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Lyrical Ambushes + Performances + Workshops @ Wells College in Aurora, NY

Written by Kristen Arant

We embarked on nearly a half day total of road tripping to bring tools of resistance and inspiration to Wells college in tiny Aurora, NY. On the way there – myself and other members of the early crew (including Laurie Blair and Joe Kennedy) indeed tripped on the sunshine of the day and the ease of leaving early. We stopped for a moment at a grassy area near a sewage plant (of all things) to chat, create a spinning vortex, play leapfrog and do cartwheels – all of which helped contribute to the feeling of freedom upon leaving the sometimes dregs of Washington, DC and arriving on a campus where doors are kept unlocked, minds and voices are freely expressed, and where the students come to class in barefeet and pajamas.

Soon enough, however, we discovered that some of this euphoric freedom was slipping into the past for Wells College students, many of whom were bitterly completing their first year of official co-edness on a campus that had been historically all-female since 1868. Our host, Ednie Garrison, the chair of the women studies department, explained the significance of that transition to the group upon greeting us on Thursday morning. Here we were, 6 men and 2 women of the GPI on a campus dripping with tension around this enormous change. Further, I found out there had been 3 sexual assaults on campus already, even though only 30 men had entered the walls of Wells since the fall. The men, vastly outnumbered and hoping to find their place in the midst of an uprising, seemed mostly to support the women’s expressions of anger and rage against the machine – which in this case happened to be the Board of Trustees – which went about the process of co-edizing the campus with a lack of consideration for the vehement protests of the women who had come to Wells specifically because it offered them the privilege of a single-sex education.

I was surprised at every corner. Surprised that many of the strongest, most outspoken women on campus gave us nothing but sincere hospitality, hosted us right alongside Ednie regardless of our largely male component. Surprised by the fractures in such a small student population – the upper classwomen ranging from resigned to upset to totally pissed off about the change, and the female freshmen taking quite a bit of slack for being the first group of women to be admitted onto a co-ed campus. Most of all, though, I was shocked at the level of maturity of the students. Regardless of the tension, the women treated one another with due respect as far as the eye could see — they seemed to have a reverence for debate, for the power of holding one’s own opinion, and all seemed to at least agree that the BOT went about the change sloppily at best – and at most, with utter disregard for the feelings of Wells students.

The most moving moments of the weekend for me involved seeing these young women in action – they voiced opinions without shyness, expressed themselves (even the quiet ones) clearly and gave me so much hope and inspiration for women’s power. Our first guerrilla event was a workshop on Thursday night that began after Shahid’s parlor talk on free speech vs. hate speech – what an incredible image from the balcony – Mo and I watched a room full of engaged women and marveled at their attention and devotion to the subject matter. Afterwards, Joe Kennedy was hastily setting up for his workshop and, seeing him a little stressed and frazzled, I persuaded him to go outside with me and drum for the sunset over the lake for 5 minutes. On the way out, I touched Christylz and encouraged him to troop everyone outdoors — I could just feel that this was to be an outdoors event. As the sun went down, Joe and I engaged about 5, then 12, then 15 students in a drumming and chanting frenzy that including one student’s reading a rivetting poem on rape and race – Patricia – she’ll never leave my mind – her strength set the tone for what was next. We moved indoors for a poetry workshop where leaders Shahid and Laurie inspired students to write on the co-ed experience. They were more than ready. In less than an hour we produced more than 10 collaborative poems (ie: 1-3 lines written per person and then passed to the next). Each one was a model of strength and expression.

We decided to ambush the next day’s BOT “tea party” with an insurgency.

And we did it!

The stuffy starchy BOT’s thought it was very cute at first to see these women stand on top of a chair and read their poems to the beat of the drums – but soon they were paralyzed by the words:


A trail of hypocrisy
Blazed through this sanctuary
Our history stripped of its safety
Tears for times past that were stolen from me
Trying to force things that will never be
Women learning bout their rights
With Minerva standing watch over our nights
The sycamore tree streching out its braches
Embracing us and our identities
Shattered was the glass that we saw sitting half-empty
And couldn’t wait to fill


I must mention the trust these women showed us, in their tender environment. Not used to being around men, they spent time around our group of mostly men, and I saw my role ironed out neatly which was to support them, encourage them, empower them. But in all honesty I felt some of the men in our group could’ve stepped up to the plate more by backing off more and letting them shine through.

Our performance on Friday night gave voice to 7 young women who chose each to read a collaborative poem from our workshop in front of a live audience of their peers. They were nervous, yet excited and as I went to stage them I could see what it meant for them to give voice to their frustrations. I wanted the men in our group to help clear a path for them, but felt that some of our less professional behavior might have confused them. I can’t say for sure – obviously they were strong – but I was too at that age, yet still wanted to be accepted, wanted to be included, wanted to be liked.

Regardless, I feel we fulfilled a need that was much deeper than what we expected. We stepped in to inspire and hold space for the young women at Wells to have their voices heard. We gave them a piece of knowledge about resistance and art that I know will stay with them. Several of the women plan to create a drum circle, and others want to begin using art and poetry as resistance on a regular basis. I just can’t believe the grace handed to us in this experience.

Upon leaving – again with the early crew which included Joe and myself – we brought the energy of Friday night’s performance into the wilderness, stopping in the vast, dark, starlit night to get out of the car and look around for once. I could barely control my breath or tears – it was the most appropriate metaphor for the entire experience – seeing beyond myself – ourselves – into the light of others.


  1. Kristin,

    Thankyou. Thankyou very much. And thankyou to Joe, Laurie, Moe Shahid, Chritylz, Damion, and Gustav. We miss you and we apreciate all that you have done for us. Reading this post brings back all the emotions from that weekend and strengthens the passion that I have for current things I’m working on fighting. I miss you and I hope y’all are well.

    Circle Keeper
    Guerrilla (last but certainly not least)

    Comment by Alynn Kramer — June 20, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

  2. THanks, Kristen, for writing such a powerful statement about your time at Wells. I was right back there inside it, and it’s been a year almost since I left Wells.

    I hope that you guys see this comment. I got so many of your lovely emails last year when I decided to leave Wells. It was a very painful decision and I was simply not in a place where I had to power to communicate my sadness and anger. Wells tried to eat me whole in the end, but I was saved at the very last minute.

    I’ve been in Harrisburg, PA this year but will be departing soon. Where to I don’t yet know. It’s all very scary, to tell you the truth.

    In the meantime, I’m writing to taking care of some things that have been neglected. I would love very much to get down to DC and catch you guys in action some time this summer. I will get on to your website and look for a list of upcoming events.

    I hope you are all well and safe and happy.


    Comment by Ednie Garrison — June 16, 2007 @ 12:49 am

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