by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
Reading the history of Warren Wilson College in Mark Banker’s Toward Frontiers Yet Unknown should bring about feelings of pride or wonder for this school. The stories of the boys from the Asheville Farm School, their work ethic and the sacrifices they made to gain an education should inspire. It should reinvigorate and revitalize. It should bring about hope.
But then, in that first week or two of the semester when I was assigned to read the book for a class, it brought about some bitterness, even some nostalgia for the past that I had never known.
One hundred years later, Warren Wilson is an entirely different place, it seems. We have lost our rustic, hard-working spirit. Students don’t work as hard. The administration is secretive and bureaucratic and taking all of our money. Students, faculty, staff don’t question things anymore.
These were all thoughts running through my head at the start of the semester. I was simply beginning to think that we were becoming just another non-special college.
I arrived back on campus and, almost instantaneously, this pessimism and frustration overtook me. Things were not working. Poor management and coordination made the beginning of the first semester seem to be a scramble. Miscommunication with the accounting office was followed by tense calls home. Haphazard crew assignments for new students frustrated and confused students and crew bosses. There seems to be a significant lack of communication between everyone and every office on campus. The state of the budget had already become apparent. Snacks and cookies had disappeared from community events. Several buildings on campus still had broken toilets and unfinished jobs.
In my three years here at Warren Wilson, I never expected to become one of those jaded seniors sitting in the smoking hut, complaining but not doing anything to change things. I did not take up smoking, fortunately, but I did take up the unfruitful art of complaining.
But then last Wednesday came. I had back-to-back interviews for a story, and then the community meeting to cover—another busy day.
My first interview was with Gary Bigelow, the new Director of FMTS. I went in not expecting to get much, but ended up learning a lot about him, and FMTS as a whole. We chatted about his past jobs that lead him to this position, and how the school fits him. Already, he feels at home.
After our interview he showed me some workshops in FMTS that, to his surprise, I was seeing for the first time. We walked back to the workshop of the Plumbing Arts Crew, where crew supervisor Christopher Hanson had developed a whole working bathroom within the workshop as practice for student workers.
“I think this is really neat,” Bigelow showed off his staff’s creative ideas.
Then he showed me the Locksmith workshop, where supervisor James Damien creates practice models for crew members to master putting a lock into a door.
It was obvious that Bigelow had a lot of respect for the FMTS crew supervisors and the work that they do. After the tour, I too had a greater respect for the work that these students and staff members are doing. I was beginning to remember what exactly our college was about, what our mission was.
Writing and interviewing new staff members for the story on pages 10-11, I listened to a lot of newcomers share their excitement and enthusiasm for this unique community that they chose to become a part of. Without fail, everyone mentioned at least one thing about this place that blew them away—either the innovative service program, the important skills students gain through their work crews, the unique drive of the students and employees here to change the world, even our beautiful location, nestled in this valley, surrounded by mountains.
Listening to these newcomers of Warren Wilson made me feel like a freshman again, in a sense. My hope for this place was revitalized by hearing their enthusiasm. My negativity was beginning to seem a little foolish.
After my interview with Gary, I attended the community meeting, where Steve Solnick addressed the issue of the budget. Enrollment is down, revenue is down, so bear with us, he said. This conversation, too, made me feel a little foolish for having my frustrations. I appreciated the transparency. I appreciated having this conversation, which explained why some things on campus were not the same. Just because the school doesn’t have enough money, even though we all pay a boatload to go here, does not mean that it is failing as an institution.
While Warren Wilson may be guilty of some, many, or all of the complaints I was feeling in my first few days back, I see now that I should, that I must, give the place some slack. Because for all of the things that we do not do quite right, there are other things that we do well, things that we will always do well: our passion for service and our good work ethics; our progressive, critical ways of thinking; the beautiful pastures, the breathtaking views of the mountains, the foggy mornings, the chirping crickets in the summer and the changing leaves in the autumn.
These are key elements to Warren Wilson that have stayed with us since we were founded as the Asheville Farm School for Boys. And these will stay with us in the years to come, as we grow, develop and improve as an educational institution.
Remind yourself of these basic truths that create the core of Warren Wilson, and, even by your senior year, you will be asking yourself—how could I ever doubt this place? We are still working out the kinks, but we, as a college, are doing things right.