running patterns

by Denning, AP'18

One element of a participation in arête is the opportunity to re-pattern the ways in which we live and think during these two months. One of the forms this has taken for me is become fascinated with trail running. By using this new practice to explore, take time to myself and share time with others, I have grown a particular familiarity with place and people here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I’m thinking of specific interactions:

I’m remembering a quartz, river, stepping-stone that I’ve come to love. It’s milky orange coloured and I imagine it lighting a brighter orange as each person’s foot presses off of it onto the mossy bank. Or, lying in the river after a run, every cell breathing and blood beating all over and the cold mountain water rushing past hot cheeks and suddenly feeling able to play, to pretend to be a hippo or a croc or a frog. Or, noticing the lines behind knees, the gentle looking ‘H’ shaped creases. Shy and soft parts of the body that back its biggest muscles. And thinking these lines look slightly out of place on everyone and that, somehow, they elicit a more tender reconsideration of the whole person.

I’m thinking of these new ways of becoming familiar with place and people as striking off new neuron pathways through my mind. And as these moments pattern my experience, it occurs to me that it is meaningful that being here is actively building new sets of brain pathways. That the way we treat each other, and talk to one another and hold, see, and feel the fabric of the day will have a physical manifestation through the way our neural pathways will deepen, connect and reach into new configurations of brain space over this summer.

Denning is a member of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She studies at the University of St. Andrews, where she majors in English Literature.

play and adversity

by Jenny Zhang

The sounds of the Arete cohort rang through the unsuspecting calm of a Sunday night:

Three cohort members talked about getting a group tattoo in hushed daring whispers, perhaps poison ivy leaves?

One cohort member fanned her face and softly screamed, her heart beating faster.

A close group of cohort members pressed in a tight circle around one cohort member, is this what cult living feels like?

As the crescendo of Fur Elise began to pound from the piano, nervous giggles erupted the reading of Audre Lorde’s Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, culmination builds. A cohort member is getting her first stick and poke tattoo: the object of choice? A single black dot.

Today, Sunday July 15th, somehow felt like the perfect culmination, the carrot on top (if you please), to a week full of discussion examining the relationship between work and play.

This past Monday, we started off on a 3 mile hike up the Blue Ridge Mountains. On our way up, one group of hikers the discussed ways playfulness and silliness feel gendered in society. In response, many of us recognized the ways we’ve undertaken serious/stoic facades in various co-ed spaces as a way to garner respect. As we climbed the botanical terrain, we mulled over the ways we’ve been conditioned to think about play, and the spaces it’s been relegated to. Later in class, we talked about who gets to play, and how play [within the context of capitalism] has been resigned to certain settings: playgrounds, recess, sports, movie theaters etc.

So, as we start our fifth week, it only feels fitting: the sounds of the katydids are accompanied by giggles and outburst of laughter; some could say it was just about a single, permanent, black dot, others could say, in a way, this feels like resistance.


Jenny Zhang is a member of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She is a student at the Ohio State University where she majors in English and Political Science.

families belong together

by Hanne Williams-Baron

As the 2018 cohort arrived at Arete, coverage of the Trump administration’s migrant family separation practices and the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Travel Ban dominated national news. Though at first our tech policy dissuaded us from reading online media, we quickly recognized that “tuning out” was neither realistic nor acceptable. Some of us felt useless being far away, with an isolation standard distancing us from processing the news with our loved ones. Some of us were exhausted and estranged from the headlines, especially considering the larger historical patterns of white nationalism and xenophobia that have led to our current circumstances. We wondered about how best to orient ourselves toward action, while still upholding our commitments to seclusion.

A few days after we amended our tech policy to allow for communal reading of the news, Fiona, Arete’s kitchen coordinator, told us about an upcoming Asheville rally against family separation. We talked it over in a self-governance meeting, weighing the pros and cons of attending. We quickly decided that participating would be a critical first step in bringing our politics and goals to a wider context. We also thought it would help gain traction for a movement we all feel connected to, and would allow us to better understand some of the larger socio-political region of the mountains. For some in our group, this would be a first introduction to the world of political demonstration. We were excited to make the trip, and planned our Saturday around it.

