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Around College


The Greening of Psi U

As a tribute to a man whose generosity of mind and spirit helped lead to the creation of Hamilton College, the former Psi Upsilon house now bears the name Skenandoa House in honor of the Oneida Indian chief and friend of Samuel Kirkland.

The building opened this semester as a residence hall for 52 students and was rededicated in October. In addition to careful workmanship that restored the building's exterior to its original grandeur, the most notable feature is the environmentally sound — or "green" — technology incorporated throughout.

The building's temperature is controlled by a geothermal heating and cooling system. "Instead of a boiler to create heat, water circulates through 16 wells located under the house's front yard. The earth heats or cools the water depending on the season," said Bill Huggins, assistant director of construction. "This system is not only environmentally friendly, but cost-effective."

Efforts also were made to reuse much of the existing materials in the building. According to Huggins, workers actually "raised the roof" of the 82-year-old structure's porch instead of opting for new construction to expand the living space. In instances where materials were replaced — such as some portions of the slate roofing — natural materials were chosen.

The Skenandoa House is Hamilton's first residence hall with an elevator and air-conditioning, making it ideal for guests visiting campus in the summer for symposiums. The College expects the building to be LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council soon.

The Psi chapter of Psi Upsilon was originally formed as a local society known as Iota Tau before gaining national recognition in the winter of 1842-43, wrote Walter Pilkington in his 1962 book, Hamilton College: A History. In 1882 the chapter purchased a lot at "the top of Freshman Hill, at the crest of the first rise and curve." Forty years later, desiring a new location farther up the hill, the chapter purchased part of the old Anderson Farm property and moved into a new house in 1922. That structure served as the chapter house until 1995.


Fighting for the Local Vote

When Young Han '06 decided to register to vote in Clinton, he never thought his simple request would soon be the focus of national attention.

Some states allow students to register where they attend college, but Oneida County had never let a student do so. "Legally, states can't discriminate against students when it comes to voting," Han said. "States must allow students to register where they attend college if they meet the state's general requirements."

Instead, the Oneida County Board of Elections suggested that Han get absentee ballots from his hometown of Lynnwood, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. The economics major was not satisfied with this option.

"As residents of Clinton for nine or more months of the year, students have just as much right to vote in local elections as any other resident," Han said, adding that he also worried that making it difficult to register to vote would decrease political activity among his fellow students.

The runaround to register, Han said, was "irritating," as registration procedures in New York State "are a patchwork and hodgepodge of local, state and federal rules." The 26th Amendment stipulates that anyone over 18 can vote where he or she resides. But, according to Han, "It is very confusing and left up to the counties how they determine residency, especially where college students are concerned."

Han began contacting legal and civil aid societies for advice on how to fix what he saw as a system tantamount to disenfranchisement. His efforts attracted the attention of Rolling Stone magazine, whose editors featured Han's efforts in an article last May titled "Mock the Vote." The article highlighted a number of student efforts across the country to increase voter turnout among 18- to 21-year-olds, and how less politically aware and active students are when it is hard for them to register.

The Rolling Stone article captured the attention of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, and from there came more national attention, including a Sept. 19 article in the Washington Post. Han was also interviewed by Renee Montagne on NPR's Morning Edition on Sept. 29.

In September, the Oneida County Board of Elections decided to allow Han and other college students to register in the county. After the decision, Han and Professor of Comparative Literature Nancy Rabinowitz distributed registration forms around campus. All the forms were soon gone, and "quite a number of students are now registered to vote here," Han said. He also mentioned a Hamilton student who is a U.S. citizen but whose parents reside in Singapore, saying that "she was able to register in Clinton and now can vote."

Most recently, Han and Hamilton College were in the national spotlight on Oct. 10 when NBC Nightly News ran a story about the increasing numbers of 18 to 21-year-olds registering to vote. According to the report, record numbers of college students are expected to vote in the presidential election, and NBC featured Han's work in Oneida County as being indicative of this culture shift. A film crew followed Han around campus, and the news team interviewed both Han and Caroline O'Shea '07, president of the College Democrats.

Han hasn't stopped at Oneida County. He has since co-founded the Student Voting Rights Campaign to help mobilize other students across the country. "Through our relationships with organizations like Rock the Vote and the New Voters Project, we have access to hundreds of campus activists across the nation," Han said. "We also maintain an e-mail listserv with more than 120 subscribers representing the leaders of local and nationwide voters rights groups and youth activist groups."

