200 Days in the Life of the College

Saturday, October 9

A new name but an old ideal for ELS

By Anna Zahm ‘13

Emerson Hall was the unofficial center of campus back in the ’70s. It housed the Emerson Literary Society and lay between the Hamilton and Kirkland campuses. Students traveling back and forth at night would stop at ELS for “11 o’clocks,” a layout of cold cereals and PB and J fixings. Today, as the beautifully renovated Sadove Student Center at Emerson Hall, it is the official center of student activities, again integral to connecting the two sides of College Hill.

It was a Sunday morning in the spring of ’95, under the watchful gaze of Alexander Hamilton’s statue, when Emerson Hall was leased to Hamilton College on a handshake between Gene Tobin, then Hamilton president, and Steve Sislo, trustee of the Emerson Literary Society. Hamilton had recently declared that students could no longer live in non-College-owned housing. Upset, four fraternities filed a lawsuit, but ELS chose instead to lease its building to Hamilton before eventually selling it to the College.

Now I walk past Hamilton’s observant statue every day and count myself a member of ELS. I meet Sislo with a single question in mind: Why would a man who graduated in ’72 still be so dedicated to keeping the Society alive?

The answer stems from Sislo’s own undergrad years. “When Hamilton was all men,” he explains, “it failed to create a social life.” ELS, in contrast, “does not isolate. It includes.”

ELS is open and coed, allowing people to create bonds that might not otherwise be made. It is why ELS is so important to Sislo and why he was so concerned in ’95. But despite having lost its house, ELS flourishes. Members maintain an ideal of communal enrichment. The bonds between men and women, seniors and freshmen, alumni and undergrads, keep that tradition alive. Sislo’s words say it all: “You show up, you participate, you care.”