When we arrived in Asheville, we were surprised by the layout and dynamics of the rally. We learned that the event had not been coordinated by Latinx organizers; instead, the hosts were from Indivisible, an organization mainly focused on electing Democratic candidates. The majority of the speeches focused on white allyship as a way to combat state violence against immigrants— a goal shared by many white residents of Asheville— and just two out of the eleven speakers explicitly focused on the lived experiences of migrants in detention. As I looked at the folks in my immediate vicinity, we shared similarly disoriented expressions.

While processing my mixed emotions after the rally, I was forced to reckon with how I had romanticized the event, and my part in it. There is no perfect protest, and there will always be room to grow. Asheville, like any other city, is struggling towards justice in the ways it can. We have so much to learn from the people who live here, like about integrating faith and organizing, and the history of protest in North Carolina. We were also lucky to connect to some organizers meeting direct needs of Latinx folks living in Burnsville, and we are excited to to do more work with them this summer (like volunteering at the community garden and food bank!). The rally helped to instigate and ground our political work here, and made the complexities of rural activism much more clear. All in all, we were glad to have gone to the rally, and got much more out of its complications that we initially expected.

Going to one rally does not constitute a radical politics of migrant justice. Making five posters against I.C.E. won’t stop them from harassing families for documentation. But I’m proud of our group for recognizing our responsibility to this area beyond food waste and water use. Before we left the rally that day, I looked out at my cohort, their faces glimmering with high noon sweat. I felt a deep, deep love, and more ready than ever to get back to work.

Hanne Williams-Baron is a member of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She attends Oberlin College, where she majors in Comparative American Studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies.

baby goats

by Jane Lu, AP'18

Being with baby goats strangely is not an easy task. We have to dodge their restless jumps all the time. Their rock-hard hooves carry their weight onto us when we sit down on the field: heavy and unstoppable. Yet, there is something simple in visiting and playing with the baby goats. These are the little moments: when they all dash out of the shed to welcome us in, when they give us a surprise by jumping onto our perfectly straightened backs, and most importantly, when we feel their tummy with short hair pulsing, expanding, and heating up in the summer breeze.

Jane Lu is from Taiyuan, China and is part of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She is a rising sophomore at the University of British Columbia.

what’s in a cake?

by Chloe Weber, AP'18

The Arete community knows that our successes do not exist in isolation, but rather as joint accomplishments within a larger community. Kitchen crew prepares the meals from morning until afternoon, beginning with breakfast prep, with work already underway an hour before the rest of the students wake up, and continues to a snack and a large lunch at the end of labor. Outside, garden crews consist of either working in the AMS garden or caring for the livestock. The group that remains in the garden may pull overripe plants as students on livestock look after the chickens, turkeys, and calves by feeding them, or spreading mulch. Maintenance crew members may work off campus to chop wood, and repair or construct new buildings.

Though these groups appear spatially divided as well as separate in their purpose, each comes together to maintain the AMS campus and build an experience for the Arete cohort. Each piece functions in relation to the others, like organs within a body. For each morning, the assigned garden crew will pick the fruits and vegetables necessary, or as requested, from the kitchen crew. Livestock crew works alongside garden to maintain both the compost and animals well-being—angry cows will upset the entire community. Garden and maintenance crews may come together to drain or divert water from pastures or bring tools and extra hands to help remove larger obstacles.

However, the labor crews do not solely come together to work hard on one task for a short period of time. In some cases, the entire day may be dedicated towards a single goal, such as the construction of a carrot cake to celebrate the AMS milking cow, Clover! As garden crew members retrieved the carrots needed for the kitchen crew to mix and bake the cake, maintenance crews brought together the tools needed by the garden crew as well as, and livestock team invested effort to making sure our cow is healthy and happy. Each of which came together for a beautiful meal that could be cherished by all a part of the process.

