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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

My first experience face to face with Prescott College was meeting the incoming student who graciously stopped on his way from New Mexico to Prescott to pick me up. He waited in the Flagstaff Amtrak station parking lot for six hours before I arrived. The next morning, the very student who first called me during her admissions work-study came to my apartment and brought me to the grocery store, gave me a quick tour of campus, and generally helped me feel welcome. I really needed it; it’s really no easy task to move thousands of miles from home.
It’s effortless to make friends at Prescott. I arrived Saturday night, and even before arriving home I had a new friend. The next morning, another friend. The Monday after, two more friends, and so on and on. People here are from each corner of North America, and the college is so small and so specifically focused that everyone has two things in common, guaranteed: We’re all from out of town, and we all have been thinking about the deep, important problems facing our planet and society for years before we found our niche at Prescott. It’s not difficult to start a conversation here.

As academic and wilderness orientations coursed on, and as the semester began to accelerate, I was immersed in a coherent community. The administration has been consistently responsive and helpful, and the faculty and instructors I’ve studied with have been available, knowledgeable, passionate, and flexible. The relevance and currency of my History of Gender and Sexuality course with Kaitlin Noss was stunning. My perspectives have changed, and I feel a depth of understanding that I was unable even to imagine before.

Now, as I prepare to fly home between semesters, I know with a moral certainty that I have made the best educational decision I could have. The geographic diversity of my new friendships have given me a sense of belonging even in parts of the United States I’ve never been; I feel more connected to the vastness of America than ever before. I’ll be going home to my family and old friends with a stronger identity, and lots of exciting new things to discuss.

The end of the semester is bittersweet for me, as I imagine it is for many of us students. Over the last couple of months, Prescott has become my home, and I’m comfortable here now. But, it will be truly excellent to have a break and to see my family again. Three friends and I will be taking a 2700-mile road trip back to Prescott in January, and this has to be the raspberry garnish on my Bûche de Noël.

-Estin Vogel, 12.15.11

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Climb like a Girl

Yes, it is true... I climb like a girl, and I am proud of it. However, this has not always been the case. I grew up bouldering - participating in competitions, traveling around the states with my family... my mom, her boyfriend and my little brother. My mom still talks about how she would love to watch the different ways my brother and I would approach the same problem - stating that we embodied the masculine and feminine style and flow. For reasons that I will not go into, I stopped climbing at around the age of 11. I dabbled in it during high school, but my ego was bruised by my lack of strength, and I decided not to throw myself back into it.

Climbing in Joshua Tree
Now here I am at Prescott College. Home to arguably the best Adventure Education (AE) program in the country. Also, surrounded by a multitude of beautiful climbing areas... Anyone with a rational climbing head on their shoulders have been crazy not to get back into it. 

I did not think I would take a rock climbing class at Prescott College - I felt like the skills should have been gained in ones free time, not ones educational time. But my perspectives are constantly changing and transforming, and when it came time to register for classes at the end of last year, I found myself signing up for “Women’s Topics in Wilderness Leadership and Rock Climbing”. 
Sand Rock Canyon - Canyoneering Weekend 
In all honesty, I was not really sure what I was getting myself into. The AE program is stereotypically male dominated. All women learning and playing in the woods would undoubtedly be a different dynamic. When I first came to Prescott College, I was very passionate about different social justice issues and systems in place that marginalized various communities. I knew women have been oppressed historically, but I thought that in this current day and age, women's issues in the U.S. should be the least of my worries. That perspective took a major turn when I took my first semester class at Prescott College  The F-Word: Feminism, Women & Social Change. I learned so much about myself and the internalized oppression I have developed growing up in this society. I consistently found myself relating more to the boys, and holding a higher level of respect for the ways in which they moved though the world. My goal had been to be “as good as the boys”, rather than pushing myself to be as good as I could be, as a strong individual and woman. In the process of separating myself from other women, I was unable to open my eyes to the ways my actions were perpetuating the split between men and women (and women and women) while reinforcing the thought that “male is better”. 

