Founder’s Statement – Shari Foos
When I left college to come to Los Angeles thirty years ago, I had intended to work in television and eventually complete the bachelor’s degree I’d left unfinished. Within two weeks I had an apartment and a job. I worked in offices during the day and spent nights and weekends rehearsing and performing. It was slow and frustrating. I felt that my most cherished goals were always slightly out of reach.
My formative years had reinforced the idea that I was, as I’d been told by my father, “bad, lazy, no good.” We lived in a wealthy community but for us money was scarce, and my difference was apparent to me and to my peers, who were sometimes cruel and seemed to take their blessings for granted. I reacted by becoming a “bad girl,” yet beneath my rebellious risk-taking were tremendous feelings of jealousy and inadequacy. I used my sense of humor and my willingness to be outrageous (often at my own expense) to gain attention. My strategy worked – I was noticed. But I also paid a price: I barely graduated from high school. Later, no amount of professional or personal success could affect the ideas I had developed about myself and my abilities, society, and my place in it, until I addressed them directly, as a learner and a developing intellectual. It was only by turning toward the root of one of my greatest fears – my shameful image of myself as a bad student and a “dummy who’d never amount to anything” – that I could tackle this problem with the only possible cure: a positive educational experience.
I entered Antioch University Los Angeles as a bachelor’s student in my thirties with resolve and trepidation. Could I read dense material? Could I write papers and hand them in on time? After many years of working to survive, writing songs and performing, would I be able to fit in with such an “inartistic” community? Could I keep up with my fellow students? And could they – and the texts we’d read – hold my interest? I discovered the creativity inherent in the subjects I studied, and, through reading inspiring books, participating in stimulating arguments with classmates and professors, and expressing my passionate opinions in writing, I reconnected to my own intellect. I began to reconfigure those old ideas about my incompetence. The way in which I was regarded began to shift, positively, and with it, my view of myself. I was being appreciated for my ideas, my very core, not just for being outrageous or absurd. It also became evident that this struggle for intellectual self-realization was not my struggle alone, but had a much wider social significance: indeed, it was – and is – the struggle of many women as well as other culturally marginalized individuals for whom families and society often hold low expectations. Realizing this, I realized, too, that I had something to offer others in their own struggles to find personal liberation.
As I moved forward with my studies, eventually entering Antioch University’s Master’s in Clinical Psychology program, I was haunted by the words of Horace Mann, Antioch’s first president. Two weeks before he died in 1859, Mann said: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” The personal satisfaction that came with my own successes wasn’t enough; I felt it was imperative to do what I could to contribute to a society that in my eyes suffers grave imbalances. I could imagine a Los Angeles where the very people who were thought to be “incapable of learning” could learn to change their communities, their city and perhaps the world. Reading Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed excited me more than anything else I’d studied. In bringing the tools of education to illiterate South American peasants, Freire watched them liberate themselves from generations of suffering, and began to theorize a radical new pedagogical vision.
As I was completing my clinical training to become a Marriage and Family Therapist, I read an article about the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a free humanities course launched by writer Earl Shorris through Bard College in New York. I proposed to AULA that we start our own course, and after two years of negotiations, the CHE (Community Humanities Education) Program finally opened its doors in 1999 at Venice Family Clinic, thanks to my former supervisor, Gloria Mucino, who introduced the idea to Liz Forer, CEO of the Clinic.
The students in the very first CHE graduating class received their certificates alongside the graduates of the AULA bachelor’s and master’s programs. Since that time, we have changed our name to the Bridge Program: Community Humanities Education,(I’ve never heard the Community Humanities Education part – SR) and we have continued to build associations with other community organizations, including New Visions Foundation, New Roads School, Chrysalis, CARECEN, Step Up on Second, Sojourn, and Turning Point, in addition to maintaining our ongoing relationship with Venice Family Clinic. Last year we were awarded our 501C3 status, enabling us to receive direct donations and grants and function as an independent nonprofit organization.
Many of our students have gone on to further their educations, in both traditional and non-traditional settings. In every case, they have expanded their sense of personal value, returning to their homes, their jobs and their communities with increased confidence and depth of understanding, enabling them to have a more positive impact on their families, their neighborhoods, and their workplaces, and most importantly, to become more aware of the actions they can take as citizens in a world that desperately needs them.
The Bridge Program reminds me in a myriad of ways to maintain my faith that even in dire times individuals can come together to heal the world. The fact that this program creates the possibility for so many dreams to be realized enriches the fabric of my own life. When I witness our students’ successes I am profoundly moved. Perhaps that is because, as a fellow traveler seeking to expand my own horizons through community-based education, I am, at heart, one of them. I invite you to become one of us, to join our learning community as a student, a volunteer or a donor. As we learn together, from one another, our learning reverberates through all those we touch, and in this way reverberates throughout our society.
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.