Antioch College, a school I attended briefly as a freshman, is set to close its doors next summer, 155 years after its founding. I arrived there from Minnesota in the summer of 1970 and, despite a fairly good dousing in the counterculture during my junior and senior years at high school, I was nowhere near prepared for what awaited me at the Yellow Springs, Ohio campus.
Actual HIPPIES (which is how my father would've described them with a shudder and a sneer) picked me up at the airport in Dayton.
On the first night in my dorm, students moved all the furniture from the common area into the bathroom, and proceeded to get high with every drug imaginable.
Marijuana was openly grown in the college greenhouse. Some students were tending plants in their dorm rooms.
The bathrooms and showers on my floor were co-ed.
Every Friday night there was a nude swim party in the college pool. (And every Friday night I had the same excuse ready: sore throat.)
For the first time in my life, women got angry if I held the door open for them.
For the first time in my life, I saw women going braless.
I myself went shoeless and sockless — until the fourth week of school, when I stepped on a bee and got a nasty infection.
My first roommate was black. We lasted about a week together because every night members of the black separatist dorm invaded our room, scaring the bejesus out of me and intimidating him until he "left whitey" and joined their ranks.
My second roommate listened to the Grateful Dead 24 hours a day. I still haven't forgiven him.
During the summer session, the college was closed down three times on account of strikes. (In the last strike — in support of cafeteria workers' pay demands — we held the vice-president of the college hostage. I collected his doodles, which I later handed over to the editors of the college newspaper for publication.)
I took a class in Zen Buddhism which was taught by one Bishop Nippo Syaku. During the first session he expounded upon the idea that "Everything is nothing" and "Life is illusion". In the next session, he delivered the very same lecture, word for word. When the third session began in the same way, I pondered whether it was really happening or whether it was illusion, and then I turned my back on Zen Buddhism forever.
I took another class called Man and Survival. To satisfy the survival test requirement of the course, I hitchhiked to Michigan with four other students to attend the Goose Lake Pop Festival. It was a three-day event with such rock luminaries as Ten Years After, Chicago, and Jethro Tull appearing. There were over 100,000 people jammed in the park, with only a dozen or so Porto-Potties, so it was indeed a rigorous survival test that my professor surely had to admire.
At Antioch, there were no tests, no grades. You could petition for credit for any cockamamie idea; for example, becoming pregnant and keeping a journal about your experience.
People seeking enlightenment, who had heard about the college's reputation, made pilgrimages to the college as if it were Mecca. I met one such pilgrim, an Abbie Hoffman disciple, who persuaded me to leave school and hitchhike with him to the East Coast. Six hours into the trip, we parted ways after he stole a pair of shoes from our driver. He claimed he was only heeding Hoffman's message of Steal Now, Pay Never.
The highlight of that summer? When two friends came to Antioch, not to be enlightened, but simply to visit me. We camped out under a tree on the campus grounds, eavesdropping on the stoned-out talk and fornicating of my fellow classmates. The next day we drove to Dayton and laughed ourselves silly watching Beyond the Valley of the Dolls — a wonderfully bizarre world which, in truth, seemed no weirder than the place we had just left.
Here is more reminiscing about Antioch from former NPR commentator Michael Goldfarb (New York Times, June 17, 2007):