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Letter from departing RISE director Kelly Kelbel

Dear Warren Wilson Community, I have been grappling with how to write a thank you letter to several hundred people, one that captures how I really feel about this place and how I feel about you. It is so hard to say goodbye. I’ve spent hours in my office with seniors not quite ready to leave, and I now really understand that sentiment. As I am sure many of you know Warren Wilson becomes a part of you, something that you feel in your heart, something active and alive, but it is also something much deeper. I imagine that it pierces so deep that it becomes part of the skeleton, in our bones, steady and present long after we’ve left. I promise you that this place and your stories will stay with me, both in my heart and deep in my bones.

If you haven’t heard, or guessed it, I will be leaving Wilson at the end of this term. I was offered a scholarship to study book arts at Penland for an eight week concentration, and feel like this will be a great opportunity for self-care, reflection, and, of course, to make art. While I was hoping that I’d be able to go to Penland and come back, it didn’t work out. I am leaving with fond memories, but also difficult ones. It is difficult to listen to stories of abuse and violence because it is difficult to accept that abuse and violence are happening. And I wish I could tell you that these stories are rare, something unusual on our campus, but it wouldn’t be true, which is important for you to know so that you can keep working to change this, to make this place better, safer. And in those difficult stories, those traumatic experiences, I have been amazed by people’s strength and resistance, by their resilience, over and over again. It has been a gift to me to be trusted by so many of you; it has been an honor to open my heart to listen to your stories, and share in your healing.

I want you to know that I am also leaving with many memories of immeasurable joy and profound meaning that took place on this campus, with you: creating performanc- es on healthy relationships, writing zines on healing, having discussions about consent, eating lunch in Cowpie, raising awareness about family violence, teaching strategies for bystander intervention, playing four square at the RISE open house, creating student skits on sexual harassment for work supervi- sors, sharing in the moments when you find power in your own voice, engaging new students in talking about sex, examining the ways that power divides us & community brings us together, performing the Thriller dance to start conversation, brainstorming how you can support your friend or your partner who was abused, collaborating to create Take Back the Night, doing service that accounts for privilege and oppression in Buncombe Co., Madison Co., Memphis, & New Orleans, supporting you in your healing, aiding you in becoming an effective advocate, and celebrating thoughtfulness, growth, laughter, & community, all with you.

While I have heard from many that RISE has had a powerful impact on campus, it’s also true that there is still a lot of work to be done. Here are some of my hopes for Warren Wilson: that the conversations and practices of consent and healthy commu- nication continue, that behaviors that are abusive and oppressive are interrupted by community members in a way that nurtures growth and change, that there are trained advocates that continue to support those impacted by violence, that people examine their own attitudes and behaviors & work to ensure that they reflect their values, that people continue to see the possibility in each other, and that people keep working toward creating a community free from violence, an inclusive community that truly embraces diversity, a community where the amazing potential of Warren Wilson is fully real- ized in words and actions by all members. Thanks for being super wonderful, thought- ful, gracious, challenging, fun, inspiring, and oh so good!

Lots of love & fondness, Kelly Kelly Kelbel, Director of the RISE Project

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