While not a fan of politics as such, Han is no stranger to the electoral process; before coming to Hamilton, he ran for state representative in Washington State. He placed third out of four candidates, and while it was a learning experience, Han realized that there are other ways to make a difference. "Politicians themselves don't change the world. Progress only comes when people start talking to their neighbors and start mobilizing to effect the changes they'd like to see in their world."

— Alexandra Sear '05


A Nobel Pursuit

When 11 Hamilton students traveled to Kenya for two weeks last spring as part of a government course, little did they know they'd be spending time with a future Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The students who participated in the interdisciplinary field school met with Kenyan environmental activist and Green Belt founder Wangari Maathai, who was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 8. The trip was offered in conjunction with the government seminar class, Democratization and Kenya, led by Professor of Government Steve Orvis.

In addition to meeting with Maathai at her home in Nairobi, the students helped Green Belt workers plant trees and build chairs at a local school. Earlier in the week, they delivered food and medical supplies to AIDS patients.

The trip was designed to provide the class with hands-on learning experiences that would supplement their semester-long discussion, "What difference does democracy make?" In addition to the service opportunities, students lived with host families and met with leading Kenyan politicians, academics and civic activists.

Maathai, the deputy environment minister, is the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She was cited for her work as leader of the Green Belt Movement that has planted more than 30 million trees across Africa.


On the Road with Cryer and 99

While in the Air Force stationed in Biloxi, Miss., Mark Cryer came home to find the words "Nigger Go Home" scrawled across his door. Nearly 25 years later, Cryer, an assistant professor of theatre at Hamilton, was brought back to that very moment when, in 2000, a racial slur was scribbled across a student's door.

"The entire campus was in an uproar. Students were mad as hell and held a series of rallies, town meetings and e-mail campaigns," Cryer recalled. "I kept seeing the same people saying the same thing: Racism is bad. They were, in effect, preaching to the choir.

"While I applauded their activism, I questioned their long-term commitment to addressing the root of the problem: We don't know each other, except as the 'other.'"

Cryer's original one-person play, 99 Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask an African-American but Were Too Afraid to Ask, was inspired by these events. The play challenges socially constructed norms by creating an environment that fosters a dialogue about race. "I wanted the audiences to view race from a new perspective," Cryer explained, "but I wanted them to be entertained as well."

The development and production of 99 began the summer after the incident at Hamilton. Cryer received an Emerson Scholars grant that allowed him to work with a student, Jared Johnson '02, to gather the materials needed to write the script. "I purchased a video camera and sent him to New York City for the summer with a single edict: Ask anyone and everyone if they have a question they've always wanted to ask an African-American but were too afraid to ask," Cryer said.

Meanwhile on campus, Cryer posed the same question via an all-campus e-mail. "The response was overwhelming," he said. "I received questions that had been expected, but many that were a complete surprise. Two extremely poignant questions stood out for me. The first was: 'Why do African-Americans exclude whites from their culture?' And the second came from a small child who was with his mother. He simply asked, 'Why does it have to be a different question for African-Americans?'"

Cryer wove the questions into a script that eventually became 99. The audience sees videotaped clips of people asking their questions and hearing the answers, interspersed with monologues delivered by Cryer's character. The answers, mixed with humor and candor, are crafted into a fast-moving dialogue.

99 debuted at Hamilton in Minor Theater to a standing-room-only crowd. The production had an immediate effect, spawning countless spontaneous discussions, newspaper editorials and a number of local television reports. "The success of 99 on campus was gratifying, but it also motivated me to bring the production to a larger audience. I envisioned a national and international tour."

Cryer spent the next 18 months reworking the play into a one-person touring show (the original play incorporated his students). While on leave last year, he took 99 to about 60 cities in the U.S. and another dozen overseas, including the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival in Scotland and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. "As an artist, I believe and practice the political as personal, and attempt to use this philosophy as a way of building understanding and inclusion," he said. "One of the goals of this project is to reach as wide of an audience as possible."

— Amy Lindner, associate director of foundation, corporate and government relations


Science Professors, Alumnus Earn Top Foundation Grants

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Science Foundation this spring endorsed the work of three Hamilton researchers.

Professor of Geology Eugene Domack and Henry Drewal '64 received Guggenheim fellowships designed to provide scholars "with blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible."

