Beyond a Dissertation: My Pledge to YS

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There is something special about having come up in Yellow Springs during a certain time. I cannot claim to be a native; my Dad was hired at Antioch PR Director at the tail end of the Birnbaum administration; and the coming of Al Guskin also meant the coming of the Saaris from Cincinnati. Dad and me first; Mom after Steve graduated from Walnut Hills. So 2016 marks my 30 year anniversary as a resident of this place.

It is easy to paint YS as the idyllic Shire; a place with unlocked doors and families that have known each other back to Wheeling Gaunt’s day. The truth is, YS has an incredible history that I am learning in deep detail as I research and write my dissertation. Technically, we are not supposed to call a D.Min project a dissertation, but you know what? I have completed 132 graduate credits between my three masters degrees, so I’m calling the 250-300 page document a dissertation. Deal with it.

Two parts of our history are in serious danger of disappearing. The first is our ethnic and economic diversity. In the 1930s, YS was more racially diverse that it is now. Many of the multi-generation families of color I grew up with in the 80s and 90s, families that went back several generations, are gone. When I moved here our police chief was black, as were all the principals at the public schools. We had African-American owned businesses. In my class there were several families that had settled after fleeing from the Iranian Revolution. And we can argue about the economic realities that have impacted a vast majority of communities in the United States, and we can look at systemic issues that arose as the result of vanished jobs from Vernay, Antioch Publishing, and other industries that sustained the village for years. We can look at all of this and draw fair conclusions. But these factors cannot account for the entire phenomenon. We have trended whiter and wealthier, and with it has come the disappearance of a village that once was. Yes, change happens. Some of us, though, are alarmed.

The second thing that is gone is a meaningful town/gown relationship, a relationship with the Antioch students that pulls them into village life and provides them investment in this place outside of the college. We should think of how positively our community has been touched and blessed by students, faculty, and staff of Antioch College. Over the past several months as I’ve been doing research and taking residence up in Scott Sander’s office (not really, but I do talk to him frequently), I’ve spoken to Antioch students. Today I spoke to several, and to a person they say that they are yearning for a connection to the village and also to a spiritual life. As part of the official recommendations of the Symposium, I had included a renewed relationship between First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs and Antioch College. This, I believe, is what God is calling me to do for my town, my alma mater*, and the church I serve.

I put the call out to start investigating a path forward for bringing refugees to YS. The next major step is going to be at FPCYS on May 26 at 7pm. It will be an information session and fundraiser for Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley. We will be led through our various options by Michael Murphy, the director of relocation services and placement (or some such impressive title). He’s amazing, knows the system in and out, and will be a great asset for us. I’ll write more about it, and please help me get the word out.

But here is what is most important to me moving forward. I am glad that I put the call out regarding refugees because it has caused me to do some deep research and some deep praying. The goal of a community is to make people feel included, not welcomed. Welcoming is great, but that’s what you do for a guest. To provide refugees a sense that their lives are not continually in transition, there have to be things that bring comfort, familiarity, and a sense of belonging. We cannot seek to bring two or three people, we need to think in terms of multiple families. That requires time, money, talent, and dedication. I am all for it if the village buys in, and while I do not want to continue to lead the efforts beyond a certain point, I do believe in the cause. We have to engage in serious conversations about what it means to welcome in resettling refugees when so many people of color have fled.

What I am pledging myself to is developing a relationship with Antioch that includes a co-op here in Yellow Springs which will focus on issues of racial, economic, and ethnic equity, and a commitment to work with other faith, volunteer, and cultural groups in the village who want to join in a coalition to organically support a local culture that is inviting and appealing to larger swaths of the American demographic than are represented in our current citizenry. This is important to me, and I think it should be important to all of us.

Let me conclude by saying that I still believe that YS is a special place. Street after street is filled with people I know and love, people who enrich my life and the lives of everyone who engages in village culture. I am not trying to force some artificial quota system upon us and suggesting that we should try to woo non-Whites in a plot to assuage my own guilt. Not at all. Diversity for the sake of diversity doesn’t work. But it is very significant that there are disproportionately less persons of color in this place than there were a generation ago. Why? It is not just economic; I know this from anecdotal evidence, but my dissertation is going to focus on gathering the scientific data. And then the rest of my life in this village is going to be dedicated to being a loving but insistent voice that we do more than just talk about it, but that we figure out and implement solutions.

More later.

*Technically, I cannot claim to have graduated from the college. However, I was in one of the final graduating classes from Antioch University Midwest (nee McGregor) that attended all semesters on the original campus. I don’t know what the abomination at the edge of town is (no offense to anyone who works there, as I did for five years; my father was a founding faculty member; my mother taught there), but I am an Antiochian. I am invested in the college.

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