on finding mold

by Tara Sharma, AP'18

Lately the self-governance room has felt like a pool of mannerisms. Each of us brings twenty-ish years of learned inflections and gestures.

Sometimes, you will not realize a habit until someone or something points it out to you. Looking up when you are thinking, or resting a finger or two on your lips in the moments before you are about to speak. Seven and a half weeks in, some words and phrases have moved easily through most of us: ‘generative’, ‘messy,’ ‘this isn’t a fully formed thought, but…’

The space between the words habit and instinct is filled with many other words: pattern, practice, routine. This in-between space begins in the world and extends to the body. Occasionally, I find myself jokingly referencing my ‘real life,’ a space that encircles this one but ideally lives outside of it for the timespan of this summer. But here I am steeping in other people’s mannerisms. I wonder which of them live in me and with me.

The mold has been growing on everything since the very first day. There were some items that, upon arriving, I quickly realized I would not need: a wool hat, a cloth bag, a few unfinished books I brought with the naïve expectation of free time. In the beginning I tried folding the things up and securing them deep inside of a backpack, hoping that the interior space would keep them dry. But the mold reaches the insides, too. Here I have found myself reaching, again and again, for the spaces that seem like they are most deeply inside, only to see those insular spaces collapsing.

Week by week, these evasive interior spaces have looked different. The three-sided shelters we sleep in at night make up another kind of in-between space, not fully inside and not fully out. At night, when the darkness mimics a wall, it’s almost as though the space is sealed—but when we wake in half-dream state to a thunderstorm pressed against the tin roof, it’s not a choice to keep out the deafening white noise.

Many of us have wondered what this summer would feel like if we shared bedrooms with roommates, rather than open-faced shelters that sleep five or six. If we could go inside between moments of being outside–if we had time both onstage and off—what versions of ourselves would we be able to bring to class, labor, self-governance? In recent weeks in class, we have struggled to name the question that is at the core of the academic pillar and our educations more broadly. Within each question is another; we have spent two months watching them fold in on themselves. We have searched and searched for the singular thread of thought that stitches this cohort together, that holds us in space, only to find that the strings easily unravel when pulled.

The value of an isolation policy grows hazy when it becomes apparent that each point of insularity only opens up more open space. The outside is always permeating the insides; critical reflection pokes holes in the moments I have here of feeling fully immersed in this landscape and this group of people. At a group check-in halfway through the summer, one cohort member commented on the ways in which being an individual in a group setting can feel like an act of regression—a bouncing back, briefly, to an old self you thought you left behind in some other space. She commented on the way you can look unfamiliar to yourself when surrounded by a group of new people, when you realize the people who know well are somewhere outside of this place. Sometimes, especially during self-governance, it feels as though we are playing caricatures of ourselves.

During the first week of self-governance, our conversations about our ideals for the summer alluded to a deep value of ‘intentionality’ as a guiding force for the decisions we make here. Halfway through the summer, I found myself coming up against all that ‘intentionality’ might exclude, and the illusion that decisions here are made with an acute self-awareness and deliberateness. During one meeting that fourth week, we played with the possibility that Arete might be built on more than three pillars—that what exists as central to Nunnian education might fail to acknowledge unformed thought, unplanned moments, a vague, collective ‘vulnerability’ that we often lose the words to neatly articulate but find ourselves desiring nonetheless. What might it mean for a possible fourth pillar to account for un-intentionality, for indecisiveness and ambivalence? Would, then, this fourth pillar act as the connective tissue between the other three, a bringing to light that which has been obscured and perhaps devalued?

And if this fourth pillar pulls tight the space between the other three, then might it reveal the messiness that is inherent in our self-governance? Even the possibility that the messiness of ‘self’ in self-governance is central to this project? In the self-governance room, we sit in a circle. During week six, we met nine times in seven days. Sometimes we are compelled to pull the couches closer, to make the circle just a bit smaller. Once or twice, we’ve sat on the floor, our knees inches apart. Maybe part of what it means to have the an isolation policy that collapses in on itself, to have no distinction between shared and personal space, exterior and interior world, is to imagine a perception of the ‘self’ that can be both rooted in the body and in community, and everything in between.

