I'm a student considering Bennington, often at my school they will explain huge issues to us over the span of classes. Ex: cold war, middle east, human rights. Throughout the semester we would have the same question on the tip of our tongues, "what are we going to do about it?" but they would just tell us that that's what we have to figure out. this is frustrating because we have no skills to do so. do the teachers work with the students at Bennington to solve problems? how are things different? — Asked by t00-cl0se

(part 2) I am the same student considering Bennington, it seems like a very friendly and lighthearted place. However i am wondering how Bennington deals with more serious problems at school like sexual assault. do you know anything about Bennington’s history or their process for dealing with rape and other issues on campus?

My first term at Bennington, I took a class called Fundamentals of Advancing Public Action.  Over the course of the year, we explored six major topics — education, climate change, income inequality, health care, uses of force, and… I forget the two-word summary of the sixth one.  It was about the state of American democracy, political gridlock, the worth of a vote in the 21st century, etc.  So for everything we looked at, the class asked three questions, at least to start: “What is the world like? What should the world be like? and what can the world be like?”  The approach was based on assembling a complete picture of the situation, then deciding what to do, because intervening without knowing what you’re doing, of course, risks backfire.  But at the same time, we were discouraged from holding back and hoarding our knowledge until we felt like we were experts, because then nothing would ever get done.  It was, essentially, a crash course in rigorous activism and in not cleaving to only the traditional strategies for changing the world.

Since then, most of my work in public action has been with Susan Sgorbati, who is my faculty advisor, frequent teacher, and an absolute goddess.  Her classes are very project-based; working under her, I’ve helped convert North Bennington’s streetlights to energy-efficient LEDs, and co-written circulated a report to local hospitals and lawmakers about the heroin epidemic in New England.  Even in classes that are more about abstract thought and less about using your hands, no one’s Bennington going to drop the world’s problems into your lap and say “these are yours now, have fun.”

We’re going to work up a separate post on sexual assault, so look for that later today.

-Ray ‘15

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