In her first State of the College address, Antioch College President Dr. Jane Fernandes speaks to Antiochians everywhere about being better together, through appointing new staff, increasing enrollment, strengthening fundraising, building community and creating a student experience that is a powerful force for change.
“We have a chance to be a laboratory for democracy once again,” she said. “Antioch centers our diverse students in an inclusive democracy and our graduates will create equitable communities of people with expansive age, gender, race, and sexual orientation diversity.”
Read below or watch the video of Jane Fernandes’ speech about moving Antioch College forward toward a vibrant and sustainable future.
October 23, 2021 – State of the College Address
Jane Fernandes – Antioch College
Written revised version for website
I am Jane Fernandes; my pronouns are she, they. I have been your president since August 16th and have enjoyed meeting people, getting to know my team, touring the campus, and learning to love Yellow Springs. Each night when I walk home, I am amazed at the night sky with its bright moon and clear stars. That sight has been very centering for me.
Prior to beginning my work at Antioch, I was president of Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, whose work has relevance here. When I began at Guilford, enrollment had been falling for decades. Fundraising results were losing momentum. Prospective students and parents ran away when they saw the inside of our residence halls. Their technology infrastructure was outdated. Their systems were not functioning well.
We focused on four themes: collaborative teaching and learning about issues that are important to students; integrated academic, career and wellness advising; ethical leadership for all students; and rebuilding our community. Like Antioch, much of the student experience is tied directly to the faculty and staff culture. Overall, by building community, we greatly enhanced the student experience, which became one shared by all students; something they had in common.
A student experience that delivers on what is promised is a powerful force for change and we sustained an upward fundraising trend that climaxed and leveled off at a new normal. I am confident that, similarly, we can continue moving Antioch in the direction it is already headed, toward a vibrant and sustainable future.
I have worked in education at all levels for 35 years in a lot of different settings. A common thread throughout all my work has been to foster rich educational environments where no one is so impoverished that they cannot be their whole selves. And that opportunity is what drew me to Antioch.
A phrase from my mother has been running through my mind these days which is “Jane, you are good, and you can be even better.” And that applies to Antioch today. Of course, “getting better” will require the help and support of alumni, benefactors, and friends across the decades. You are all Antiochians, and we will be better…together.
A few updates:
- I am thrilled with the appointment of Shane Creepingbear ’08 as our new dean of admission. Though our enrollment currently stands at 132 students, Dean Creepingbear will lead our efforts to increase enrollment over time.
- In addition to increasing enrollment, we are making specific plans to strengthen fundraising through which we support so many of our operational needs.
- And we need to care for and attend to our faculty and staff who have been through a difficult two years, encouraging them to work together with alumni, benefactors and friends in creating a sustainable college.
- We welcomed a new and energizing group of first-year students. This is the second class to enter during the pandemic as young pioneers whose lives were upended. They spent one and a half years at home instead of at school. They saw family members become sick and die. They took on jobs to help family income when their parents lost theirs. They abruptly switched from in-person learning to remote learning, though it did not appeal to many of them. They are smart, resilient, and articulate. Students have become my best mentors.
- After the consequences of the global health pandemic and financial crises, Antioch came back this year with new health and safety standards designed to protect us all. Wearing masks, social distancing, getting vaccinated, being tested—all of these and more are ways that our campus has changed. What has not changed is our steadfast commitment to the kind of educational experience that changes lives and the communities we serve.
Across higher education, though, we face widespread skepticism about the value of the liberal arts. Antioch College is certainly a part of that question. Many may be wondering, “Why continue to invest in Antioch College?” “Why bother supporting Antioch when all around us higher education is emphasizing computer science and technology?” Some may wonder whether the liberal arts are relevant any more. I assure you they are.
Thriving will be possible, even likely, for institutions ready to move advantageously and at the right pace. With challenges to the value of liberal arts and higher education combined with the uncertainties of the pandemic and its potential long-term influence on the job market, the foundational knowledge of a liberal arts education provides students with the nimbleness they will need to adapt to fast-paced, still unknown opportunities. We can help shape the future of higher education within this period of possibility, peril, and promise.
In her book, ‘My Life, My Love, My Legacy,” Coretta Scott King said, “For me, Antioch was the answer. Founded in 1852, the college was a pioneer in multicultural living and education. It prided itself on being a laboratory for democracy.” As I see things, we have a chance to be a laboratory for democracy once again. We are in the middle of a global shift pushing democracies into becoming autocracies. We are seeing this now in our own country.
As a private college, we have a level of academic freedom that does not exist at more popular and affordable public institutions where this freedom has been sharply curtailed. We firmly believe that engaging in these difficult conversations and supporting the free exchange of ideas is critical to any liberal arts institution, especially Antioch. To support these conversations, we strive to create a moderated setting that centers marginalized individuals and gives space to all, making discourse, learning, and the ability to share stories and experiences more equitable for everyone.