In class, we find the insides and outsides colliding head-on, usually blending. We stumble through texts that grapple with power and identity and wonder about the distinction between personal and intellectual registers of reading. We continually return to the question of when it is even possible to separate the personal from the theoretical: what systems of power in the world ‘outside’ of this space inevitably bleed in and replicate themselves within the cohort, who is able to keep the ‘outside’ truly outside, and for whom the blending of the text and lived experience is not an option.

Recently, I brought the hat and the books and the cloth bag into the sun and saw that they were speckled green. I saw a slow spotting where my backpack’s underside rested upon the shelter’s dark wooden floor. I thought these spots couldn’t be reached, but the rain seems to find homes in the center of everything: the potholes in the road, the humid mornings, the mountains, the perpetually damp clothing on the line. After especially long self-governance meetings, I want more than anything to see something real and whole outside of ourselves: to have internal work externally manifest, to be able to look back on the summer, once we leave this place, and see a scaffold of a ‘project’ we’ve been attempting to build. I want to trust in the quiet that is webbing us when we’re at a loss of words, to find in it something whole, not just gaps. Something must be growing between the days, maybe even emerging from them. The possibility is both hopeful and hard to trust.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been struck by the disorienting and slightly comforting feeling that this place is my entire world. The feeling usually just lasts for a few hours before I am reminded again that I am living in a space that is nested within many others: first a cohort, then Arthur Morgan School, then Celo, then the Southern Appalachian Forest. Beyond that, our homes, our schools, the people and places we are responsible for. All of it is sinking inwards, reaching us here: sixteen students sitting in a circle, pooling in the center the questions that have moved through us—and that we have brought with us, consciously or not.

Tara Sharma is a member of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She studies Ecopoetics at Brown University.

2 days left

by R. Menard, AP'18

The questions that have knotted us up over the summer (“burnt out” “exhausted” “I have reached my limit” “can we cap this meeting?”) are present, but bittersweet, carrying into the next weeks via committee work, but too soon closed, the summer, an end. Open end. Some sort of hazy film, a pride and proximity and tenderness coupled with the need to move, do something different, the mountains dramatic and dark, a thick patch of sun on the garden. It feels important to gesture at how difficult certain conversations have been, or the kinds of extra work that we took on — centrally around course curriculum — as these are things that have not yet been communicated as part of the fabric of this summer except through a small word of mouth.

Around week 4, amidst frustration and lethargy (a word that’s stuck with me from a Glacier Bay blog post, which in its way is very disconcerting) there was a strong push to overhaul our curriculum and co-create the classroom space. Consistent-persistent efforts to deconstruct the Western canonical texts presented to us—deciding to scrap the syllabus, not exactly a ‘coup’ because relatively encouraged— there was an emptying out, and rushing in, of what some and not all thought worthwhile and urgent to study. The negotiation of power within our social dynamic — a slow-building, now-pressing conversation about the various factors that make that dynamic so — pretty much stitched itself into all discussions of how the course should move forward.

Weekend meetings, in which texts and pieces were arranged and re-arranged on a white board, things gaining momentum and then falling through or apart, in-class discussion and a divvying up of lesson-plan responsibility, only so many un-scheduled hours in the day “are you on dinner prep” “I’m milking” “I’ll meet with both of you separately and do the synthetic work after” — class conversations that stall or lose thread, long bathroom breaks, endless cups of tea, “so-and-so isn’t coming” — a mediated discussion (conflict resolution) and big sheets of questions taped onto the walls. Sensing that the change in the content of the syllabus has not necessarily changed the role that academics plays, but the process has generated a lot of questions and problems and theoretical discussions and pain that we have had to work through.

