Antioch College Summer Institute — Exploring ways of knowing
- Published: August 1, 2019
As a therapist in an academic setting, Nzingha Dalila sees learning and knowledge through the eyes of a wellness practitioner.
The primary mental health counselor at Antioch College, Dalila believes that self-knowledge can come from many sources, and that indigenous cultures have a lot to teach us about healthy living.
“People don’t have to have letters behind their names to be very wise and gifted and valued,” Dalila said earlier this month from her second-floor office at Pennell House, Antioch’s health center.
With that thought in mind, Dalila, who has 30 years experience in mental health, has organized a day-long symposium Saturday, July 27, as part of the college’s inaugural Summer Institute, a four-week series of programming open to students and community members.
Antioch’s new calendar, which reduces the number of students on campus in mid-summer and late fall, provided the opportunity to expand programming that welcomes the larger community, according to Don Hollister, Antioch’s institute coordinator, in an interview last month. A similarly organized Winter Institute will be introduced after the conclusion of the fall term.
The Institute concept, which debuted earlier in July, is meant to tie into each of the college’s five areas of practice: environmental sustainability; deliberative democracy; diversity and social justice; creativity and story; work, world, and resilient community; and well-being.
Topics of inquiry this summer have ranged from bird language to artificial intelligence to community renewal.
The July 27 offering, titled “Flow 2019: Ways of Knowing,” is meant to explore the intersections of Western academic knowledge with the knowledge of indigenous people from around the world, with particular focus on how music, dance, story-telling and ritual can inform contemporary wellness practices.
Dalila said that as Antioch pursues a mission of fostering “new kinds of leadership,” the college “needs to look at different ways of acquiring new information.”
The goal of the symposium is not only to explore other ways of knowing, but also to bring the Yellow Springs community into the conversation.
“We will have more just leaders and advocates for diversity when we can recognize and appreciate other cultures,” Dalila said.
The day will be divided into four workshop-style experiences, each exploring a different cultural tradition. The first is Bomba music and dance as therapy in the Caribbean/South Americas. The second is ancestral veneration and oral traditions in Africa. Third is Native American healing from trauma; and fourth is de-stressing and reflection on daily life through the Japanese tea ceremony. A time for individual and group reflection will conclude the day’s activities.
The workshops will feature both local and guest scholars and practitioners, Dalila said.
“We have wonderful professors here who will be facilitators,” she added.
‘Being in the flow’
The inclusion of “Flow 2019” in the symposium title refers to an over-arching theme of well-being that will be carried into future years of Summer Institute programming, Dalila said.
According to written material Dalila prepared to support the Summer Institute’s wellness piece, “Flow refers to experiencing the connections between our physical world and metaphysical phenomena.”
She noted earlier this month that people may have heard athletes or musicians talk about “being in the flow.”
“But we can all be in the flow,” she said. “It comes from an energy we all have.”
Flow results when we feel a connection of our physical, mental and spiritual experiences and we realize our full potential, she continued.
“Each year, it’s going to grow, but fundamentally it’s going to be about these ideas — how we as human beings are connected” within ourselves and to each other, Dalila said.
Ancient cultures have “through history expressed flow,” she said, thus the focus this first year on indigenous practices.
“Each workshop will be a conversation,” with opportunities for hands-on engagement, Dalila said.
“For a lot of indigenous people, there is no difference between healing and art,” she noted. “Serving tea is an art. Playing a drum is healing.”
Four cultural traditions
The Bamba music tradition is unique in that the drummers take their lead from following dancers, who are expressing their experiences through movement, with therapeutic results, Dalila said.
Tiofilo Espada-Brignoni, Antioch visiting assistant professor of psychology, will facilitate the morning Bamba workshop, which will feature, via Skype, Frances Ruiz Alfaro, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Puerto Rico and Maria Teresa Ramos Gonzalez, a clinical psychologist and trained dancer.
African ancestral veneration and oral traditions, the topic of the second workshop, “speak to information that transcends time and space,” Dalila said.
“African culture has a lot of connection to ancestors,” Dalila noted. “A child is seen as coming from an ancestral realm into the physical dimension.”
The result is a belief that “a lot of information we already have, because we’ve always had it … which is really different from [Western] thinking.”
Learning to access that inner knowledge becomes the focus.
Antioch Associate Professor of history Kevin McGruder will facilitate the session, which will feature Ken Obasi Leslie, who calls himself a “neoancestralist artist.”
Their workshop will focus on the connection between contemporary language, ancestral linguistics and the role mythology plays in defining a people and making sense of the world.
The third workshop, which follows lunch, focuses on Native American wellness.
“With Native American healing, there is a lot of connection with nature — and using nature to better understand yourself,” Dalila said.
Antioch’s Richard Kraince, dean of cooperative, experiential, and international education and associate professor of cooperative education, will facilitate. He will be joined by Jheri Neri, project director of the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition.
The tea ceremony, which concludes the day’s workshops, represents a tradition that has been passed down through generations and employs “extreme mindfulness,” Dalila said.
Lara Mitias, associate professor of philosophy, will facilitate. Souchi Ishiu and Tetsuay “Ted” Ishiu will present.
Dalila said that each tradition offers valuable insights into health and well-being.
“How can we learn from these ways?” she said.
Different ways of knowing
Her experience as a mental health counselor has shown her that “some people want talk therapy, and some people need to get out of their heads. Some people need to dance, some people need to scream, some people need to hit a drum.”
“There are different ways to look at what you’re experiencing and how to resolve it,” she continued. “It’s not just cognitive. It’s artistic, it’s musical, it’s connecting in your body.”
The approach recognizes that “we’re not just one thing,” Dalila said. “We’re mind and body and spirit and energy.”
In looking to indigenous cultures for insight, Dalila said she also wants to be careful to avoid cultural appropriation.
The purpose of learning about traditional practices, she said, is “to really appreciate what we offer each other. Otherwise, how can we engage with each other in a respectful way that helps to heal all of us?”
“Having these connections and allowing people to engage and observe these conversations and recognize the values of these cultures, we all learn, we all become better versions of ourselves,” she said.
Summer, Winter Institute offerings
• The last event this summer is “Flow 2019: Ways of Knowing,” 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, July 20, in the Science and Arts Building. A $40 enrollment fee includes lunch.
• Rescheduled from this summer to the winter session is ”Bootcamp for Activism,” hosted by the Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom, now set for Nov. 14–16. Cost is $300.
For more information about the bootcamp, contact CSKC Director Mila Cooper by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 937-319-0123.
For more information about Antioch’s Institutes, contact Don Hollister at email@example.com or 937-830-6151.
Program and registration information is also available online at antiochcollege.edu/alumni-friends/public-programs/institutes.