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
Those words haunted me as I interned at a high school where seniors who were reading at a 5th grade level were getting A’s! They were pushed through a corrupted system and sent out into the world without the education and tools they deserved—and were legally entitled to receive.
As I was completing my Masters in Clinical Psychology, I read about The Clemente Course, the brainchild of the late humanitarian and educator, Earl Shorris. The program, headquartered at Bard College in New York, offered a free college-level humanities education for folks from underserved communities who would not otherwise have had the resources to go to college. I knew we had to bring it to AULA. Promising Antioch’s administration I’d come up with the funding, I went to New York to meet with Earl and the Bard folks.
After extensive negotiations, they invited us to join Clemente—but they insisted we teach our courses from the traditional European perspective. By then Antioch’s beloved philosophy professor, David Tripp, had agreed to be the Founding Director of our new program. It was in his class that we studied the radical educator, Paolo Friere who said, “One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people…” David insisted that our courses must reflect the diverse backgrounds of all of our students. And so we parted ways with Clemente and in 1999 launched Community Humanities Education (CHE), which eventually became The BRIDGE Program.
In the years since then, there have been hundreds of graduates who have opened themselves up to this transformative program. As they became empowered and discovered their sense of agency, they used their voices to change their lives and the lives of their families. They felt they were better able to help their children with their schoolwork. They increased their earning potential, got new jobs, initiated entrepreneurial projects and became community activists. And many alumni have built upon the college credits they earned at BRIDGE to complete their college degrees.
I’m humbled and grateful to so many Antiochians, especially David Tripp, without whom BRIDGE would never have happened, and to Kathryn Pope who took the baton and together with dozens of gifted professors, TA’s and staff, grew the program into 4 sites around Los Angeles.
I am still haunted by the words of Horace Mann. They inspired me to turn my frustration into the determination to make the world a little bit better. But I’ve learned that achieving a dream can simply set the bar higher. And the success of BRIDGE showed me that achieving one dream makes it easier to imagine the next.
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. 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.