Chloe Weber is from Rossville, Indiana and is part of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She is a rising senior at Purdue University, where she majors in Communications and Human Relations.

it starts with a name

by Courtney Nelson, AP'18

As the 2018 cohort settles into our temporary home in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, we have revelled in the biodiversity of the local forests and the vast array of flora and fauna native to the Southern Appalachian region. Part of the first stage in settling into our new Arete community has been learning to identify each other by name, which quickly expanded to the wildlife around us.

One of the first assigned readings for class was “A Native Hill” by Wendell Berry. In our classroom discussion, we began to question what naming something actually meant. We discussed questions like: “Does naming something reduce or negate its essence?”, “What are the effects of naming something that cannot respond back?” and “What are the effects of giving an already named thing another name?”



After discussing these questions, we went on a nature walk through local trails near the Arthur Morgan School campus. We began extending our familiarity with the environment outside of each other by learning to identify the wild plants we were living with. We were quickly introduced to poison ivy, and encouraged to avoid it. Despite our careful attention, many members of our cohort have come into contact with the plant, and received its painful rash. Out of the many cases, one cohort member endured a severe rash that even spread to her face— surprisingly reflecting that she “felt welcomed to the land.”

The following week, we crafted ideals in self-governance, and one of the ideals was to “understand our impact on the environment.” Some of us became more curious about all of the functions within the environment that we were in. One of these curiosities was about learning poison ivy’s function in the whole environment, not just its interaction with humans.

I learned that poison ivy has many functions, like being an important food source for birds as well as providing shelter for many small organisms. Poison ivy also grows on vines and large trees, supporting their growth. Yet despite all of these positive attributes, poison ivy is most known for the oil it excretes, urushiol, which causes allergic reaction only in humans.

I learned that some local herbalists refer to poison ivy as Sister Ivy, thus reframing the plant and recognizing its symbiotic relationship with the environment. In addition to the benefits that Sister Ivy has for wildlife, it also serves as a reminder for the destruction of the environment often caused by humans from fire clearing and commercial logging, as Sister Ivy only grows in disturbed soils signaling a distressed environment.

Now, if I get poison ivy, when I’m itching at my skin, I can try and empathize with the environment around me, and only begin to understand more about the destruction of the disturbed environment that was caused by the humans before me, serving as a bittersweet reminder to understand our impact on the environment.

Courtney Nelson is from Raleigh, NC and is part of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She just finished her first year at Appalachian State University, where she majors in Religious Studies.

Arete at Telluride Convention

by Huiqin Hu, AP'17

Over the weekend of June 16th, Candice Yuxi Wang (AP’16) and I went to Ithaca, New York to represent the Arete Project at the Telluride Association‘s 107th annual convention. Telluride is a nonprofit offering educational programs based on the vision of L.L. Nunn, who also founded Deep Springs College in California, and whose vision is the basis for Arete’s three pillars (labor, academics and self-governance). Telluride offers summer seminars for high school students as well as residential programs for university students at Cornell and the University of Michigan, all free of cost. While the convention is primarily focused on reflecting and planning the past and future work of Telluride, they also invite representatives from other Nunnian institutions to take part, including us, Deep Springs, and the newly founded Outer Coast College in Sitka, Alaska.

The weekend was basically one big self-governance meeting, from morning to night, with meal breaks in between. With over a century of work behind them, Telluride has developed a strong, involved network of members that taught me a lot about what Arete’s alumni self-governance can strive towards with time. By listening in to their decision-making process, and talking to individual people about their experiences, I was reminded of the kind of community that the Nunnian model can create.

Candice gave a presentation to the group with updates on what Arete has been up to recently. She talked about the work of our alumni self-governance committees, including the financial aid committee and outreach/recruitment committee, both of which were started up by my cohort at the end of last summer. In the past year, the financial aid committee has instituted a new pay-what-you-can tuition model, and in recruiting terms, we have pushed towards reaching more low-income students, students of color, and students from public universities, in particular in the states surrounding North Carolina. She also talked about our applications committee, and the changes we made to the application itself to make it more accessible to a diverse group of students. She shared that our Blue Ridge session is beginning again for its fifth year, while the Glacier Bay session is kicking off its inaugural season in southeast Alaska, as the first Arete program to include all genders. Finally, she talked about our plans to celebrate our 5th anniversary with an alumni reunion next summer, and our progress towards becoming a fully-fledged independent nonprofit, no longer operating under a fiscal sponsor.

