Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Spirit of Place: Crafting a Campus Ecology in Northern New Mexico Rhythm

Here is a very interesting, recently published piece by Drs. Florence Guido-DiBrito and Alicia Fedelina Chávez at the University of New Mexico. It’s titled “The Spirit of Place: Crafting a Campus Ecology in Northern New Mexico Rhythm.” It can be found at this interesting on-line journal called A Journal of the Natural and Built Environments. As we re-build our higher education systems in a P16 framework, it seems important to be mindful of place. Check out the beautiful slide show. -Angela


The Spirit of Place: Crafting a Campus Ecology in Northern New Mexico Rhythm

Before I even knew the name of this place
I could have proven to you that it had always existed in my heart…
There is continuity in the blood that transcends
geography, language, skin color, time…
So I embrace ravens, magpies, killdeer,
my neighbors, their sheep and the mountains.
When I got here, finally, my body caught up to the rest of me
and my life became a victory.

— John Nichols, If Mountains Die: A New Mexico Memoir

What does it mean to craft a college campus in the spirit of the place it serves? The University of New Mexico - Taos, an emerging college less than 12 years old, is deeply rooted in the high desert mountains and tri-cultural communities of northern New Mexico. As a tiny collegiate organization crafted through consistent, reflective application of an integrated campus ecology, UNM-Taos embraces holistic values, healthy relationships and inspiring, sustainable built and natural spaces. This article and slideshow, from the perspectives of campus leader and photoethnographic researcher, provide a snapshot of a college developing in congruence with the unique rhythms of its physical and spiritual environment.

With heightened awareness since 9/11, U.S. citizens long for places that make them feel nurtured, empowered, inspired and welcomed. We believe that the future of higher education likewise lies in evolving campuses congruent with the spirit of the places they serve and that are much kinder to the earth that sustains us.

Journey of Creation

by Alicia Fedelina Chávez

Querencia is a Spanish word that speaks of a longing for your spirit home and the familiar rhythms of your heart. In fall of 2001, I began my role as a leader in the creation of a new college in my home town of Taos, New Mexico. After 25 years of leading and teaching in other colleges around the nation, I am where I want to be—serving New Mexico in ways I never thought possible. As a person of Spanish and Native American heritage, raised in northern New Mexico, I thought it would grow easier to be away. In truth, it became increasingly difficult each day because I was lost without the rhythms of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the smell of desert sage, the headiness of high altitude vistas, the power of alpine storms, skies so blue they hurt your eyes, the passionate blend of ancient and new traditions, the balance of a contemplative life, and the intrusive challenge and warmth of Spanish and Native American relations. I interpreted my leadership responsibility for this emerging campus as facilitating the creation of a campus ecosystem in congruence with the rhythms of Northern New Mexico. These rhythms include strong emphasis on a balanced, contemplative, communal, and spiritual life leading to the building of a collaborative learning community and a sustainable campus ecosystem.

The Taos Region

by Florence Guido-DiBrito

What does it mean to live in a place that is your spirit home, regardless of whether you were born there or not? In fall 2003, I began a sabbatical at UNM-Taos to fulfill my goal of involvement, as a researcher, in creating a college and building a learning community in northern New Mexico. As a photoethnographer, I found myself observing the land, people, and diverse cultures that paint a picture of UNM-Taos and the enchanted circle region.

Taos is characterized by its abundance of adobe architecture, artistic expression, diverse peoples, deep contrasts, and brilliant blue skies.
The Taos community, where UNM-Taos is situated, deeply reflects its 900-year-old heritage. Adobe homes and narrow streets with signs like La Placita and Romero lined with latilla fences adorn this community. Taos Pueblo, nestled into and protected by the highest peak in New Mexico’s mighty Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is a compelling presence in the valley and home to its richly-spirited descendants of early peoples. Ancient acecias wind through the valley, bringing precious moisture from snowy peaks to sustain life-giving pastures. Earth ships, geodesic domes, beer can, glass, and straw bale homes, alternative energy design structures, and buses running on vegetable oil are outward community symbols of creativity, traditional and pioneering ingenuity, sustainability, and independence. Artists abound in such number that there are over 86 art galleries in a valley that is home to only 35,000 people. Cowboys on horseback, pastures of sheep, antique low-rider pickup trucks, bicycle commuters, and motorcycles are also at the heart of the community’s spirit.

“Foreigners”—those not born in the community—are often seen as outsiders and, depending on the point of view, may also include those whose families have lived here since the time of the Conquistadores. Spanish and Native American traditional rituals are sacred and lived. The Catholic Church—profoundly altered by Native spirituality and Spanish mysticism—is a formidable presence in the region, yet a wide range of spiritual, religious, and New Wave beliefs proliferate. Those who visit the Taos area cannot help but feel the all-encompassing presence of the Taos Mountain. She is spoken of by locals and visitors alike as a primary personality, energy source and spirit in the life. Local folklore insists that she fully embraces you, or sends you quickly on your way if your spirit is not of this place.

Taos is filled with stark contrasts. It is a place where realities—such as the harsh desert, Rio Grande Gorge, and high surrounding mountains; daily responsibility to tribe and/or extended family; and extreme poverty—create conditions in which going away to college remains an impossibility for most. It is a place where creativity and community abound and yet violence is four times higher than the national average. It is a place where magical light attracts thousands of artists, yet there is tension between those from varying cultures. It is a place where education is highly valued and yet life challenges create a high school dropout rate approaching 50 percent. This is the rocky ground on which UNM-Taos is emerging.

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