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Biography of Erin A. Ronder: Hippie Diaspora

     In order to come to a more reflective place to analyze why and how I have found myself back at the university setting attempting to earn a PhD and launch a cultural exchange program for pre-service teachers at the University, I must do a little back tracking. Humans, all of us, are reflections of the communities who influenced us during our formative years. Additionally, cultural mores, folkways and pathways inform our value systems, goals and self perception. Clifford (1986) reminds us that, “cultures that we study possess indigenous and imported texts of their own and some of these texts are undoubtedly about us”. The following is an attempt to examine the experiences which have both catapulted me from and tethered me to my hippie upbringing to find myself in leadership positions working for “the man”. Miraculously, I have found a way to work within the system that my parents and their contemporaries sought to destroy, while simultaneously creating myself as a more progressive and positively oriented vehicle for change than my social justice oriented, activist parents.


     Autoethnographical research is both liberating and limiting at the same instance. As Crawford (1996) asserts, “It implies a ripping away of the researcher’s privilege and an abandoning of…traditional roles” (p.158). While the author is free to investigate any number of historical events from any number of personal perspectives, one must also utilize academically acceptable sources of reference. For this purpose I will be using, a blend of autoethnography, (Gonzalez, et al, 2001) as a method of data collection, as well as personal narrative and research into the literature. The intent is to identify sources of material for this study that illuminate the story without unnecessary embellishment.

Formative Years

     Turner (1986) declares, “Each of us has had certain ‘experiences’ which have been formative and transformative…sequences of external events and internal responses to them…” (p.35). The following is a collection of some of my formative and transformative experiences. As a young child, I had a profound understanding that my life was not average. In fact, with in my community the notion of sameness or normalcy was regarded with suspicion and contempt. My modest, yet not uneventful, upbringing began in a tent in a cow pasture and then a communal house for unwed teenage mothers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

My parents were high school drop outs in the throes of the 1970’s free love movement. My father was a genius composer with no ability or desire to work with “the machine”. My mother was the work horse who set me on the path to self actualization, by any means necessary. While my father spent his time playing his guitar, volunteering at the local underground radio station and free bookstore; my mother earned her GED, managed a health food coop, became a midwife, a journeyman electrician, and bore and breast fed five children. Together they played in a punk band then new wave band and participated in civil rights and anti-nuclear energy and anti-war demonstrations. I was less than a year old the first time I was exposed to tear gas during one of these activities.

     I was alternately homeschooled, community schooled, Waldorf schooled and Montessori schooled for the first 11 years of my life. We traveled with the band from Asheville to Chapel Hill to Lincoln, to Chicago and finally to Austin, Texas where on-the-road life seemed to stop for a while. Sara, the third of five siblings was born shortly after arrival to a communal living environment located 5 blocks from the University of Texas at Austin and 5 blocks from what was to become my first public school experience at Maplewood Elementary. Shortly after my sister was born, my parents divorced and my mother carried on with the moving and baby making. We traveled to Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Rochester, Biloxi living in cars and friends housed until my father remarried. My new step-mother was the anchor that my ship desperately needed. Through her solidity, I began to see a way to “control” the chaos. School and volunteering became the only activities that mattered.


     With a lot of encouragement from my step mother and lack of attention from my father, I enrolled at Fulmore Middle School. The school was in transition as the neighborhood demographics were quickly changing with the creation of Covington and Mendez Middle Schools recent opening. Fulmore, was once a school rife with gang activity, now a social incubator run by a progressive administrator. Ms. Vickie Baldwin, principal extrordinaire was and continues to be a visionary. Youth who were already disenfranchised from, disaffected with and disillusioned by the educational system, were no longer referred to in-school-suspension, but rather made to join the Ayuda Club. Here they painted murals over gang graffiti, cleaned litter, xeriscaped the campus and fed the homeless. The traditional social hierarchy was challenged when she eliminated the cheerleading team and instituted a “pep squad” open to any and all students. She also had an open door policy as well as student-principal breakfasts weekly to hold an open and democratic forum of discussion to make effective change by and for the students. This experience was my first with the idea that “the man” could actually work for social justice and change from within the system. It changed the course of my life.

     My experience with Vickie Baldwin coupled with my involvement in the Job Training Partnership Act and Youth Employment Services programs marked the beginning of my journey toward leadership from within the system that I sought to change. The JTPA provided me with an internship at the Faulk Library. The YES program opened the door to any number of volunteer experiences in East Austin including an internship with the People’s Community Clinic, Out Youth Austin, the Teen Help Line and the Leadership Training Academy at St. Edward’s University. All of these opportunities manifested into true leadership roles during my high school experiences at the Science Academy at LBJ High School.