It was exciting to share all this news, while also admiring the work of the other organizations, and seeing what Arete could be like down the line, as the organization matures with every cohort that makes it their own. They’re really supportive of our work, and I think we can learn from the way Telluride has made its programs accessible and sustaining. It was also interesting for me to think about how gender plays a role in how these organizations operate differently from ours (at least from the Blue Ridge session), although it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is. It’s been a year since my summer at Arete, and as I’ve been busy with my sophomore year at Wesleyan, Arete hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind. This weekend was a nice reminder of what a Nunnian education is, and why it was valuable for me. Having a group of people in one room, dedicated to making this thing happen, took me back to how thoughtful the work of self-governance is at its best.

Huiqin Hu attended the Blue Ridge Session in 2017. She is a rising junior at Wesleyan University majoring in the College of Social Studies, studying history, philosophy, political science and economics. She is originally from Ganzhou, China.

finding voice and silence at arete

by Anna Stonehocker, AP'17

Relearning ‘how to talk’ was an important part of my experience at Arete. I remember well the first night we gathered together to begin the long process of self-governance. We had been introduced to the few parameters we would work within: the structure of the three pillars, the prohibition of alcohol and drugs, a limited budget, and isolation. Up to us was everything else, from the organization of our labor and allocation of our budget, to the definition of an isolation policy and our expectations of one another. Underneath these practicalities was the less tangible reality we would create. How would it be to live together?

We sat, 18 of us, around a rough circle in Elizabeth Hall, faced with a sense of responsibility and uncertainty. Where to start?

First silence. Then many voices. I think some of us felt that we should have something to say if we were to consider ourselves constructive members of the group. Others settled into a posture of thoughtful listening or distanced observation.

Very early on we recognized that, before we could do anything, we needed to know how to speak to one another when making decisions. Do we need ground rules? A facilitator? Hand signals?

The conversation about conversation was taken up from different angles and eventually formalized in a list of points. We established a system of sorts, which would be revisited and re-conceived as we went on, much more of a project than product. Having talked about talking, we talked about decisions, and came to the resolve of using consensus.

By the end of the summer we realized how much more was necessary than establishing a list of speaking rules. This work was messier, more personal, unpredictable, and pervasive. It affected us not only in self-governance, but in our daily life. In labour, the classroom, or the beds of our bunks, the work of forging a common language involved understanding that others’ ways of expressing themselves had value.

Whether it was a difference of culture or personality, there seemed to be a divide between those who savoured the idea of a “silent breakfast” and those who loved to fill the air with laughter and conversation. Some who didn’t quite know how to start the conversation and others who needed to fill the pauses. There was a time when some of us brought up a concern for the social dynamic in the group, feeling that those who were louder took up too much space, crowding out the quieter voices of the cohort.

Initially, I found myself on the side of critiquing louder voices. But I began to realize it wasn’t so simple. It wasn’t the loud vs. the quiet; it was all the experiences, habits, and personalities which lead each person to talk the way they did. Being loud didn’t always mean being confident, nor did quietness indicate that someone was being pushed aside. The only way forward was not to shut some people up, but to learn better how to get on the same wavelength. I remember a quieter member of the group insightfully saying in a meeting, “we need to meet in the middle”: she would make an effort to speak out a little more in turn for receiving some space to do so.

While strengthening our communication as a cohort, this process brought me to reencounter talking in my own life. I developed a new ease with silence. Sometimes I was content to let others carry the conversation, either because I didn’t have something to add, or I sincerely trusted them to bring us to good conclusions. This practice of listening helped me discern when something really needed to be said.

While withholding created more space in conversation, I also began to see cases where speaking out was necessary. We had noticed at times a dynamic in the group of avoiding conflict, and I saw how equally limiting it was to always hold back. This is a skill I have yet to learn artfully in my everyday life, but thinking back to the environment of Arete helps me see the kindness that direct honesty can stem from. Whether it was calling out someone about missing a labor shift, or expressing when we felt uncomfortable in the classroom, these conversations often lead to growth and more genuine relationships.