Drewal, the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pursuing his project, The Senses in Understandings of African Art. An art historian specializing in

the arts of the Yoruba-speaking peoples of West Africa and the African Diaspora, Drewal spent six years of study in Africa, including apprenticeships with Yoruba sculptors. In 2003, he was awarded a Senior Research Fulbright to the Republic of Benin and, most recently, has focused on the visual history and culture of the African water spirit, Nami Wata, and books on Ijebu-Yoruba and Afro-Brazilian art history.

Domack will spend six months continuing to investigate the dramatic climate change that took place 600 to 750 million years ago in his project, Testing the "Snowball Earth" Hypothesis by Comparison to Antarctica Marine Deposystems. Over the last 15 years, Domack has led more than 50 undergraduates to Antarctica as part of his National Science Foundation-sponsored research. He has also conducted research on older glacial strata in Australia and has done field work on Precambrian glacial rocks in Canada and the western U.S.

Domack is the second Hamilton faculty member to receive a Guggenheim fellowship. Jay Reise, assistant professor of music, received one in 1979-80 and spent the year composing "Symphony No. 2," which was premiered by the Syracuse Symphony during its 1980-81 season. Reise is currently the Robert Weiss Professor of Music Composition at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ann Silversmith, professor of physics, received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to purchase equipment for her project, Thermal and Optical Studies of Sol-gel Materials Containing Rare Earth Ions.

"Sol-gel synthesis provides a low temperature means for preparing optically transparent amorphous materials. The method is safer, more energy efficient and more cost effective than a more traditional approach to making glasses -- thermally quenching molten material," explained Silversmith, who applied for the grant with Daniel Boye, professor of physics at Davidson College. Karen Brewer, associate professor of chemistry, also participates in the project, which began in the late 1990s.

"Karen focuses on synthesizing the optical materials -- glasses containing small amounts of rare earth impurity ions. The rare earths give the glasses their optical properties," Silversmith said. "My students and I study the materials using laser spectroscopy."

The NSF funding will be used to purchase a thermal analyzer (to analyze physical and chemical changes while the glasses form) and a cryostat (to control sample temperature during experiments) to be housed at Davidson. A CCD detector in Silversmith's lab will allow measurement of fluorescence spectra from the sol-gel materials ... More than a dozen students have assisted Silversmith in this project, including Andrew Magyar '03, whose senior project research was published in the Journal of Luminescence.


Getting Started in Biarritz

Each September since 1957, Hamilton students on the College's Junior Year in France program have begun their orientation to French life in the seaside town of Biarritz in the Basque country before moving on to Paris for the remainder of the academic year.

The program's founder, Professor Marcel Moraud, an American whose father was French, had taught French and Italian in Biarritz immediately following World War II in the Biarritz American University (BAU), a school for American troops who remained in France under the direction of Colonel (later General) Samuel L. McCroskey.

Having been among the first American soldiers to land in Normandy in 1944, Moraud was also among the first to arrive in Paris, where he was met by many joyful Parisians, including his future wife, Paulette. While teaching at the BAU, Moraud naturally made many acquaintances to whom he turned 10 years later when he wanted to establish an orientation program for Hamilton's Junior Year in France.

In 1955, he approached M. Hérisson-Laroche, principal of the Biarritz Lycée, who agreed to help find experienced professors for Hamilton's fledgling program from the ranks of his high school teachers. The tradition of hiring professors from the Biarritz Lycée has continued over the years. Many of the Junior Year in France orientation professors of civilization, grammar, literature and conversation have come from this secondary school or the nearby lycée or university in Bayonne.

The first group in 1957 had 32 students: 10 young men and 22 young women. For many years, students traveled to France by ocean liner, and a certain amount of orientation and instruction actually began on the ships. But with the emergence of lower fares on airlines in the 1970s, students started taking planes overseas. In the early years, the Biarritz portion of the program lasted for six weeks. Now, it lasts only three, as the beginning of the academic year in Parisian universities has moved up from early November to mid-October.

Throughout the years, however, what has not changed in Biarritz is the warm welcome students receive in their host families, who often invite them back for a return visit during the students' spring break. The success of the Hamilton program is due in no small measure to the orientation program in Biarritz with its dedicated teachers and friendly families who for generations have given Hamilton students the start they need in a new culture.

— John O'Neal, professor of French

Contact Information


Stacey Himmelberger

Editor, Hamilton Alumni Review
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
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