The difference internal to our cohort — and the difference that drew lines around who was or wasn’t present, the socio-historical relationship between these two — has been critical in and to the thought generated by class, and many tried (bravely and with a lot of stumbling, excavation, and sometimes, low violence and apology) to have discussions/study what that meant to or for us. Arete tends towards a whiter, wealthier, east-coast educated and able-bodied cohort; wondering what about the recruitment and acceptance process might make it so, but attending closely and carefully to the ways that the very tenants of the program are not accessible or sustainable for people who can’t afford to spend a summer not getting paid, are not able to afford tickets to this part of the country, don’t find a homogenous intentional community within rural North Carolina appealing or safe, have physical capacities that are not usually valued (wouldn’t find participation in the ‘labor’ program as it exists now challenging in a way that would create (feel like) growth), or don’t find the premise of a non-male space leaning heavily on the word ‘woman’ one in which they could receive support.

Thinking about some idea of ‘elite service’ — a possible facet of Nunnian education, taking the cream of the crop and giving them an experiential opportunity to explore the idea of service in the abstract — as opposed to something grounded in an existing community, that one is perhaps in, or that has tangible and necessary contribution feeding backwards to participants. We’ve had confused conversations about the role of labor, and whether-how it is linked to service, what ‘service’. The (negotiated) cost and benefit of this.

Wondering, too, whether or not Arete can achieve its goals given its circumstances — what a ‘guest’ status at the Arthur Morgan School might do to the cohort’s ability to successfully and with maturity/responsibility navigate when-where it is and isn’t appropriate to take authority/ownership, or defer to staff; whether 8 weeks is enough time to work out a dynamic, learn from past mistakes, streamline processes, have hard conversations and emotional intimacy; whether the intensity of certain structures/schedules makes academics-personal-wellbeing-cohesion very difficult. Feeling the strong effect of having no personal space, living on top of each other, in a beautiful and lush area, where many rules are just parameters tacked onto permission, but one is social for all but maybe an hour a day, and that wears.

Compressed time, no time, squeezed out and wrung dry, reaching rock bottom and still somehow drawing reserves and doing things that need to get done, not everything ever getting done, “things fall through the crack” “how can we make sure that each thing is attended to” “who is going to tell so-and-so?” “I need this far in advance”. Some combined conundrum: whether aligning the ‘circumstance’ of Arete with its ideals is important at all, or if the disjuncture is an opportunity to re-imagine or more accurately describe the kind of work that is happening here. Not tying up loose ends — or doing so partially, incomplete. A full, frayed circle, one that has been pretty tough, and cherished.

R. Menard is a member of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. They attend the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Studies with a concentration in "Political Bodies."

love’s labors found

by Sofia Reyes Valencia, AP'18

In Celo it’s hard to believe how tenuous our connections to the earth can become. But it can become easier to understand how these connections tether new generations to those who came before. The projects we work on Arete are, no doubt, a small part in the larger legacy of craftspeople, farmers, and all-around hard workers. Here, we get the opportunity to marvel at the ingenuity with which many of our ancestors made and received their daily bread. We build roofs, we chop wood, we put ourselves to work in order to help keep our community going and to challenge ourselves in new ways.

Personally speaking, I get the chance to learn several trades within my family history. Milking, sawing, or stoking a forge flame I can create a whole new level of context with which to appreciate the members of my family who were- and are- blacksmiths, carpenters, or laborers. Memories of standing before my godfather’s wood shop, small and paralyzed by the sheer mystery of the work, are now tucked under my own memories of chiseling out brace notches for a roof beam, or the glances of trust I share with cohort members before turning on the table saw and ripping a long piece of wood.

An experience like this helped me understand the hard, intelligent, and incredible work jobs like this need. They also help me understand the incredibly hard work my grandparents and family have put in to give their children a brighter future. Because this is work. It is sweat, and muscle, and bruises. It is a dichotomy of loving the labor and loving my predecessors for putting in all this labor to give us a better tomorrow. I am thankful for it. I am thankful and, now, I am even more proud of the history I am a part of.

Sofia Reyes Valencia is a member of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She studies at the University of Edinburgh, where she majors in English and French Language.

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.

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.