Sometimes meetings would run us headfirst into conflict, whether we articulated ourselves on rational or emotional grounds. Many of us experienced instances where we bit our tongues and others when we said more than we should.

But had you stepped in from nowhere to one of our final meetings, you would be hard-pressed to say how long we’d known one another, how much practice we’d had operating a project together. Often I could understand before someone had finished speaking what they were trying to say. I could feel immediately what would cause frustration and what would ease it. There was an intricate invisible network of understanding that helped us gauge where to push a point and where to hold back, where to insist and where to meet in the middle. We certainly did not learn how to create consensus everywhere, or make all conversations smooth. But we learned how to better understand one another.

Anna Stonehocker is from Edmonton, Alberta, and was part of the 2017 Blue Ridge cohort. She just finished her second year at Sciences Po in a dual degree with University of British Columbia, studying geography and philosophy.

building community in celo

by Annie Livingston, AP'16

I filled a lot of notebooks at Arete. In flipping through a red composition book, I am struck by what was on my mind. I’m sure it all seemed unremarkable at the time– the word “OKRA” is written out in all capital letters, there’s a scribbled sketch of Michela, our teachers’ child. Most of it is fairly nonsensical, but there are a few crystallized truths. I wrote in early August of 2016 that “I spent this summer learning the earth, getting my hands dirty and letting the grime live under my fingernails. I spent this summer harvesting emotions, germinating seeds. Planting. Rooting. Pulling up weeds.” Aside from the tactless rhyme that permeates my inner monologue, this feels like an almost accurate depiction of what Arete was for me, albeit, a little clouded by the romanticism of time and memory and journal entries.

I was in Celo again this past summer. Not at Arete, but at camp. I got to hang out all day with seven to ten year olds and teach them about kale and tomato plants. The only required reading was camper applications, featuring misspelled words and the perfect penmanship of enthusiastic, young hands. I still had a slew of wolf spiders for bunkmates; I just slept in a canvas tent instead of a three-walled shelter. I didn’t have kitchen duty except for on camp outs, where s’mores became the most valuable commodity. I learned that the power of song was the only way to establish any sort of control over thirty-some children. It was hard in a different way than Arete.

There was no self-governance, but there were counselor meeting, where difficult situations with various campers were discussed over a copious amount of brownies. The sugar was supposed to make the meetings a little sweeter. I’d be lying if I pretended it didn’t remind me of those late nights deliberating over the technology policy or other Arete discussions, the way we’d gather in Elizabeth or Hopkins, occasionally spilling out to the kitchen to make tea or grab a spoonful of peanut butter. At Arete I loved this shared intellectual labor. The ability to make something out of our words and ideas. And it felt like this at camp too. Like we were building a new community with every session, asking a group of kids to come together as a makeshift family even when many of us counselors had just met. There is a very human magic to this. I would call it an act of faith on behalf of the Camp Celo directors, much in the same way that hours are spent pouring over applications for Arete, even though in the end, the vast majority of application readers and deliberators will not be present to see what happens. We’re just trusting that they can do it, and do it well.

At camp, my favorite time of the day was garden chore. Every morning, after breakfast was finished, anywhere from two to seven campers would join me in the rows of napa cabbage and pattypan summer squash. Sometimes we’d collect the orange and black squash beetles in little cups of water, before feeding them to the chickens. Sometimes we’d harvest full heads of broccoli and bring them to the walk-in refrigerator, where I insisted on singing camp classics like “Bile em Cabbage Down,” at the top of our lungs. This too was a time of collective creation, and the broccoli would often end up on those same campers plates just a few hours later. It was amazing to feel this connected.

