Cultivating Common Ground
Picture this — a substantive, sustained, and respectful dialogue between high-level strategists from opposing political parties. No snark, no insults, just a bit of banter. How’s that for a quaint concept?
It was reality when Karl Rove and David Axelrod appeared at Hamilton in October, side by side for 90 minutes in front of a mannerly audience of roughly 2,400. Another 429 alumni and other Hamilton community members watched via Facebook livestream. Susan Page P’10, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, moderated.
The Rove-Axelrod exchange was the inaugural event in Hamilton’s “Common Ground” speaker series. Its goal, said President David Wippman in August when he announced the first event, was to present two speakers from different parties to model the kind of respectful dialogue across political boundaries that should occur on college campuses and in the broader society.
Wippman thinks Rove and Axelrod did just that. Plus, they were entertaining. “It was just fun to watch two very bright, quick minds bantering back and forth. It was really kind of exhilarating,” he said.
Rove and Axelrod engaged in conversation while answering questions posed by Page or submitted by members of the Hamilton community. Seeming to get a kick out of one another, they chewed over topics such as the current era of politics, the media and civic engagement, immigrants, President Donald Trump, and more, unimpeded by protest or other interruption.
“I thought it was a tribute to the campus and to the community as a whole that everyone went with the idea that they would listen politely and respectfully and attentively, and I think that’s what happened,” Wippman said. “I wasn’t expecting this to generate protests, but I was happy to see how engaged the audience was. People laughed with both speakers, not at them, but with them. And I think people enjoyed the dialogue, and it was a good signal that people are open to a range of viewpoints here.”
The high-profile Rove and Axelrod have divergent political careers that go back decades. Rove’s résumé includes serving as a senior advisor and deputy chief of staff to Republican President George W. Bush. He’s a best-selling author and contributor to Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.
Axelrod is best known as Democratic President Barack Obama’s senior advisor and senior strategist for both of Obama’s successful presidential campaigns. He directs the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, hosts The Axe Files podcast, and is a senior political commentator for CNN.
While they were on campus, the political old hands spent time with students. They did a question-and-answer session with classes, and met with College Democrats and College Republicans. They dined at Wippman’s house with student leaders and faculty, and attended a post-show reception. Page met with the staff of The Spectator.
Wippman would like to see Common Ground encourage faculty, students, and other community members to include politically divergent voices in their classrooms and events. “I’m hoping that the impact will not be limited simply to the events themselves, but that it will sort of percolate through the campus,” he said.
Common Ground is supported by the Pohl family in honor of Hamilton graduates Arthur, Class of 1914, Harold, Class of 1915, Leland, Class of 1917, Harold ’50, George ’51, and David ’54 in recognition of their affection for the College and their long association with Central New York.
Tietje tennis anyone?
Tennis enthusiasts were served up a pleasant surprise when they returned to campus in August — the new Tietje Family Tennis Center and Falmouth Road Race Reunion Courts.
Located adjacent to the old tennis courts behind the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House, the 12 Tietje courts are arranged in four pods of three courts. This encourages more intimate play, says Jamie King P’16, director of racquet sports and associate professor of physical education. “The facility is one of the nicest, if not the nicest, in the NESCAC,” he adds. “It offers great viewing areas with beautiful vistas behind it — fields, not trees that throw pine needles onto the court.”
The center, which also features professional scoreboards and easy access to an equipment storage shed, hosted both the men’s and women’s team for practices this fall. The first home matches on the new courts will take place this spring.
Dedicated at Fallcoming & Family Weekend in October, the center is named in honor of former Hamilton tennis player Frank Tietje ’80 and his family, who for four decades have been hosting each year at their home in Falmouth, Mass., scores of Hamiltonians who gather to run the Falmouth Road Race.
“Men and women completed college, pursued careers, some married and became parents and grandparents, but many still found time in their lives to reunite each year, deepening their Hamilton bond and appreciation for the incredible hospitality of the Tietje family,” noted Ron Pressman ’80, a charter trustee and friend, in the dedication program.
