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[whitespace]  Michael McAvoy Agent for change: "We're trying to bridge the gap between the urban and rural," says Michael McAvoy of New College of California in Santa Rosa.
Michael Amsler

Best Place to Plan for a Sustainable Future

THANKS TO ACADEMIC DIRECTOR Michael McAvoy, the Santa Rosa campus of New College of California is the most hopeful learning center for studying social activism in the county. "Sonoma County has a long history of building alternative communities," says McAvoy about why the renowned alternative college in San Francisco opened a branch in the North Bay.

The accredited B.A. and M.A. programs are designed for people interested in learning how to build alternative, sustainable communities. It's a program created to meet the academic needs of a growing county population that has made alternative health practices, organic farming, and community-supported agricultural a political reality.

"San Francisco is politically congested and it's harder to make the kind of impact we want to make here," adds McAvoy, an urban activist since the anti-Vietnam War days. "In San Francisco the strategy of social change is the traditional radical notion of confronting the dominant culture and attempting to make it more just through direct confrontation. Up here the focus is on building alternative systems and institutions and social relations, so we can make the revolution right now instead of some day in the future."

The lifelong activist designed Santa Rosa's academic program with New College president Peter Gabel, a Santa Rosa resident, who also will be teaching a few classes. The school is located in a historic 8,000-square-foot Railroad Square building purchased by the foundation started by Gabel's mother, Arlene Francis, a former actress and TV personality.

With about 50 to 100 students between ages 20 and 55, the local college will be much smaller than the main campus in San Francisco's Mission District, where about 1,000 students attend classes every year. And plans call for the weekend seminars to include guest lecturers from the Bay Area as well as from Sonoma County. Included among them are Michael Lerner, the author of The Politics of Meaning: Restoring Hope and Possibility in an Age of Cynicism; Buddhist scholar and activist Joanna Macy; and Matthew Fox, director of the Institute of Creation Spirituality.

"We're trying to bridge the gap between the urban and rural here in Santa Rosa," adds McAvoy about the program. One bridge includes the development of an internship program at the Arts and Ecology Center in rural Occidental.

The college also offers both degree and non-degree programs for people who just want to learn new things. "Part of our mission for creating social change is to reach people who already have a degree but no longer have a context for being political and want to learn the things they need to help make the world a better place." New College of California, Santa Rosa campus, 99 Sixth St., 568-0112.

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From the March 26-April 1, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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