Bennington is Big (Winter 2015)
We are intimate, our classes are small, our houses are homes. But we take up space in the world—in the cultural landscape, in the landscape of higher education, and in the global landscape of ideas and makers. And that’s because we think big.
Thinking big is what led Sandy Curth ’16 to combine courses in physics, anthropology, and architecture to devise a Plan focused on humanity’s future in outer space. It’s what inspired Asad J. Malik ’19 to launch an app that is a first step in a process he hopes will change the way we communicate our most transformative ideas. It’s what motivates students from the course “Art in the Public Realm” to continue their project of creating a public artwork for the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Molly Kirschner ’16 to publish her debut poetry collection, students to launch the online journal Literary Bennington, Ben Simpson ’16 and Roi Ankori-Karlinsky ’17 to testify at the Vermont State Legislature about the school-to-prison pipeline, and on and on.
Creating a place where such big thinking can happen and be pursued with rigor and purpose: this is what our work at and for Bennington is all about.
More Voices, More Experiences, More Points of View
Bennington continues to inspire more voices, more experiences, and more points of view.
In September, we welcomed the class of 2019 to campus. Like their predecessors, these students bring an extraordinary range of interests and curiosities into our midst. The class of 2019 is one of the most diverse in our history, with students hailing from 31 states and 27 foreign countries, and a greater proportion than ever coming from underrepresented backgrounds and economically diverse households.
At the same time, we are investing in diversifying the faculty and staff to include the fullest possible range of experiences to this community.
Our community has come together in recent months to begin the work of creating forms of teaching and learning that model what a truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive institution of higher education can be. This term we welcomed Bennington’s newly appointed coordinator for institutional diversity and inclusion, Lydia Brassard ’08, we engaged a range of experts to ensure that our approaches to hiring are inclusive, and on November 18 we held the first campus-wide conversation on “Anti-racism, Inclusivity, and a Bennington Education.”
Based on that conversation and many before and since, I have every confidence that the solutions and ideas we arrive at will be pursued with the same spirit of inquiry, the same determination to navigate the world as it is and to remake it as we wish it to be, and the same practice of learning by doing that defines everything we do at Bennington.
What Makes a Bennington Education?
Bennington has spent the past 80 years asking “what is the best possible education we can provide at this moment, right now?” and offering innovative and thoughtful answers.
Thanks to an $800,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, we will do so with renewed energy over the next three years.
Under the auspices of the grant, the College will develop ways to integrate all of the elements of a Bennington education more closely: our innovative curriculum, an intensely engaged model for faculty advising, the Field Work Term, the endless opportunities for co-curricular engagement, and the process that ties all of these elements together, the Plan. We will also work to further diversify perspectives in our curriculum, in our community, and in our faculty.
How do we ensure that we are serving the whole student by recognizing all the work students do and all the ways they learn? How do we use new tools and approaches, together with the tried and tested, to enrich students’ experiences? These are the questions that will ensure the ongoing dynamism and relevance of a Bennington education, and I look forward to seeing what answers the faculty, students, and administration propose.
Making Bennington Possible
Our alumni, parents, friends, and supporters invest in Bennington in countless ways: by joining the Alumni Cooperative, by opening their homes and their businesses to current students for Field Work Term and summer internships, and even by lending their expertise to students working on innovative projects.
You also give generously. You have invested in Bennington because you believe in Bennington. And with those resources, you have helped make possible the meaningful work that goes on at the College: lectures, performances, and readings that happen almost every day and enrich our curricular offerings; collaborations between artists and thinkers that model different ways of working, such as this term’s China Dialogues; and initiatives that enrich a Bennington education by taking students and faculty out into the world, including the Center for the Advancement of Public Action’s Prison Education Initiative.
Your support also means that the College will be able to hire seven new faculty members this year, both to replace those who have retired and to expand the curriculum. These new members of our community will work in the areas of drama, economics, painting, environmental policy, social psychology, art history, and literature, opening the space for new lines of inquiry and new ways of imagining what is possible.
Our generous community is also catalyzing a long overdue renovation of Commons. We are launching a campaign to completely restore all three floors of the beloved building, with a lead challenge gift of $5 million from an anonymous alumna who has pledged to match, dollar-for-dollar, all gifts given for Commons in 2016. With your generosity, we have the opportunity to ensure that this hub of student life on campus for three-quarters of a century continues to be an incubator of ideas, collaborations, and social connections for new generations.
We Work Here
For many schools January is a time of hibernation. For Bennington it is a time of real work. Once again, as they have for more than 80 years, our students will embark on their term in the field, fanning out to almost 40 U.S. states and more than 30 countries around the world. The work that they will do in all of these places will benefit each of them—and the hundreds of organizations they will work for—as they further develop their Plans. It will enrich our community as well, as they bring all those ideas about how to think, make, and do back into the classroom in the spring.
Look for the winter issue of Bennington to arrive in your mailboxes soon—it is filled with stories about the curricular innovations and extraordinary work that our faculty and students are engaged in, weaving together thinking and doing, classroom and world, self-direction and collaboration.
This is our work. Thank you for doing your part in making it happen.
Warmest wishes for a happy holiday season.