Hamilton Alumni Review
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Alumni Review – Winter 2014

Around College

New policy delays, shortens time of pledging

Hamilton students who choose to pledge a fraternity or sorority now face a longer wait to join. This and related rule changes aim to give students time to acclimate to college life before making a lifelong commitment to a Greek organization.

In the past, students could pledge in the spring of their first year; now they must wait until the fall of their sophomore year. This means that Greek organizations may not conduct pledging this academic year; however, the recruitment process will begin this spring with rush activities.

The changes stem from a campus committee that examined the timing and duration of pledging. The committee, which included four Greek students and a Greek College trustee, among other members, released its recommendations last May. The review was born of concern for students who enter Hamilton in January and have mere weeks to decide whether to join a Greek organization and begin to pledge. There was concern, too, about students who matriculate in the fall.

“The majority of incoming students are 18-years-old and living with freedoms they have never experienced before,” said Samuel Fuentes ’13, a member of the committee and Alpha Delta Phi. “Kids this age need a lot longer than a month or two to understand who they are and where their values lie.”
Under the changes, the pledging period is cut from seven weeks to five. Fraternities and sororities must provide the College with a detailed schedule of their pledging activities and a list of pledges. Pledging activities may not exceed three hours on a given day and must end by 1 a.m. weekdays and by 3 a.m. on weekends. In addition, pledges must meet with a representative from the Dean of Student’s Office to learn about pledging policies, including what constitutes hazing, and their rights within the process.

Dean of Students Nancy Thompson, an ex officio committee member, said the panel looked at peer institutions, surveyed Hamilton students and deliberated about the existing system before making its recommendations. Of 29 colleges reviewed, 10 have Greek organizations, and half of those have fall sophomore pledging. At Hamilton, in 2012-13, 21 percent of students were members of a fraternity or sorority.

“Our goal is to have strong and healthy Greek organizations, in which the alumni and national leadership engage in a productive manner with the undergraduates,” Thompson said. “I think there’s a sense among a group of alumni that the College is just looking to slowly kill the fraternity system, and that just isn’t true.”

What the College would like to see, according to Thompson, is a Greek system that renews its focus on ideals expressed in its individual charters, “because who wouldn’t want to have groups that promote — that are about — leadership and philanthropy and brotherhood in its highest sense?”

The full report can be found at www.hamilton.edu/Greek RecruitmentReport.

Ellis’ legacy lives on through professorship

Professor David Ellis ’38 devoted his life to enhancing the quality and prestige of the College’s History Department, and, as a scholar, may very well have been the most published Hamilton faculty member of the 20th century. His commitment to Hamilton was made evident again this fall with the announcement of a new teaching award funded with $1.6 million from the estate of the renowned New York State historian and his wife, Carolyn.

The Ellis Distinguished Teaching Professorship will be awarded on a rotating basis to a faculty member who has achieved distinction through scholarship and teaching, and who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the professional development of fellow faculty members and to the intellectual development of students. Professor of Comparative Literature Peter Rabinowitz was named the inaugural recipient of the Carolyn C. and David M. Ellis ’38 Chair.

The only son of Welsh immigrants, Ellis made the short trip from his home in Utica up the hill to Hamilton, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1938 with honors in history, philosophy and political science. He received his master’s degree in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1942, both from Cornell, and eventually returned to Hamilton in 1946 as assistant professor of history. That same year, he published his first book, Landlords and Farmers in the Hudson-Mohawk Region, 1790-1850, which earned the American Historical Association’s Dunning Prize.

A social and economic historian who focused on the development of New York State, Ellis was considered by many to be the foremost expert on the state’s history. He was principal author of New York: The Empire State, which became a standard grade-school text, and ;A History of New York State. During his career, he published 10 books and dozens of articles, papers and book reviews. In fact, the Hamilton library catalogue credits 75 items to his name.

