The Bridge Program began as CHE (Community Humanities Education) in 1999—a remarkable collaboration between AULA and alumna Shari Foos, CHE’s founder. CHE was originally inspired and informed by the Clemente Course in the Humanities, which was created in 1997 by noted social critic and author Earl Shorris, in partnership with Bard College. In 2000, Shorris received the National Humanities Medal from President Clinton in recognition of his work with the Clemente Course. Since its inception, the Clemente Course has taken root at 32 sites in cities throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and France. CHE varied slightly from the Clemente model but held to the same philosophy: that the study of the humanities and the development of finely-honed critical thinking skills are crucially important for everyone, perhaps especially for people near the bottom of the economic ladder. The first site was at the Venice Family Clinic in West Los Angeles.
Founder’s Statement – Shari Foos
I was in my thirties and had worked at dozens of jobs, some just to pay the rent and some because I had landed a writing or performing gig. One day, on the set of a late night TV show for which I was writing and warming up the audiences, I realized that what I was doing didn’t matter to anyone but me. I wanted to do more, be more, and contribute more.
The only way to move ahead was by going back to school. My mother had completed high school, my father had only finished eighth grade, and I had dropped out of college at twenty. My parents had had low expectations of me—and I ended up doing my best to fulfill them. High school was disastrous, but in college I found my voice in theater and music. I left for Los Angeles with the vague intention of completing my education there.
After years of struggling to make it in Hollywood, it just didn’t make sense any longer. Psychotherapy had helped me to see that I was more than what had happened to me. And with a great husband who supported my goals, when I was in my thirties, I decided to go back to college to complete the degree I’d begun so many years earlier.
Antioch University changed everything. I loved the stimulation of studying so many new concepts and engaging in discussions with professors and other students. I was passionate and determined to succeed, and I was taken seriously for my ideas. The support and stimulation encouraged me to reach higher.
During my undergraduate studies, I’d interned in inner city schools and other adolescent programs. I related so strongly to those students, and I wanted to help them find their strength to go beyond the limitations of their circumstances. What I’d loved so much about performing was connecting profoundly with others. Now I was starting to imagine myself connecting on a whole other level, as a therapist.
I continued at Antioch University for a Master’s Degree in clinical psychology. As I was finishing my degree, I happened to read an article about “The Clemente Course,” the brainchild of the great educator-humanitarian Earl Shorris. The Clemente Course helped people move out of poverty by learning analytical and conceptual skills, by improving their oral and written expression, and by embracing new forms of cultural and social capital. I was so moved by what I read that I took the lead in trying to bring such a program to Antioch University. It took several years, and the vision of David Tripp and others, to establish Community Humanities Education (CHE), which eventually became The Bridge Program.
In the fifteen years since then, hundreds of people have attended and graduated from the Bridge Program. It has changed their lives and the lives of their families and communities. They have been able to help their children with their schoolwork. They landed jobs for the first time. They returned to their communities with faith in themselves and the determination to become active citizens. And they have taken the college credits they earned and gone on to complete their own college degrees.
I’m gratified and proud that the Bridge Program has given opportunities to so many students to learn and to heal. Being part of the program has healed me too. I’m grateful to so many folks at Antioch University, especially David Tripp and Kathryn Pope, without whom it would not have been born and would not continue to thrive. I hope everyone will take the inspiration I found in the words of Horace Mann, Antioch University’s first president, who said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for (hu)mankind.”
Founding Director’s Statement – David Tripp, PhD
I knew as an undergraduate that I wanted to someday teach at the university level. My own education was broadening my limited horizons in ways that challenged me, excited me, and caused me enormous growing pains. Coming from a background of mill workers and copper miners, I was ill-prepared for university life and bungled my way through several years of college, not really understanding what a college education was or how it might change my life. Late in my junior year I realized that the only reason I was still in school was that I loved my philosophy and religion courses (though at one time or another I had majored in just about everything else), and more than that, that I loved the men (and they were all men at that time) who taught them. I loved that they thought about life and lived in ways that had never occurred to me, left me with questions that I had no real answers to, and that they genuinely cared about their students and worked to make a difference in the small community of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
While it is commonplace to think of learning, or the processes of education, as cold and dispassionate mental activities undertaken by an individual, I have come to understand learning as a relational activity embodied in real human beings and rooted in eros, or the desire for love and life. This understanding has motivated me for many years now – got me respectably through my final year of college and through two graduate programs. All along the way I did my work in relationship with fellow students, with professors, with texts, words, ideas, and they all challenged me to grow, pried open my world, provoked a greater sense of agency in myself, and contributed to my commitment to link education with social justice.
Upon graduating with my doctorate, I was fortunate to be offered a faculty position at a small private school in Los Angeles – Antioch University. Antioch University Los Angeles began as a satellite campus of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a school with a history of more than 150 years of progressive education and commitment to social justice. There are advantages and disadvantages to being at such a small place, but one of the great advantages is that if you’re willing to put enough energy, time, and sweat into something that you believe in, you’ve got the freedom to make it happen. And that’s how the Bridge Program came about.
The program (formerly CHE) was always a work in progress, and now has the shape and new name of the Bridge Program. Under the leadership of a new director, Kathryn Pope, the program is stronger than it has ever been. We are currently in our eighth year. Each year all of us who work to create the clearing that will serve as the initial space for our constantly evolving learning community eagerly anticipate the students who will join with us in the work of education, inspiration, enfranchisement, and yes, I believe, love. Reflecting on the upcoming year, I’m reminded that talents and gifts come in myriad forms and so I invite you to consider how you might contribute to this innovative project and become a friend of Bridge.