A Deep Springs College for Women

Originally posted on newyorker.com

Written by Carrie Battan

Photograph by Laura Marcus / Arete Project

In mid-June, a group of eighteen young women arrived on a makeshift campus in mountainous, rural North Carolina, thirty miles from the nearest interstate and a long hike from reliable cell-phone service. They made themselves as comfortable as possible in small, unheated, unfurnished cabins. Soon, they were cooking soups and stews from vegetables grown on the property. The members of the group, who mostly wore hiking boots, cargo shorts, and old T-shirts, were attendees of the Arete Project, a summer program launched four years ago to provide intellectually curious young women with an experience similar to the one offered at Deep Springs College, the experimental and highly romanticized school in the California desert, which was founded in 1917 with the goal of preparing young men for the vague and lofty goal of “a life of service to humanity.”

Like Deep Springs, the Arete Project offers an alternative to the standard model of American higher education, one defined by three “pillars”: physical labor, academics, and self-governance. Every class, or “cohort,” must determine, from the day the women arrive on campus, the rules by which they will live and work together. Students have minimal connection to the outside world; in the past, cohorts have restricted phone and Internet usage to brief periods or places on campus. No drugs or alcohol are permitted. A potent mix of practical training and idealism, this education is designed to imbue students with a “selfless devotion to world and humanity.”