Ellis’ expertise on New York State history led to numerous professional appointments, yet this prolific writer and renowned scholar was first and foremost a teacher. “Mr. Ellis was the epitome of a teacher,” noted Seth Gelsthorpe ’80 in a comment posted to Hamilton’s website. “He was so fundamentally responsible for my capacity to think, my brain would fall to the ground without the supporting pillar of his influence.”

That sentiment is echoed by Jay Williams ’54, the Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Religion emeritus, who had this to say of his colleague in a memorial tribute presented upon Ellis’ death in 1999: “David Ellis was not very interested in theories of, or the philosophy of, history. His emphasis was upon the accumulation, examination and interpretation of facts. Those who took his course could expect plenty of names and dates, plenty of details. These details, spooled out to the class in a way that gave him the nickname ‘Spoolie,’ were always offered with a broad, humane perspective and with many a humorous aside.”

Ellis served from 1968 to 1978 as chair of the History Department as well as a friend and counselor to several Hamilton presidents. “He seldom took the revolutionary side but held staunchly to the middle ground,” Williams noted. “Invariably, he argued for what he deemed best, not for himself or for his department, but for the College.”

Cultivating agents for social change

This spring, the Levitt Public Affairs Center will introduce a Social Innovation Fellows Program designed to prepare and support students looking to use innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to address persistent social problems. Participants will spend a week of Spring Break with Anke Wessels, who teaches an award-winning course on social innovation at Cornell, and receive funding for their projects, as well as mentoring from alumni and community members. The fellows program comes on the heels of a two-day workshop, the Startup Experience, co-sponsored last fall by the Levitt Center and Colgate University.

Out and Ally List grows to 895

In each of the past three years, members of the Hamilton community have been invited to add their names to a list either identifying themselves as a member of the LGBTQ community or declaring support for LGBTQ individuals “to live and learn in an environment free of harassment and discrimination.”

The Out and Ally List received a record number of signatures in this, its third year of publication. According to Director of Diversity and Inclusion Amit Taneja, the list grew 56 percent from 573 signatures in 2012 to 895 this year. Taneja believes Hamilton could have one of the largest such lists in the U.S.

“As a percentage, I would be shocked if we were not … the biggest list period, across the country,” he said.

While no national database exists on similar lists maintained by many colleges and universities, a comparison of Hamilton with its neighbor to the west, Syracuse University, is illuminating. In 2012, Syracuse published a You Are Not Alone list that garnered about 400 signatures. The campus is home to 21,000 students, making its student body about 11 times the size of Hamilton’s.

Outreach and marketing for the list are coordinated by the student-run Rainbow Alliance. “The club publicized the list sign-ups through a variety of avenues such as social media, both individual and all-campus emails, and a poster campaign,” said Jose Vazquez ’15, co-chair of the alliance. In addition, members set up a table in the Beinecke Student Activities Village where participants could sign their names to a Google doc using iPads.

Taneja introduced the list to Hamilton when he came to the Hill in 2011 as director of the then newly established Days-Massolo Center, which promotes diversity and inclusion. As he explained, the list serves as a resource for LGBTQ students, especially those who may be questioning or who may feel unsafe, by giving them “visibility and hope.”

“It’s a way to share with them that, hey, not only are there out people on campus who are here to be supportive if you decide to come out or even if you’re questioning … but that there are also allies who are doing work to make the campus a safe space,” Taneja said.


JACKPOT PERFORMANCE. Hamilton’s co-ed a cappella group Duelly Noted hit it big at nearby Turning Stone Resort and Casino in November, but not at the slot machines or gaming tables. The group took first place in Turning Stone’s “A Cappella Showdown,” winning $2,500 with its renditions of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “As” and their own “Telephone Medley.” The event was hosted by Jovany Barreto from American Idol season 10. Other schools competing were Colgate University, Cornell University, Ithaca College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Skidmore College, SUNY Binghamton and Syracuse University.


What’s the big idea?