I finished the semester and felt “transformed” and with more understanding and respect for women as a population than I had before. But I have realized time after time - years and years of social conditioning is harder to “shake off” than one would hope. So I signed up for the class with some hesitations and preconceived notions about what a women’s class would be like, but knew that it would be a wonderful next step on my journey towards further awareness surrounding what it means to be a strong, empowered woman in our society (and a wonderfully opportunity to grow in the field of adventure ed).
Getting Ready to Swim through the Cold pools

The semester is coming to a close, and I undoubtedly got that transformation I was looking for. It did not come in the way that I expected, and what I have learned goes way past the technical skills of building anchors and placing gear, or food planning for a river trip, or gaining more confidence in reading maps and navigating. We read pieces on women’s psychology at different phases in our life cycles, and presentations on how you would set up an outdoor program for special populations of women. We looked at the outdoors as a place of reflection, and women's way of forming relationships with the self, others and mama nature. 
Right now our class is putting together a few “action-like” projects. We are doing a women’s climbing rendezvous this weekend to allow other women to explore themselves in relation to the natural environment without stress/pressure to preform that can arise for some around men. We are also putting together a presentation on the class, with slide shows and excellent conversation. Folks around Prescott College are always especially interested in what the women’s class is up to.
After announcing our women’s climbing rendezvous, I had a couple of different men from the community come up and say, “Just women? Well isn’t that sexist?” smirking proudly, as if they found a loophole in some sly plan we had to secretly oppress men. I found myself grateful to have the opportunity to communicate with different people in the community about some of the issues we have been working with, and explaining the day adventures intention. I have been pleasantly surprised, however, by the openness and receptiveness to a new perspective, once the explanation of societal and psychological factors have been addressed in a way that is non accusatory.

Oh the Joy on the San Juan
           This experience, along with many others, serves as prime examples for the extra amount of awareness women in the field of Adventure Education (as well as society, as a whole) have to maintain.

“So why would you invite only women on a trip?” one young man asked me.
“So women have the opportunity to get out and experience the outdoors in a safe space, with out feeling the need to perform for a man, even if it is subconscious.” (Not that that is the only reason, but when communicating with people, the intention is not to monologue about different societal and psychological theories).

The individual we were speaking with continued to probe. “Well aren’t those issues with the individual? I see that that can be a problem, isn’t that something that each person just should overcome? I mean, I totally know a lot of girls that shred.”

My friend then inserted, “Well, maybe. But when you see such a large population of women not feeling that sense of confidence, do you think it is still an individual problem? Or can it be addressed as a societal one.”

Our Wild Women Day on the San Juan
           Suddenly, the guy nodded with a glimmer of understanding in his eye. Women’s Topics in Wilderness Leadership have helped me further develop the tools to understand myself, and myself in relation to great outdoors, and society as a whole. I have gained a further understanding and appreciation for women’s psychology and relationship to society. Not only have we read a multitude of eye opening pieces, multiple times a week, I got to be in the presence of a group of strong, beautiful women – experiencing and discussing the power and strength that lies within each of us.

Erin Lotz, one of our lovely instructors discussed her time as a professional in the field, and has great things to say about working with a group of all men. She also said that when she does this “Women’s Topics” class, she feels more in her flow - that working with all women allows ones “authentic self” to come out. This really got under my skin in the beginning, because I did not love the side of myself that seemed to come in the group. I felt a little bit more snarky than I wanted to be, and I did not feel like I performed to the standard I usually held for myself. 

Having the beautiful outdoor areas we have experienced as a space to continue to explore the ways in which I relate to myself, has helped me have more respect for my level of competence than I never have before. The Adventure Education program is unbelievable - the assortment of classes that can be tailored to your passions and growth as a student and individual is out of this world. This is yet another example of the ways in which Prescott College and the instructors will support each individual student thought this educational journey towards growth. 

Some of the beautiful girls who I so dearly love up on Granite Mountain
Next semester I will be taking the semester long Wilderness Leadership course, which is almost entirely field based. I don’t know if I would have had the self confidence to throw myself into that experience had I not had this experience with this wonderful group of women. Stay posted to hear how this goes for me! 
-Hannah Marshall, 12.2011

Also, here is a link to a video two gals in the class made about climbing... It is a Miley Cyrus parody, and it is a laugh! Check it out!!

