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Then and Now: The Kirkland Generation

February 3, 2010

As an educational institution dedicated to innovation as well as excellence, Kirkland College was constantly questioning, examining, and redefining itself throughout its all too brief existence.  In 1974, approximately halfway through its brief lifespan, the college’s Particulars catalog presented the results of two student surveys whose common theme was: “Where do we go from here?” The questions included:

  • What were your main reasons for choosing Kirkland?
  • What do you like about Kirkland now?
  • What, if anything, would you change?

Former resident faculty member Carol Locke made the following comments about one of the surveys:

“A significant number of seniors felt that Kirkland, particularly its student body, is becoming too homogeneous.  Allied with this was a real fear that both new students and faculty have lost the ‘pioneer spirit’ and are less willing than their predecessors to take risks and work hard to make Kirkland function as a truly innovative college.  Both of these concerns were linked to an even  more widely shared conviction that Kirkland is suffering, increasingly, from a ‘reality/rhetoric gap: that is, we claim to be something we are not, something which, perhaps, no college can be.  By and large, the seniors retained a large reservoir of confidence that Kirkland can make good on its initial promises.”

Twenty five years later, the Kirkland Committee sent out a similar survey to three Kirkland and three Hamilton classes that graduated during the Kirkland era.  The Committee, composed of about forty Kirkland alumnae, is dedicated to fostering the spirit and principles of Kirkland College on the Hill.  The survey was designed to complement the Kirkland Generation panel discussion by providing a broader take on what Kirkland has meant to those who experienced it first hand.

Going over the responses, I was struck again and again by how much they have in common with the viewpoints expressed by Kirkland students in the 1974-75 issue of Particulars.  The major difference: students back then were providing feedback which they hoped would help shape a living institution they assumed would last indefinitely.  The 2009 survey tapped a deep vein of anger and bitterness because of what happened in 1978.

Still, the intensity of the feelings expressed (both negative and positive), the soul searching, and above all the earnest questioning of Kirkland’s purpose and ultimate value, remain the same.  And for those of us who loved Kirkland, men and women alike, the memories are still vivid and alive, after all these years.

Read excerpts of 1974 survey

Read comments from 2009 survey

Elisabeth Horwitt K73

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