Looking to sell that old cellphone? Help is on the way thanks to Sam Matlick ’17, winner of this year’s Hamilton Pitch Competition.

The annual event, which was originated by Mark Kasdorf ’06 three years ago, once again found students and alumni entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas to an experienced panel of judges. Earning top honors this year was Matlick with Sell Your Tech, a web portal for the purchase and eventual resale of used electronics such as late-model cellphones, tablets and laptops. Through www.sellyourtech.com, individuals can arrange for the sale of their devices and pick up some quick cash.

Matlick, whose win at the Pitch Competition earned him $2,500 and business coaching, started this venture last year as a postgraduate student at Westminster School. He then devoted several months preparing for expansion to Sell Your Tech LLC, a business targeted toward college students.

The preliminary round saw more than 50 participants and nearly 20 teams of students and young alumni make their cases. Peter Michailidis ’16 took second place with Showdown Life, a sports tournament tourism company. Nile Berry ’14, Nick Pappageorge ’14 and Sam Wagner ’14 won third for their educational craft beer subscription service, TrueBrew. Honorable Mention went to Jo Stiles ’15 for her idea for a college carpool app.

In the future, Thought Into Action, the organization that sponsors the Pitch Competition, hopes to extend the enthusiasm for entrepreneurial endeavors by establishing an “innovation space” on campus. This center would foster collaborations among student entrepreneurs and offer them help in developing their businesses, similar to traditional start-up incubators.

High schoolers feel safe but not certain

Although most high school students feel relatively safe in their schools, many are concerned about the possibility of a mass shooting, according to a poll of high school seniors conducted last semester by Professor of Economics Stephen Wu and students in his Behavioral Economics class.

The poll, funded by Hamiton’s Levitt Public Affairs Center and conducted in conjunction with the research firm Knowledge Networks, surveyed 941 high school students from across the United States.

Here are just a few of the findings:

  • 99 percent of students who claim that their schools have a good contingency plan feel very safe or relatively safe; 81 percent who do not feel that their schools have a good plan feel very safe or relatively safe in their schools.
  • 65 percent feel it would be very easy or fairly easy to obtain a gun.
  • 85 percent agree or strongly agree that there should be stricter laws concerning background checks for gun purchases, yet only 47 percent believe that stricter gun control laws would actually decrease gun-related violence.
  • Of those with a gun in their home, 82 percent feel safer; 30 percent of those without a gun say that they would feel safer with a gun in the house.
  • For those who identify as Republicans, 74 percent believe that individuals should have the right to carry a concealed gun, and 64 percent believe that a greater presence of armed citizens would decrease mass shootings. For those identifying as Democrats, the analogous numbers are 43 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
  • 39 percent of Republicans believed that there were fewer than 10,000 gun-related deaths in 2011, compared with 24 percent of Democrats. (The true figure is slightly more than 30,000.)

In addition, cueing people to think about previous school violence increases the likelihood that they believe arming teachers/staff would be a good idea. Some students were asked about their knowledge of various school shootings (such as Newtown, Columbine and Virginia Tech) immediately before the statement, “Schools that have properly trained and armed nonteaching staff would become safer places.” Other students were randomly assigned a version where the question about school shootings was at the end of the survey. For students identifying as Republicans, this “cueing” increased the percentage of respondents strongly agreeing with the statement from 16 percent to 32 percent. For those identifying as Democrats, cueing resulted in no effect (16 percent in both versions).

Complete survey results can be found at www.hamilton.edu/guncontrolpoll.


(Click on a photo above to view slideshow)

ONE STONE AT A TIME. Construction on Hamilton’s theatre and studio arts building continues on track for its July opening. By mid January, faculty offices and glass installation were nearing completion, and stonework — all done by hand — was under way in the ground floor lobby. Stones from the same geological period as those used in other campus buildings will be used for exterior design components, and concrete panels will reflect patterns of trees that previously stood on the site.