Feeding a need for big-picture nutrition
Amid the tide of information and issues surrounding nutrition, there is, one day a week at the Counseling Center, dietician Lela Niemetz to help students find their footing. Niemetz meets with students one-on-one, and they bring her just about every imaginable concern.
“‘How can I gain weight because I’m on the baseball team.’ Or I get the reverse, ‘I’ve gained the freshman 15 and really want to lose weight,’” Niemetz says. “And then I’ve had people who don’t want to gain weight, but they want to build more muscle. I have students with GI distress. They come in, and we talk about gut health and what foods to choose to help that.”
She works with students who hear about new or fringe nutritional information on social media or the Internet and then narrowly focus on it. She sees students with gastrointestinal problems who think they may be intolerant to something and students who want to eat only fruits, vegetables, and a protein, but also want to go vegan.
Some students find Niemetz on their own; others are referred by Counseling Center staff. The College has offered the services of a nutritionist for six years, this year increasing the hours from one or two a week to one day a week. The plan for next year is to have a nutritionist on campus two days a week.
“What the nutritionist brings is the ability to work with students on aspects of their overall wellness and to answer questions across a broad spectrum of concerns,” explains Counseling Center Director David Walden. “Our goal is to provide students with a comprehensive set of services that help enhance their Hamilton experience.”
Niemetz wants to teach “big-picture nutrition.” Young people increasingly are concerned with the environmental impact and ethics of how food is produced, and juggling those concerns with the often contradictory or controversial nutrition information can make it difficult for them to make food choices, Niemetz has found. “So if I can be a filter or somehow get rid of the distractions, that’s what I like to do,” she says.
She brings to the job an added appeal for at least one subset of Hamilton students. Niemetz also runs her own food education business that helps people make the most of locally sourced food. Last year, wanting to get more involved on campus, she contacted Hamilton’s Slow Food organization and helped it find local food for a lamb dinner. Slow Food aims to promote healthy, sustainable food that’s fairly produced.
In October, Slow Food members toured Greyrock Farm in Cazenovia, about 27 miles from College Hill. Niemetz is a farmer in the operation, which is run by her fiancé. From the perspective of Slow Food treasurer Clara Cho ’20, the trip was a success. It was a sell-out. “And everybody was super into learning about it. We talked about the possibility of having student work days or having students volunteer for a day on the farm,” Cho says.
Slow Food is working to revitalize Hamilton’s community garden, formerly known as the community farm, and Cho would like to enlist Niemetz’ expertise. Niemetz, who favors the hands-on approach to education, has agreed.
A web of gold
The printed word is still important (after all, you’re reading this right now), but statistics show that most prospective students get their first look at potential colleges online. That’s why Hamilton is especially proud that its website redesign brought home top honors in the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education’s (CASE) 2017 Circle of Excellence competition. The site, hamilton.edu, received the gold award from among 64 entries in the website category.
“It’s a terrific acknowledgement of our digital strategies and something we hope to build on,” said Tim O’Keeffe, senior director of interactive media. “We recently held a focus group with first-year students, for example, to get their feedback about our site and to help us prioritize next steps.”
The Circle of Excellence recognizes outstanding work in college and university advancement services, alumni relations, communications, fundraising, and marketing worldwide. Submissions are judged by peer professionals, as well as experts outside of education, who consider overall quality, innovation, use of resources, and the impact the project has on its external and internal communities.
The judge’s report noted: “This is a deep redesign offering volumes of information in a clear, clean, navigable interface that never overwhelms. From the start, the personality and mission of the institution is evident to the primary audience of potential students and parents, even in the nomenclature used for navigation. Secondary audiences are not forgotten, calls to action are clear, a consistent clarity of presentation and audience-centered design persists at all levels below the homepage. Multimedia and social media are well integrated. Search is robust and content that paints a picture of life and learning at Hamilton is provided throughout the site, such as the professor and student profiles in the content-rich Areas of Study section. The redesign represents good return on investment through planning, research, and analytics.”
Spearheaded by the College Communications Office, Hamilton’s website project was a joint effort of colleagues across campus, with design and development assistance by Fastspot, a digital company based in Baltimore.