I think back to the first day I got to camp, before the kids had arrived, before many of the counselors had gotten there. Even though I was so close to a place I felt I knew, even though I could see AMS over the hedge, and even though Moonshadow didn’t recognize the difference between one garden and another. But it was still scary. Intimidating to seed spring mix after months of sitting in libraries and coffee shops, writing essays, doing a different kind of “dirty work.” A past summer’s garden counselor, showed me around, reminding me how to do simple things, like prune tomato plants. I remember being scared to sever a single tomato limb. But camp and all of its green things pulled me in quick. And before I knew it, we were harvesting that same spring mix that I had helped to seed weeks earlier; by the end of the summer, the tomatoes that had seemed so small were bursting.

At Arete I spent a lot of time thinking about the individual’s role in the community. About how to meet my own needs while helping fulfill the needs of others. There were moments when I felt I’d succeeded, and times when it felt like harvesting from a communal row in the garden. At camp, I didn’t have as much time to “think” about it; I just had to do it. There were a few times I felt truly successful in this. Like the wheat harvest, when all the campers came together to dance on top of the wheat with freshly washed feet. Like that same day’s noontime meal, when bread was served.

Annie Livingston attended the Blue Ridge Session in 2016. She is thrilled to be graduating from Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids, Michigan with degrees in Writing and English Literature.

tools for living

by Paige Parsons AP'17

On my first day of labor at Arete, I was assigned to muck the barn where the calf, Kiwi, lives along with a winter’s worth of cow waste. It seemed straightforward, to shovel it up into wheelbarrows and cart it off to the compost bins with a few of my cohort members. I’d never had to dig anything with much muscle before, but by the end of the shift I thought we’d gotten into a strenuous rhythm. We felt good about what we had accomplished as we put away our shovels and went in for lunch.

The next day, we took to the task again, this time with bodies sore from yesterday’s work. The crews had shuffled a bit, and someone who hadn’t been mucking the day before pointed out how I was using my back instead of my legs to apply force to the shovel. Beyond that, she started using a hoe to break up the muck, making the shoveling process unbelievably more efficient. By the end of the day, we had mucked more than triple what we’d done the day before. As I stared at the full compost pile, I felt a little foolish, my ego beaten down by the fact that I’d strained by body in vain.

Throughout the summer, there were many tools I had the privilege of trying, failing, and learning to work with: hammers, the electric circle saw, axes, the sterilizer for cleaning dishes in the kitchen, a consensus decision-making model, my own voice in the classroom. As time went on, I became better at wielding each tool. I listened to others who knew more, or knew differently.

In the classroom, as we pulled apart the existentialist philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, we explored the use of tools as essential to the definition of the human. When philosophical discussion felt lofty or abstract, we pulled it back into our own lives, trying to square the academic with the personal, the self-governance meeting with the broader political climate we existed within. Texts became tools, not objects for disengaged analysis. The application was not just in the theoretical future beyond our educations, but in the small-scale decisions of everyday life in living and working together. Our minds pushed at the edges of each other’s as we did this. Classroom discussions lead us to surprising new places we couldn’t have reached alone.

Looking back at Arete from the vantage point of my senior year in college, I see the 8 weeks I spent there as a concentrated capsule of living well. As I write my senior thesis, I often feel isolated in the work, selfish in the pursuit of academic recognition. I think back to Arete as an antidote to this individualized learning process, and having it in the back of my mind reminds me that intellectual work always happens in community with others. On bad days, I reach into an envelope of hand-written notes from my cohort-mates, grounding myself in their words. I fold the paper back up, take a deep breath, and continue on aided with the assuredness I felt there. It is important, when I reflect on what I learned at Arete, to recount the tangible things— wood-chopping, cooking with industrial-kitchen standards for a large group, working with livestock, the sharpening of my academic thinking. The breadth of muscles you work at Arete is one of the things that makes it so special: you’re not just a mind, but a whole embodied person, you’re sometimes the one harvesting produce and at other times preparing it for the table. But the overwhelming thing I see as the greatest tool I took with me is the mode and depth of engagement with others. That aspect of Arete has provided a model for interdependence that I continue to reach for in my life.

Paige Parsons attended the Blue Ridge Session in 2017. She is a senior at Brown University studying anthropology and English literature. She is originally from Mission Viejo, California.