Hamilton College is a small liberal arts college located in Clinton, New York, deep in the heart of Central New York. With about 1700 undergraduates, and no graduate students whatsoever, Hamilton embodies the "residential campus" stereotype, especially given the rather remote placement of Clinton, NY.
Hamilton was founded in 1793 as the 1793 as the Hamilton-Oneida Academy. It was then chartered in 1812 as Hamilton College (named, of course, after Alexander Hamilton
, to whom there is still a large statue erected in front of the chapel), and merged with Kirkland College in 1973. It is the third-oldest college in New York
, and most of the original stone-masonry
buildings on the north side of campus are still standing,
The campus is divided in two by College Hill Road, the main road snaking up the not-insignificant hill upon which the college sits (rumors abound of heating coils installed underneath the pavement since the sharp turns and precipitous slope, mixed with the inhuman amounts of snow that fall every winter, create something of a traffic hazard). Tour guides refer to the two sides of campus as the "North Side" and "South Side"; every student, by the end of the first day of orientation, refers to them as the "Light Side" and "Dark Side", respectively. The naming scheme stems, in part, from the difference in the appearance of the two sides: The Light Side was constructed in the early 19th century with the founding of Hamilton College, while the Dark Side was built in the 1960's as Kirkland College, and all-women's school that merged with Hamilton in 1973 and took on its name. The Dark Side's stunningly ugly buildings, best-known for putrid-orange shades and an all-concrete motif, are usually left off the tour, and mocked with greate regularity. The Light Side's architecture is positively gorgeous, however, and the layout of the campus allows for great amounts of open space and greenery, to great easthetic effect.
As with most liberal arts schools, Hamilton's strongest and most popular departments are economics, government (political science), psychology, and English, though the demographics are slowly shifting. Computer science is still listed as one of the most popular majors, though the department has shrunk from nearly one hundred to less than thirty with the collapse of the tech bubble. At the same time, science majors are becoming much more popular, and biology and chemistry are quickly rising to the top of the list. The construction of an as-yet-unnamed, $56 million science center, set to open for the fall of 2004, hopes to bring the science program at Hamilton into competition with some of the best schools in the country, and matches Middlebury's in scope and capacity. Research is encouraged, and 5-10% of the campus works either during the semester or over the summer with faculty, sometime during their four years.
Hamilton is unusual in its academic requirements: there is no distribution requirement for students to meet, in contrast with most schools of its type. Instead, the college requires all sophomores to take an aptly-named Sophomore Seminar, and intensive one-semester class whose purpose is to combine several disciplines into the study of one particular area. Seminars range from "Food for Thought," a study of the history, politics, and culture of food, to "On The Trail of Lewis and Clark," a geopolitical history class of the expedition that culminates in a 2-week hike across the midwest along the trail. Not having to fulfill a core requirement of courses is a godsend, and allows many to double major or focus more strongly on a few favored departments.
The writing program at Hamilton is considered one of the strongest among liberal arts schools, with a number of courses marked as "Writing Intensive," indicating a heavy focus on paper-writing instead of exams. Undergraduates are required to take three of these courses during their four years.
Hamilton lives and dies by its Honor Code, a promise to adhere to a severely-defined code of academic integrity and honesty. Incoming freshmen are required to sign off on the Code before registering for classes, and violations (anything from cheating on exams to misuse of sources for a paper) are brought before the Honor Court, an elected group of students and faculty who conduct fairly elaborate trials. Anyone found guilty of violating the code can expect some clemency for a first offense (A grade of 'XF' in the class, which is factored into GPA calculations as a 0.0), but will almost always be expelled for a second offense. Serious stuff.
Hamilton still has something of a Greek system in place, though not in any way that one would expect. There are more than 20 societies on campus, including the founding chapter of Alpha Delta Phi. However, ever since the Residential Life Act of 1995, fraternity houses have been banned on campus, and all students are ostensibly required to live in college-provided housing. Though there are no houses to allow society members to live together, the housing lottery is frequently abused to allow 10 or 20 members to share adjacent rooms in a dorm. Most of the old frat houses have been converted into student housing, and are amazing: the AD house, which sits on the edge of campus, has a huge first-floor dining room whose wallpaper alone is said to be valued at over $1 million. The houses are usually taken up by upperclassmen, and are some of the nicest "dorm living" options that I've seen at colleges.
The fraternities and sororities on campus still have a fairly important role, as they provide most of the large-scale parties and entertainment available on campus. Coupled with Hamilton's rather unfortunate distance from any city of mention, this provides most of the entertainment available to students on weekends. As might be expected, there is a tremendous alcohol abuse problem among students, supposedly among the worst in liberal arts schools.
Stereotypes about Hamilton students abound; perhaps most common is the Aryan-looking fellow in a pink polo shirt with the collar flipped up driving around campus in a Mercedes. I won't say that this is completely untrue: there is a sickening amount of money present among a lot of students, and a number of them like to show this off. Politics among students tend to be much more conservative than might be expected on a liberal arts campus; the school is split pretty evenly between conservatives and liberals, with the former being a bit more vocal in matters of local concern. Strangely, the faculty is ridiculously liberal, and has been known to get into arguments with the student body over it.
While the conservativism is usually palatable, what's most striking about the student body is its general apathy. There usually aren't fliers up in the student center demanding political action or encouraging protest; people simply don't care. There haven't been demonstrations on campus for years, and the few groups that have tried (such as the anti-war protesters last March) have generally found that students don't care enough to take part in anything. I have no idea why this is, and find it vaguely disquieting.
Quality of Life
I may have presented the college as someplace undesirable; this is not the case at all. Hamilton has a beautiful campus, and if you can deal with the (infamous Upstate New York) weather, it's one of the nicest places you'll ever visit. The faculty are amazing, housing options abound, and most of the students are the nicest people you'll ever meet. As far as undergraduate options go, one would be hard-pressed to find a better place than Hamilton College.
http://www.hamilton.edu for some of the finer details
My own meandering experience here