To Dr. Suzanne Dancer, simple living is freedom. When Dr. Dancer isn’t busy as Santa Clara University’s Assistant Provost for Planning and Analysis, she often lends a hand at the Forge Garden. Dr. Dancer watched the Forge Garden transition from a literal pile of dirt in 2007-08 into the beautiful garden it is today. In particular, Dr. Dancer cares for the garden’s chickens. She first took the chickens under her wing in the summertime, when she noticed that students weren’t around as frequently. Her care for the chickens has grown beyond the gates of the garden and has influenced her workplace as well. In the Office of the Provost, nothing goes to waste. Dr. Dancer coordinates with her colleagues to collect leftover food that would otherwise end up in landfill, and takes this to the chickens. In return, the chickens thank Dr. Dancer by providing her with fresh eggs.
It also doesn’t hurt that Dr. Dancer lives a seven-minute walk away from SCU. She says living nearby makes it easy. Dr. Dancer rarely uses her car but instead, opts for commuting on foot or by bike. Her car is seven-years-old with 12,000 miles, nothing when compared to her also seven-year-old bike that has logged 18,000 miles. Dr. Dancer casually mentioned that she walks on average 100 miles a week, out of a combination of need and enjoyment, as if it were no big deal. She loves how here at SCU everything she needs is so walkable.
Dr. Dancer is in her seventh year at Santa Clara. She comes from the west Texas desert city of El Paso. Her unique background growing up in Texas and now living here in California has influenced her simple lifestyle in many ways. In Texas, Dr. Dancer reflected that often walking/biking is not a feasible option. The nearest grocery store could be many miles away. Dr. Dancer takes advantage of the ease of non-vehicle transportation here in California. One of her favorite bike trails is the Lower Guadalupe River Trail. Having the trails provides Dr. Dancer with a safe transportation route, which is important to her since she has been hit by a car twice! These dangerous encounters don’t deter her from continuing to transport herself.
Dr. Dancer travels often, including trips to England, Israel, and an annual visit to Mexico for the past fifteen years. These travels play a significant role in influencing her simple outlook. When she travels, she fits everything she needs in a small carry-on bag, and if something doesn’t fit--she simply doesn’t need it. Every year, after spending weeks at a time in poverty-ridden areas of Mexico, she notices herself growing from, and reflecting on the practices of, the local people. She noted that in Mexico, few people do not seem to buy anything canned. Instead, they walk daily to the local outdoor markets to purchase produce, meat, tortillas, eggs, etc. for that day’s meals. Or they gather fruit, vegetables, and herbs from their gardens. She pointed out how here in the U.S. we’re often removed from that kind of living. Dr. Dancer shared that when she travels outside of her area of familiarity, she becomes more aware of how she arranges her life.
Dr. Dancer ensured that her admirable lifestyle can be achieved by anyone. Her advice for college students to lead more simple lives addresses young people’s need to acquire things. She cited, for example, how here at Santa Clara, at the end of every Spring, truckloads of clothing and furnishings are hauled away from the residence halls--clothing and other objects that in the span of three quarters, students have already decided they no longer need. Dr. Dancer imparts to students and campus members: think twice before you burden yourself with stuff.