Yellow Springs woman returns to teach at Antioch
Professor encourages students to do good for the community.
Luisa Bieri is a professor at Antioch College and has been teaching a project based class — Antioch Community Action — for several years.
Diego Flores (front in blue) leads a discussion about his community action project with other Antioch students.
Tyler Clapsaddle developed a “mud oven” for the Antioch Farm as part of his community action project.
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By Beth Anspach
Contributing Writer
PERSONAL JOURNEY 

What are social justice and equality? We hear these terms multiple times a day right now, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death a few weeks ago. But learning to come together across differences isn’t a new concept.

Luisa Bieri, a Yellow Springs resident, developed an interest in social issues while growing up in the diverse and inclusive liberal arts town and today has returned to teach at Antioch College.


“Both of my grandparents went to Antioch and that’s how I ended up here,” Bieri said.

“I ended up going to college and studying abroad, then returned in 2011 to raise my son in the town where I grew up.”

In 2015, Bieri started working at Antioch as an assistant professor in the co-op program, which was created so students could gain experience in professional development through experiential learning. With majors in theater and Latin American literature and a graduate degree in comparative women’s studies, Bieri worked for many years as a performer, playwright and director.

She also became involved in her community while living in Baltimore, where she created several arts programs.  

“Within the performance classes I’ve taught, I have always included ‘socially engaged art,’ ” Bieri said. “I use theater and art as a tool to bring people together.”

And bringing her students together while helping them inspire those around them is primary to Bieri in all her classes.

She offers “Antioch Community Action,” a project-based class where students work on ways to build community and learn about effective organizing.

“We spend a lot of our time talking about how we can all come together across all our differences,” Bieri said. “We learn about different races, genders, classes and experiences.”

Bieri encourages her students to explore their passions and choose their own project topics.

In mid-March, Bieri and her students lost the personal interaction that had become so integral to the classes when Antioch, like all colleges and universities across the nation, sent its students home as the COVID-19 pandemic was building, and all learning became virtual.

The virtual environment changed Bieri’s classes greatly, but she continued to work with her students on their project development and helped keep them on their time lines.

“One of the main things about this class is sustainability,” Bieri said. “I want my students to choose projects that are not only relevant, but that can continue beyond the time frame of the class.”

Student projects over the years have included providing personal items to homeless women, organizing for detained immigrant release, delivering groceries to those in need, creating lesson plans for parents who home school their children, and creating a coloring book to help people de-stress and relax at home.

The idea is to encourage good deeds to support everyone in their communities, which ultimately supports overall health as well — an even bigger concern during these stressful times.

“We talk a lot about the importance of care, especially self-care,” Bieri said.

“I encourage students to take care of themselves and each other. We need to join together to make sure we get through this time.”

Some of the broader work students have done within the framework of the Antioch Community Action class includes working to break down the barriers in their own community of Yellow Springs.

“One of my students did a project recently in collaboration with the village council,” Bieri said. “It involved a lot of dialogue about policing  and what it should look like so everyone can feel safe.”

That project included learning and talking about use of excessive force and discrimination over the years and the student eventually presented her project to the council and received a grant to fund it going forward.

This topic continues to be timely, especially considering the unrest in our nation today.

“The project ended up inspiring the board of trustees at Antioch to contact my student and invite her to consider law school,” Bieri said.

“It’s so important for everyone to continue to ask those important questions and to present meaningful work going forward.”

For more information on Antioch’s experiential learning “at a distance,” visit antiochcollege.edu.