The devastating Thomas Fire has scorched more than 237,500 acres of land in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties since igniting December 4, 2018. Antioch University Santa Barbara (AUSB) students, staff, and faculty experienced emergency evacuations, loss of pets, housing, and property. Because of the continued red flag advisories, precarious power situation on campus, extreme unhealthy air quality, and additional local evacuations, the AUSB campus closed. The fire threat came at the worst possible time for the AUSB MFA in Writing & Contemporary Media Program, which was about to launch its third residency and semester.
In the midst of the crisis, Steve Heller, Chair of both the MFA in Creative Writing program at Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA) and the MFA in Writing & Contemporary Media program at AUSB, and Ross Brown, Santa Barbara MFA Program Director, began working to come up with a solution.
The first step was to begin the residency virtually.
“We had a virtual ‘Meet the Mentors’ meeting between students and faculty,” said Brown. “Faculty held virtual office hours to form our mentor groups and began working with students to develop their learning plans for the semester.”
The MFA residency in Los Angeles was already underway. Heller and Brown—along with AULA Provost Mark Hower and AUSB Provost Barbara Lipinski— worked with their respective faculties and staffs to create an opportunity for continuing AUSB MFA students to attend the last six days of the AULA MFA residency.
“We created a mixed genre workshop taught by internationally produced playwright and author Colette Freedman, especially for AUSB MFA students,” said Heller. “Students from the AULA program who are jumping to the AUSB program in Winter/Spring 2018 residency also attended the new workshop.”
The MFA team will be creating a combination of online presentations as well as live presentations in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles during January to replace presentations students were not able to attend live this week.
“One of the things I found remarkable was that even students who had been evacuated and whose residences were at risk due to the fire were so passionate about the value they get from the residencies that they found a way to attend, either live in Los Angeles or virtually,” added Brown. “That same passion was also found in our team. Our program coordinator, evacuated from her home, found a safe place to stay in Santa Barbara in order to help students.”
Brown’s home is located six blocks from the evacuation zone, but he also continued to work on the residency.
“I’m both proud and humbled by the way faculty, staff, and administration at our Santa Barbara and Los Angeles campuses have worked together to serve the needs of students in the midst of a genuine crisis,” added Heller. “This is what a student-centered approach to education looks like. I can’t imagine this kind of cross-campus collaboration under severe stress happening anywhere but Antioch.”