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Shadia Alvarez ’96

Interviewed By: 
Christian Feuerstein '94

Shadia AlvarezShadia Alvarez ’96, a one-time community manager and former assistant to the president for multicultural affairs at the College, is currently the assistant principal at the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science (cimshs.org) in the Bronx, New York. She has been invited to participate in the New York City Leadership Academy, which prepares future principals for the city. She is currently developing a proposal to launch a small NYC high school in 2013 that will feature such Antiochian concepts as community meetings, student involvement, experiential learning and the Horace Mann motto: “Be ashamed to die until you’ve won some victory for humanity.” Alvarez is also on the Antioch College Community Governance Task Force and the Presidential Search Committee. She took time out of her jam-packed schedule to talk to the Independent about culture shock and moving forward.

What brought you to Antioch College? I have a funny story: My principal in high school, Deborah Meier, introduced me to Antioch. She believed it would be a great school for me, [and] my mother thought... anything to get her away from New York City.  When I got here, I was in culture-shock; cornfields, no plantains, no Spanish-speaking folks, and no noise at night.  I was scared to walk from the science building to the Caf, because it was so dark and quiet.  I remember moving into Dodds [in Presidents], and watching as people changed their hair color by the second and third week, started experimenting, and in some cases, coming out. 

It was an intense experience. At times I felt invisible because no one looked like me; I reacted by exaggerating my visibility. I wore cut-off shorts, big doorknocker earrings and blasted hip-hop music as loud as I could from my room.  Those were some funny days.  As I reflect, I believe I was so scared of losing my identity in the face of all these new identities; I wanted to hold on to what I knew.

My first year was the hardest. I cried and tried to go back to New York City as much as I could. My mother held steady. “You are graduating from Antioch, no matter what!” she would say. I did. I graduated in three years with a degree in educational studies, became community manager—the best job ever—and then stayed on an extra year and founded the Office of Multicultural Affairs. I think [my] title was something like assistant to the president for multicultural affairs ... It was a long title, and a great job. Evidence that life is what you make of it.

What’s your favorite memory of being at Antioch College? I have so many great memories: walking in the Glen and getting over my fear of trees and nature; debating [words] with students from the LGBT Center; Community Meetings which were so diverse you really had to learn to read the room to see if something was brewing in the air; debating with Bob Devine, Scott Warren and Jimmy Williams about how a particular problem should be resolved; becoming community manager and feeling like everything was possible; learning to listen, not with your ears but with your heart. Antioch became the center of the world for me, and I truly believe that we could make anything happen.  I believe everyone should feel this way in their lives. 

I am appreciative of those men and women in the LGBT Center that taught me the importance of respecting peoples’ differences, Joseph Jordan for allowing me to go to Africa in my first year, Bob Devine believing in my leadership and appointing me after graduation to work for the school.  It was the Gerry Bellos, the Phil Brighams, the Dave Raynors that challenged me. It was the magic of the students of color who nurtured me and always helped me find a way to make things work despite the obstacles. I would not have had the rich experience that today makes me who I am or that made Antioch what it was. No matter what positions we took—some more painful than others—Antioch stood as a place where you could challenge, be challenged and grow, in ways you could not imagine or envision.

Was there a professor that made a huge impact on your life? Professors like Hazel Latson, Joseph Jordan, Patt Linn, Oliver Laud, Steve Schwerner, Jim Dunn (in spirit) and the Chappelle family (Bill & Joan) made a huge impact on my choice to go into education and community organizing as a life work and ultimately career. But I also believe that it was what I learned outside of the classroom, on co-op, in the town of Yellow Springs, in my anti-racist community organizing with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, that grounded my learning and helped me bridge the academic with the experiential. Antiochians strive in the world because we are able to see farther; we are able to take risks and create points of entry in whatever field we find ourselves.  Rules and boundaries apply, but our experience level gives us the added benefit of being able to see through and choose based on that.

You were at the most recent Reunion. Your thoughts?  It was a great Reunion. I really felt a sense of energy and spirit. It was like a welcome back, and it was rejuvenating.  A lot of issues remain on the table—some will be resolved quickly, some will take some time; but there is power in seeing folks stick around, work in the midst of crisis, and continue to teach despite the lack of facilities. That speaks for the power of this community and of the possibilities that come forward when people work together.  I hold the highest respect for the students, staff and faculty who stayed at Antioch College and – even if they are in other schools and other places – continue to carry Antioch College in their hearts. That is no small measure and I know it is appreciated by all of those that are not there physically.  

Words of wisdom on the independence of Antioch College: We as a College could not continue to exist unless this independence was made. We had grown too much, we knew too much, the destiny we are moving into could only come from going though this journey towards independence, and I caution us that the hardest part is yet to come. The next five years will be decisive in the life of our College. We must protect it, support it, and lift it up every chance we get, for it not only needs our love and devotion, it needs unwavering support from all of us, bar none!

This does not mean do not be critical, but as a good friend of mine always says, we must be critical lovers, and understand that we must place our critique within a context. All will not be done overnight, re-building is a process. But we must commit to stay together and struggle together so that what we build has a strong foundation and can continue to be successful centuries after we are gone.  

Why do you donate to Antioch College? You know what is funny.... I am here giving all this advice, and I don’t think I have ever really donated. I might have given a few bucks here and there for events, activities and/or scholarships, but never consistently.  I have given my time, and of course my ideas, and I am sure that is appreciated, but let’s be real—the new Antioch College needs money, lots of money.  So I thought long and hard after this Reunion: How can I expect people to believe my words and help me breathe life into these great ideas if I am not matching my beliefs with my actions?  If Antioch College is going to become the school it has always been meant to be then I have to make a commitment and a declaration.  So here it is: I commit to using the resources at my disposal to keep the Antioch College mission and vision alive in everything that I do; to ensure that my work mirrors the Antioch College principle of “Be afraid to die until you have won some victory for humanity”; and I declare that from now on, I will be consistent in my giving.  I wish I had $100 million to give to Antioch College. I don’t have an Oprah type job—not yet. Until then I will contribute monthly, for I truly believe the world will not be around as long if we don’t have some bright Antiochians making it better.

So, folks, let’s not take this great place for granted....donate...Antioch needs you, as much as the world needs it!

See Shadia’s speech at the Walter Anderson Award ceremony at Reunion 2010.