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Messages from the President | State of the College 2022

10-27-22 State of the College 2022

My name is Jane Fernandes, and I am the president of Antioch College. She, her, or the inclusive they, them are my pronouns. I am here to deliver the State of the College address for 2022.

My mother sent me to a corner drugstore when I was a young girl. My goal was to purchase items without anyone knowing I was deaf or causing any concern in the store. When I got home, I was proud to tell her, “I did it! No one knew.” You can probably imagine the internal conflict brewing in a child who is so happy that no one knows what she is and whose mother works hard to make that so.

You see, my deaf mother, for excellent reasons, wanted to keep me safe, and for her, passing as hearing would accomplish that. She poured all of herself into me, and I learned how to speak, read, and write English passably.

I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa when I first interacted with Deaf people who signed, and a whole universe opened to me. I spent every spare minute on weekends in the homes of people who I discovered were Deaf like me, yet different than me. I felt relaxed and complete for the first time in my life.

I gradually learned American Sign Language, which should have been mine from birth. For a few years in Iowa as a grad student in Comparative Literature, I refused to use my voice and signed everything, no matter where I went or the people I was interacting with. Later I worked at Gallaudet University, the world’s only university designed for deaf people, where Deaf people called me “not deaf enough.” Today I live in neither a deaf nor a hearing world. While that can sometimes be difficult, it offers dual and opposing identities like saying both/and.

As people have opened doors for me, I have tried to open doors to higher education for all qualified students who want to receive it in my life and career.

In15 months here, students emerging from COVID-19 have brought a generational shift. Usually, I refer to our current students as “future generations of leaders.” But today’s Antioch students are the leaders and voices of equity and justice our nation desperately needs. Antioch has always been cutting-edge in its politics. These students, when they graduate, will go out and lead complex, inclusive communities in new and exciting ways. They are resilient, feisty, people-centered, values-driven, and focused on truth and action. They get better at who they are and what they do at Antioch.

We welcomed 32 new students this fall. The needs of our students are shifting. 84% identify as LGBTQ, and 16% of those are transgender. Forty-seven percent of our incoming students are Black and Brown. Half are first-generation. Today, despite significant successful strides toward equality, our politics threaten our progress on race, gender, sexuality, and other human identities like never before.

I am proud that Antioch attracts LGBTQ students at a high percentage. It is a privilege to be a safe space in Ohio for students seeking an inclusive community of academic excellence, a place to know themselves and people different from themselves, get an excellent liberal arts education, and do great work.

Antioch has a long history of prioritizing the well-being of Black, Indigenous, and other students of color and progressive activism. We envision a campus and world where:

  • Indigenous lands are acknowledged,
  • our climate is protected,
  • undocumented and international students and workers have access to bipartisan pathways to citizenship,
  • gun acquisition and ownership are controlled,
  • feminism is a shared common value,
  • LGBTQ people are celebrated and have access to safe and affirming health care,
  • disability justice is embedded in our culture, and
  • workers’ labor is valued.

With this vision, students lead the way. They get behind a better future for our people and planet.

Even as the community manages through uncertain times, we look beyond current challenges and keep our sights on Antioch’s vibrant future. As Michelle Obama suggests, we can have our feet planted both in reality and pointed toward progress. As I have been reflecting recently on Antioch, Michelle Obama’s book Becoming reminded me of another critical quote: “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion – a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously towards a better self.” She adds, “the journey doesn’t end.”

When I think of Antioch College – we, too, are in a state of becoming. Our famous co-op program is an example of becoming. Antioch has always led the way in producing graduates who know how to succeed in today’s workplaces while their toes point toward tomorrow. The liberal arts is the best educational model to cultivate the skills most prized by employers — the ability to write well, think well, read well, solve problems, and understand complex communities our businesses serve. And at Antioch, our students spend about one-quarter of their time applying those skills in real-world workplace settings through our famous co-op program.

That’s because we cannot train students in these sophisticated skills. Students have to learn them. They are transferable between settings and our graduates can adapt them to the world of work. That’s especially true in sectors like technology and manufacturing. Our graduates can keep up. We don’t just prepare students for their first jobs but for their last jobs.

This generation of students wants not only a paycheck but also a purpose. They are seeking meaningful work. That is why we integrate workplace experience throughout our curriculum, as students are figuring out what kind of work they want to do in their professions and communities.

We have 127 students enrolled this year. We have set a goal to reach 200 students in line with our most recent report to the Higher Learning Commission. As much as we focus on bringing students into our community, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure they graduate to get the full benefit of a college education. Many of our students might proceed in a different line. We will likely see more transfers, adult degree completers, and students pausing to work to pay for college or help a family member.

Ultimately, we must redouble our efforts to get them across the finish line. That delivers on the promise of higher education so that the next generation is better off than the last. This is essential for more and more students who are the first in their families to go to college.

As a community, we worked together on a strategic plan, and the Board of Trustees approved it. Our goals and objectives are clear, and we are developing key performance indicators. We are working hard to achieve financial stability.

We do this work in three primary ways: managing expenses, diversifying our revenues beyond student tuition and doubling down on fundraising. We exist today because of loyal alumni support and generous donors. We have always been a college that changes lives.

Some of our incoming class are eligible for a Pell grant, indicating a very high level of financial need. Our commitment to serving students with high financial needs means we rely on fundraising and donor generosity. Advancement launched the Antioch Activate campaign to raise $2.5 million by December 31, 2022. We need everyone’s support.

Our commitment to affordable college education: Closes opportunity gaps. Closes equity gaps. Helps break the cycle of low-income families. And breaks down systems of oppression into manageable pieces.

I would like us to understand what we ought to be known for. Antioch is a pillar of Yellow Springs and the higher education communities in Ohio. We want to make college affordable and accessible to all students and families with high financial needs by enrolling, retaining, graduating, and placing our students on paths to future success at a rate higher than any other institution of high education in our state.

When I first arrived on campus, I learned that we were considering turning the Antioch Farm over to another organization because we could not manage it. I met an anonymous alumni benefactor who wanted to support our farm financially. Today, the farm is thriving. We grow food for our students, are becoming known as a micro-farm, and understand more about making soil as nutritious as possible. We are learning how to grow the most on small plots of land. Farmers from around here come to see and learn what we are doing. The YS community volunteers to help maintain the farm. The state of OH has certified our farm.

We are looking at ways to share our vegetables and stunning flowers with the greater community. We hope to have 1,000 students who learn micro-farming and who will practice it in their homes and communities. We can be part of making food accessible to everyone through these methods. We can activate food deserts in Southwest Ohio and teach people how to grow their food. Not necessarily as a career but as a way of living.

We are keen on creating conditions that make it possible for farmers to earn a living wage. We want to draw students who want to study farming. We can create certification in micro-farming. All of this happened because of work the College wanted to do and a benefactor who wanted to support our work. In just one year, I have seen the greatness of Antioch, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be part of this community.

Remember to vote on 11/8 as if your lives depend on it because they do.

With sincerity,

Jane Fernandes
Pronouns: she, her or inclusive they, them
Antioch College