot contain his enthusiasm about life in general, Nonstop in particular.

He is registered for seven classes, everything from personal finance to dance therapy to the art of political discourse.

He said he doesn’t care about college credit. What he is after is an education and life experience, not a degree.

Surely, he can get that here, a place where the Antioch spirit still thrives.

A place where a church sanctuary doubles as a dance studio and a local farm becomes a laboratory for sustainable agriculture.

A place where professors convene class in cluttered basements and rented halls while a nearby campus wastes away.