Prima Spira

There is no denying it, at times we must face our shadow...and the shadows of the world. Viewing this darkness does not always have to be deigned evil, it can help us grow and learn so that we may become that much brighter and whole within ourselves. Acknowledging the range of different aspects of light and dark within our beings allows for an integration that breathes harmony and truth. This is Prima Spira, the first breath of this understanding. Prima Spira is a play that has been written and directed by my roommate, Rebecca Antsis, as an Independent Study.  The study is named Women's Nature, Ritual and Experimental Theater, and this production is an apt reflection of its title. I have always thought a lot of Rebecca, but through this play I have seen how Prescott College has supported her freedom to express what can only be described as pure genius. Sometimes dark, often achingly beautiful, Prima Spira is an exploration in theater courting mythical ritual. There is no dialogue, though there is impassioned use of the human voice in non-lingual patterns. Using powerful music to echo the energy of lore, the play sets a stage for a culmination of different dance styles interlacing to create an incredible tale. The dancing incorporates aspects of butoh, bellydance, classical, and flamenco as well as touch-flow improvisation. Having such a spectrum of styles allows for a space to really root in with rituals of ancient and modern flow, creating a transformation in all who are involved.

I have never taken a dance or theater class at Prescott College, but it has been an amazing experience getting to be involved with an artistic production of this caliber. It just goes to show you don't have to be majoring in the Arts to be involved artistically here. Through this play I have connected to a way of expression and a community that has inspired me to the core.

This brings me to my favorite part of the whole production: the coming together of strong women in the community in order to explore ritual and dance together. The play involves thirteen women (a sacred number in ancient ritual) who span from childhood to silver hair, reflecting the many archetypes of female beings. It has been inspiring seeing the growth of the actresses and director through the exploration of these archetypes. These archetypes include the Dark Mother, the shadow of life, Kali, who dances creation and destruction, Salome, the femme fatale, La Llorona, the woman driven to insanity, as well as archetypes that reflect the innocent child, the primordial female being and many many more. Through acknowledging these different archetypes that are in all of us, the women in the production have been able to share wisdom, experience and vibes to grow and create something that is intrinsically powerful.

As Rebecca has often said, you must sweat your prayers. Prescott College has given life and support to a work of art that does just that.

Dance, when you're broken open. 
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you're perfectly free.

-Brittany "Davi" Davis, 12.15.2011

Here is a pic of the flyer. Cheers!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It'll Change Your Life. I Promise.

This being my last year at Prescott College, it is time for my Senior Project. Every student at this school designs and implements a culmination of learning for their undergraduate degree. In terms of process, this is different for everyone. For students gaining a teacher’s certification, this project would be student teaching at a school somewhere in the country. Other student projects have been everything from studying large cats in the Ecuadorian Rainforest to doing a critical analysis of gender studies in Adventure Education; writing and directing an entire theatrical performance to designing a manure catchment system for the stove of a person’s home. As for mine, I am writing a research paper, creating a documentary, and facilitating a community forum on the importance of integrative learning in relation to the personal, social, and environmental narrative.
To me, working on this project has truly shown me why I attended this school in the first place. It is about the people who truly care so much about my learning process. Being as authentic as possible, what intrigued me about this school in the beginning was the fact that there are more vans than classrooms, my fellow students are very passionate about learning and exploring, and I have taken courses here that are found nowhere else on earth. Essentially, though, these attributes did not just appear. They were constructed, celebrated, and supported by awesome people. And, when I say awesome I am using it as one describes shooting stars while standing in awe.
  Today, I met with my top two advisors who helped me unfold my experience here over the past four years. Much like my parents, they have watched me grow in ways that I never noticed, and because of this they can help me in ways that I can’t help myself. There are a few schools who claim the ability to become this close with teachers, but there isn’t one that could have given me the experiences I had here. An 800 horse packing expedition studying with 7 students and two nationally award winning educators, a 200 hour yoga teacher training, an entire month devoted to studying leadership through the lens of Bowen and Systems Theory, traveling all over the southwest and Colorado visiting and teaching in schools with six other students during a month long education intensive, and the list goes on. Like I said, these courses did not just appear; they were created through many hours and people who are in fact shooting stars.
When choosing a school, many prospective students have a whole list of where they might want to go. Let me say that the place we choose will unanimously change our life. The question is, though, how?
Enjoy the journey, and stay curious…