     The education that I received at the Science Academy set me up for success as a college bound person. I received multiple opportunities to attend school as many prestigious schools such as Amherst, Southwestern, Northwestern and the University of Texas at Austin. Due to simple economics, as well as my comfort level with Austin, I choose to stay and help my mother with her family while attending UT. However, one semester into college and I (in true hippie form) fell in love with a musician-writer (which I vowed never to do) and I became pregnant. The birth of my daughter, during my astronomy final, was the next course changing event that brought me to my current position. As I was determined to carve out a life for my child and myself that did not include living in tents or school busses, I began to attack my academic career with fierceness. Working 2 jobs, breastfeeding and then attending education classes became my entire existence. During the last 2 semesters at UT, right before I was about to suffer as stress related breakdown, I applied to study abroad to Mexico. In Cuernavaca, I attended ITESM and taught English at a nearby primary school. This experience solidified my desire to become a bilingual educator to actualize my social justice perspective. It also created the perfect setting for me to become pregnant again.

Epiphany and Pain

    Turner (1986) declares, “Each of us has had certain ‘experiences’ which have been formative and transformative…sequences of external events and internal responses to them…” (p.35). My second daughter was born during midterms of my final semester at UT. You could hear her colic induced screams vibrating off of the walls during my commencement ceremony at the Frank Erwin Center. After her birth, I took one year off and then began my Masters program at what was then Southwest Texas State University. During this time, I managed a progressive and political coffee shop/community hub called Ruta Maya during the day and took classes at night. My mother, by this point, had remarried and was attending school at SWT working on her bachelors (and incidentally graduated Magna Cum Laude) and one of my sisters lived on campus and attended school with us. I homeschooled my first daughter and every thing looked pretty rosy. Then one of my younger sisters manifested germ cell cancer; an aggressive cancer that attacks young people with no familial history of cancer. She moved in with me and began her rounds of chemotherapy. One would think that this experience would cripple a person, but it only served to accelerate my drive.

     After my sister went into remission, I took my oldest daughter with me to Guatemala and Mexico to work on my thesis project sponsored by my new mentor Dr. John Beck. My mother attended Texas Women’s College on full scholarship to study Special Education and earn her Masters degree. After graduating, I accepted a job teaching at the first public school I ever attended as a bilingual Kindergarten teacher. The experience was less than ideal and I almost gave up hope of changing anything from the inside. Then I found a charter school in its fledgling stages, the Austin Discovery School. The constructivist philosophy of its clandestine staff and the heavy emphasis on nutrition and outdoor education made this the obvious place for me to truly begin my career.

After one more year in the classroom, it became apparent to me that although I love working with children, I excel at working in leadership roles. I was offered the position of Development Coordinator. My responsibilities compliment my personality and my interests. I worked as a parent liaison and a public relations representative. Additionally, I conceptualized and developed programs for the children, parents and teachers of the school. Lastly, I worked to raise lots of money through grant writing and event planning. This position, in addition to the opportunity to work with an amazing administrator, brought me full circle to focusing on leadership and school as a vehicle for social change.

The Future and Beyond

     I remember as a child politicking my parents to allow me to attend public school. After all, how many college professors were homeschooled in the 1970’s? I knew then that working at a University was what I “wanted to do when I grew up”. Once, when I was four, my mother’s feminist friends who often took me to book readings at lesbian book stores and feminist political rallies at Loyola University in Chicago gifted a t-shirt to me. I will never forget what it looked like. It was bright blue and in cursive, rainbow, iron-on decal it said, “Never under estimate the power of a woman”. I never did.

     Denise Trauth became president of Texas State University during my final semester of my Masters studies. I often look up her biography as a source of encouragement and focus. Every year, I call Vickie Baldwin at Garza Independence High School to check in and get reminders of why I started this crazy journey. Before I returned to Texas State for this PhD in School Improvement, I counseled with Dr. Beck to make sure that this was the right decision for me. Once in the program, I met with Dean Barrera to inform her of my goal to pursue the Clinton Global Initiative Call to Action. Due to all of these role models that I have found and cultivated in my life, it seems inevitable that I would find myself in this program to be the right fit. Hopefully, by next year we have a cultural exchange program for the pre-service teachers at Texas State University- San Marcos. With enough endurance, I will make it back to Central America to work with indigenous educators, develop a sophisticated understanding of my theoretical perspective in a University setting and eventually follow Dr. Trauth’s footsteps into Leadership at a college somewhere in the world. And I will never underestimate the power of this woman.


Clifford, J. (1986). On ethnographic allegory. In James Clifford & George E. Marcus (Eds.), Writing culture. The poetics and politics of ethnography. (pp.98-121). Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

Crawford, L. (1996). Personal ethnography. Communication Monographs, 63, 158-170.

Gonzalez, K.P., Figueroa, M.A., Marin, P., Moreno, J.F., et al (2001). Understanding the nature and context of Latina/o doctoral student experiences. Journal of College Student Development, 42, 563-580.

Turner, V.W. (1986). Dewey, Dilthey, and drama: An essay in the anthropology of experience. In V.W. Turner & E. M. Bruner (Eds.), The anthropology of experience (pp.33-44). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

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