It’s a good time of year to re-read the Robert Frost poem Two Tramps In Mud Time. You know the one. The narrator splitting wood in his yard, the blocks of straight grained beech falling “spinterless as a cloven rock.” The tramps walk by, not too long from having spent time in a logger’s camp, having slept who knows where, and they squint and measure the man by the way he wields the axe. You know the poem.
Over the past couple of weeks several students received their second “major” violation, resulting in dismissal from school. It’s been disruptive. Disruptive for the students, their families, and the community. Students who have been dismissed find themselves on the outside of Proctor looking in, and for many it is a particularly clarifying moment: invulnerability dissipates, self reflection kicks in, relationships are reassessed. Students who are dismissed can access a process that allows them to “appeal” the decision, to request that the door to the community be reopened one last time. Not all request an appeal, but most do. Is it too lenient to let students request what is essentially a third chance?
We have carried a different community energy this year, an energy that is still positive, still Proctor, but different. We carry the loss of Dave Pilla from the summer. We miss his cheer, his laughter, his grace, and his generosity, his constant search for the perfect cup of coffee and his constant reminder of wilderness solace and solutions. Many of us think about the way he held his depression so close, hiding it from so many. The Woodlands Office has been quieter this year, the woodstove cold for much of the winter. Next door, the Wilson Building sits empty and unused; it carries a heavy energy.
It’s been quite a week. The grey, the rain, the pelting sleet, the icy walks, the sand tracking everywhere. The sand. That so, so trackable sand that finds its way through the Maxwell Savage doorway, up the stairs to World Languages, into the Faculty Lounge, down to the Bookstore. It winds its way like a thin, flat, gritty blade into every building, never content with just the walk-off mats or entry grates. It’s entitled sand, bold sand, and in a dreary week of February when the temperatures will range from 0 to near 60, that sands seems purposefully wrought by one of those quirky New England weather patterns. It’s been a week of trudging.
I’m not going to get this right. The stories of intolerance are plentiful. An incident occurring at the Lincoln Memorial a couple of weeks ago - a teenager wearing a MAGA hat appearing to confront or taunt a Native American elder - still reverberates. How can we not honor our Native American elders? It revealed insensitivities. (It also revealed the dangers of an oversimplified narrative begat by a single photograph.) And here at Proctor, Assistant Head of School Karin Clough spoke to the school community yesterday about a troubling incident that occurred on our campus recently: the tearing down of an all-gender bathroom sign in the newly renovated field house. We are saddened and angered by events like these. Confused. How can a community like Proctor, committed to the work of inclusion, be a place where such anger and ignorance takes place? But I don’t write about just that.
Scott Allenby wrote a terrific blog this week about the importance of listening, of widening perspective, of hearing the other, and the emotions that students who are the minority feel when they navigate a community like Proctor. I want to pick up that theme and share some thoughts on affinity spaces, those places where those who share a common cultural or ethnic background can gather, rejuvenate, and simply be without being the “other.” These are important spaces.
In Spain, France, Costa Rica, and on Mountain Classroom, the Winter Term rolls forward and those on campus all feel slightly left behind. What’s happening over there? Those lucky sophomores in the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, the artists who have landed in Aix, the Mountain Classroom students just coming off the river El Paso. They are out there, out doing. On campus the temperatures will drop to near zero this weekend. It is closing in on Jack London To Build A Fire cold. Those who feel the distant pulse of the off campus programs with the greatest poignancy are likely those who were off campus in the fall. They have left pitching decks and strolls across the plaza in Segovia for the icy, huddled, hunching runs across campus. That bond they felt, those adventures they were living, where did they go?