The question of whether America moves from democracy to autocracy is bound up, in part, within the ability of small liberal arts colleges to sustain a liberal arts education that is relevant to future students and society. This is not by accident but by the design of people who want to move the world towards autocracy rather than strengthening the democracy that thrives within equitable communities such as Antioch. Up until now, most of American democracy has been based in primarily White neighborhoods with “other” people added in. Antioch centers diverse students in our community and governance; our graduates leave here already knowing how to create equitable communities of people with expansive age, gender, race, and sexual orientation diversity.
Even among small private liberal arts colleges, Antioch stands apart with our unique model of self-designed majors, all of which include classes, working to improve our community, and co-operative practical experiences at multiple organizations, where skills for living are central to the enterprise. Not only does our co-op program give our graduates a distinct edge, it is vital to our unique brand of education, and continues to be a strong attraction for incoming students and families.
Make no mistake, the effort to see liberal arts colleges close is intentional. Antioch reflects the absolute best of our democratic principles in action, and it must remain the iconic American higher education institution that has modeled our country’s highest ideals for decades.
We must be in the forefront of sustaining liberal arts education and show by example that this is both urgent and possible. In order to do this, we must all support, protect, and win small victories on the way to Antioch College’s sustainable future. And, the value of liberal arts education is not just in defending democracy; it lies in educating a new generation of progressive thinkers and leaders. The liberal arts, with their emphasis on critical thinking, effective communication, and diversity of ideas are crucial to addressing problems such as the climate crisis, land rights, sustainable food systems, LGBTQ rights, voter rights, and reproductive justice for us all.
Today at a Board retreat, my first-year goals were approved. These include:
- Attending to, and strengthening, campus culture and customs and building my understanding of community governance.
- Meeting each faculty and staff member individually with an eye toward building faculty leadership.
- Engaging alumni – working with the Alumni Office and the President of the Alumni Association on a plan to meet alumni, benefactors, and attend selected alumni chapters.
- Increasing enrollment through incremental growth and admissions planning.
- Advancing Antioch College by understanding Antioch’s current market position and perceptions of our “product.”
- Strengthening the College infrastructure.
- Managing the budget. I hope you will all extend a warm welcome to our new Vice President of Finance, Bob McKee ‘88, who starts on Monday.
- Antioch faces very real challenges, which we must all learn to see as opportunities. One lies in convincing students to enroll here in the absence of seeing a specific major such as business, management, economics, education, communications, criminal justice, computer science, etc.
- Another is related to sparse faculty and staff who have suffered serious losses over the past years. We will spend some time recovering together.
- Continuing to fundraise in support of the annual operating budget.
- Organizing my administration and completing searches for VP of Advancement.
- Recommitting to a circular foundation in rigorous and practical liberal arts, cooperative education, and action in the world.
In addressing these challenges, we need to rally our campus spirit—and my dear alumni and friends, you too—around Antioch. We need to lift up our college by doing more of what we do best; we can only do this with unbridled energy — and with your support.
As with all things Antiochian, our most important work is done in community and so I am asking you to stay in this with us; we have so many reasons to be hopeful and confident:
- A new board chair, Shelby Chestnut ’05, a young and already experienced trustee with many years of bona fide board service, who is Native and trans. They bring new energy and vision to the board and the college. The age, gender, race, and sexual orientation diversity of several new trustees is expansive. We need to support the Board, as they support the college.
- A renewed focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice–at the Board level. The Board just completed a retreat where we stressed the need for more teeth in our commitment to equity and grounding ourselves in social justice.
- Dedicated alumni who have always stood steadfastly in supporting Antioch, its vital traditions and its long-term sustainability. I am asking you to please keep doing that.
- A singular commitment to incremental enrollment growth and annual fundraising to support the College’s work.
A compelling, higher order message that reflects Antioch’s legacy while differentiating it from other liberal arts colleges will be critical for galvanizing and inspiring the faculty to move ahead, reaching future students with a more unique message, engaging a new set of potential funders, and perhaps re-engaging some past benefactors. While we are only in the early stages of developing this message, answers to all three of the questions below, followed by possible answers as an example, are required for Antioch to thrive:
- To advance democracy and justice locally, nationally, and around the globe.
- By developing the next generation of advocates, activists and change agents.
- By enhancing the skills of today’s advocates, activists and change agents, as well as older adults looking to become advocates, activists and change agents.
- A comprehensive set of offerings around knowledge/insight (classroom), skills development (classroom/workshop), and experiential learning (co-ops).
Making a powerful argument for Antioch College’s liberal arts education is a necessary first step. But many, perhaps even most, liberal arts colleges struggle to distinguish themselves from each other. Getting to know Antioch College, the place and the people, will reveal the seeds of our unique story and its potential to increase national stature and draw interested students and support. Finding and promulgating this distinct identity will form a second and critical step.
I see so much to value about Antioch in my short time in the community, and I believe in its power over the long term. This inspires me everyday, and I hope it inspires you to be part of this next chapter. To take my mother’s phrase one step further, “Antioch has been great, Antioch is good, and Antioch can be better.” I’m asking you to stay strong and continue to give the college your support. Stay in this with me. I need your support.
And since COVID is still evolving, I will end this with the hope that we will meet safely in person next year and have a grand party.