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Class of ’75 recollections

(The Hamilton and Kirkland classes of 1975 met together in 2010 to discuss their experiences on the Hill during the mid-seventies.  Peter Lotto summarized it for us.)

We see ourselves as unique in our experience. We were on campus for the graduation of the charter class in 1972; we also knew many members of Kirkland’s last class – 1978. We were witness to the Old Hamilton, and through Kirkland, we saw the birth of the New Hamilton.

We chose Hamilton for many reasons: it’s reputation as a quality men’s college; family, friends, teachers, or mentors who were Hamilton students or graduates; the beauty of Clinton in the winter; and so on. When asked “What did you know about Kirkland before coming to Hamilton?” the guys all responded with a resounding “Nothing!” (Many of us added that we had little-to-no experience with women to begin with!)

Kirkland was not on the tour, seldom discussed in any pre-admission conversations, and generally ignored by all. It was as if Kirkland simply did not exist, or was seen as a temporary aberration, one that would pass quickly. Even for those of us who knew about it, Kirkland was generally not a factor in our decision to attend Hamilton.

The sense that Kirkland was a non-factor didn’t change much when we arrived on campus. During freshman orientation there was little, if any, interaction with our K ’75 peers. Since Kirkland students did not have any prerequisites or other requirements, we did not see women in the English placement test (where we would find out if we had to take English 11) or in any other early activities.

Upperclassmen did not add to our awareness or understanding of Kirkland. Dunham RAs reminded us that we were subject to parietal hours for freshmen, but mostly in the context of girlfriends visiting from home. And the Dunham suites were not conducive to romantic activities: four guys, three small rooms, bunk beds – the joy of it all.

As far as facilitating our social lives, the college bused in loads of women from Keuka for freshman mixers, and everyone was given directions to Cazenovia College, along with recommendations for clubs and bars.

Fraternities still sponsored truck rolls to Skidmore and Wells. For the uninitiated, a truck roll involved a rented U-Haul, a keg of beer, and as many guys as could be packed into the cargo area. The truck “rolled” to the college, and the hope was to meet women upon arrival.

Still, in spite of it all, most of us discovered Kirkland. Of the assembled group at the reunion, only one man admitted that he had not crossed the road more than 10 times during his four years on the Hill. When asked why, he said, “I didn’t think there was anything there for me.”

The rest of us met Kirkland women in the Pub, in Bristol, in the Bookstore and, of course, in many of our classes. What a revelation! It didn’t take long for us to figure out that there was no need to get in the back of a U-Haul truck to find women – they were right next to us. And they were smart, interesting, and able to challenge us at every turn – socially, academically and emotionally.

Sure, Kirkland had its share of fully self actualized liberated WOMYN, who wanted nothing to do with us preppy conservative Hamilton men. Some were intimidating. But for the most part, the women we encountered were just like us – looking for a good education in a small college environment where we could count on direct interaction with our professors, small classes, and a solid, broad-based liberal arts experience.

Academically most of us discovered new challenges when we took Kirkland courses. Some Kirkland professors wrote evaluations for their Hamilton students, even though all they had to do was give a grade. It’s one thing to get a simple letter grade; it is quite another to receive a written critique of your performance. Humbling would be the most tactful description.

In addition, many Kirkland professors challenged us at a level most of us had not anticipated. We were argued with, questioned, forced to think in new and different ways, and never allowed to get away with the “easy” answer.  This may have been a function of the age of our Kirkland professors. As a group they were much younger than most Hamilton faculty – many not much older than their students. Or maybe it was a function of the unique educational environment of Kirkland itself. We discovered that Kirkland was not about big lectures with student regurgitation on the final; Kirkland was about the Socratic method, dialog between students and faculty. We also realized that Kirkland was about individual learning, taking the base material and running with it in new and interesting directions. When asked, most of us Hamilton grads at the reunion gathering remarked that the Kirkland professors with whom we studied really taught us how to learn, analyze, and synthesize information into cogent, well-researched and thought-out work.

We discussed the differences between Hamilton and Kirkland at the faculty and administration levels. We all agreed that it was a great tragedy that Hamilton president Robert McEwen died before Kirkland was fully up and running; that many in the subsequent administration did not share his vision. We also talked about the long-standing controversy over how the two faculties got along. Doug Raybeck, (now retired) Professor of Anthropology and an early member of the Kirkland faculty, noted that the issues were not so much between Hamilton and Kirkland faculty, rather between young and old faculty members on both sides of the Hill. For the most part, Doug told us that younger Hamilton faculty members were very supportive both of their Kirkland colleagues and the college itself. Members of the older generation – perhaps more set in their ways, perhaps turned off by some of the Kirkland innovations – were more hostile.

In retrospect, many of us remember incidents in which advisors or others discouraged us from taking courses at Kirkland, telling us that they would be light on academic rigor and of little use to our Hamilton careers. Those of us who ignored that advice learned how wrong they were. We also noted the irony that Hamilton’s President and many of the senior administrators are now women – and much of Hamilton’s academic philosophy is based on Kirkland principles.

We also talked about the Kirkland’s impact on our post-Hamilton lives – especially in the workplace. Several of men said that, after spending four years with women who were our equals in every way, they had a leg up on male coworkers who were encountering smart and capable women for the first time.

Finally, we discussed the change, if any, in the kind of women who attended Kirkland, and later a co-ed Hamilton over the years.  Doug gave us all reason for hope when he told us that he was again seeing “Kirkland” at Hamilton. There had been years when Hamilton was attracting a more traditional student, but finally, just in the last few years, “Kirkland students” were back: women and men who seek the challenge and journey of learning, and do not expect to be spoon fed. For those of us who lamented the passing of Kirkland as an independent institution, this was the best news of the entire weekend – except for Steak Nite, of course!

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011 7:45 am

    So interesting to read after all these years, especially in light of my own daughter’s imminent application to college. Thank you.

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