by Brenda Gutierrez, AP'19

We made it! All of the 2019 Arete Project Blue Ridge Session Cohort is here and ready to build. This first week was filled with getting to know each other and the Arthur Morgan School campus, settling into our Appalachian style shelter and our daily routine, and full of building community. We’ve been making space for conversations around expectations, community guidelines, and institutionalizing sustainable community practices.

We had some birthdays in the cohort, which we celebrated in theme with rustic living, decorating homemade cakes with Daylilies and other edible flowers. For another birthday, we decided it would be appropriate to all take one sip from one cup of fire cider (a special detoxifying brew made by Kavita.) Although it burned going down, at least we all did it together. To be surrounded with like minded individuals committed to leadership, service, and learning feels like coming home — an important foundation when away from home for eight weeks.

Creating an intentional community takes time, trust, and patience. To get our foot in the door we decided to incorporate icebreakers into our self-governance meetings. Polly and I led a “Human Knot” activity; our only tool timer set to ten minutes. Everyone partook giving directions and receiving directions and were a few moves from completely undoing the knot until stopped by the timer. It was the most cited comment during the reflection part of our activity.

In terms of the classroom, our syllabus looks promising. We are lucky to be in the classroom with Abbey Otis Chung. Abbey was raised in the North Carolina woods and is currently a creative writing professor from Oberlin College; the perfect person to guide us through the region and its rich social and historical landscape. Our theme is “A Refuge of Renegades” and it couldn’t fit us better.

All in all, I am grateful to be in community with these honest, hilarious, and unbelievably kind powerhouses. We know no one achieves anything alone, and we know we can change the world if we work together. Supporting, holding, growing, building. Community is built in the fragments of care in between and during cooking, labor, class, chores, and self-governance meetings. We have the rest of the summer to connect with this beautiful region and we can’t wait to get started.


Brenda Gutierrez is a member of the 2019 Blue Ridge Session cohort. They study anthropology at U.C. Merced.