Self-Governance Defines Hampden-Sydney Life

by Brandon Stewart '08

October 26, 2006

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Although visiting another all-male college during fall break is not exactly the most ideal way to spend a vacation, it was certainly worthwhile for the four Wabash men to learn how their brother school operates.

There are several areas regarding student life one must mention to accurately describe Hampden-Sydney.  All of the statements are colored by the obvious fact that our small contingent only spent a few days there. To cover the full breadth of HSC would require much more space than a column could provide, just as it would be to similarly attempt to capture Wabash.

First of all, as Brock Johnson began to explain in last week’s "Brock Eye’s View," the Honor Code is the backbone of the student body.  The Honor Code states "The Hampden-Sydney student will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do."  The other code is that of gentlemanly behavior, which states "The Hampden-Sydney student will behave as a gentleman at all times and in all places." 

Much like at Wabash, those two rules guide student conduct for all undergraduates.  The Honor Code is present in every academic classroom. Also, unlike at Wabash, where the Gentleman’s Rule is interpreted by the Dean of Student’s office, at Hampden-Sydney there is an Honor Court that is granted jurisdiction to interpret the rules and mete out punishment.  Just as Wabash students remark how proud they are to have only one rule, Hampden-Sydney men seem similarly proud to have a student-run system. 

During a lunch with Dean of Students David Klein, he absolutely beamed as we talked about the Honor Code.

"The kind of learning that can take place when one is being judged by his peers is both critical and powerful," he said.  He described his time on the Honor Court applying the rule as the "hallmark of his Hampden-Sydney education" and boasted that he "learned a ton about compassion." 

It was quite clear that Klein is a man who believes in the system and its importance.  He urged us to consider any possible application of the system at Wabash.  "We like to think in black and white, but we live in a world of gray," he said.  The Honor Code is putting into practice what you learn."
Another cornerstone of student life at Hampden-Sydney seemed to be its student government. 

Unlike Wabash, student government elections are hotly contested and are seen as carrying significant weight.  There are four main segments of their government: the Student Government President, the Honor Court, the Student Senate, and the Finance Committee.  The President is fairly independent of the other branches, and the Student Finance Chairman described him as the "Public Relations chair for the student body."  It is his job to represent the students to other parties, whether faculty, staff or others.

The Student Senate is primarily concerned with student issues, and does not have jurisdiction over Honor Code violations or the distribution of activities fees.  The Honor Court is the body that hears cases regarding code of conduct violations.  Accusations of misconduct are submitted to the court anonymously and the trials proceed in secret, sometimes into the wee hours of the night.  Despite concerns some in the Wabash contingent had over possible misuse, everyone seemed to think the Court did a good job of keeping the cases sealed and of taking the assignment very seriously. 

The final branch of government is the Student Finance Court, which is comparable to our Audit and Finance Committee.  It is charged with disbursing funds to the student clubs for their activities.
One big question many Wabash students had following the trip was whether Hampden-Sydney also had traditions. And indeed it does. Among the rituals is the painting of the eagle statue in "Yank’s Corner," a section at the end of the football stadium, by fraternity pledges. Also, students traditionally dress up in jacket and tie for home football games.  However, many students we talked to were concerned that many of their most-cherished school traditions were falling to the wayside.

"A lot of guys act like they are ‘too cool’ to keep up the traditions," said one student.  Michael Rutkowski ’07, business manager for the Hampden-Sydney Tiger and member of the two-man delegation that followed the Wabash group back to Crawfordsville, agreed. 

"We don’t have anything to hold us to our past," Rutkowski said. "We don’t have anything like the Sphinx Club."

As for the composition of the student body itself, it seems to be more spread out in terms of incoming GPAs and test scores than median family income. A majority of students, agreed Dean of Admissions Anita Garland, come from upper middle class families.  That said, there are students all over the financial spectrum. Roughly 97 percent of all students have some form of financial aid. 
The range of incoming students in reference to SATs and GPAs is also varied.  Although the school has fairly high standards for admission, Dean Garland shared that they are willing to look beyond a low score if people who know the student indicate that he is capable of much better. 

"It is wonderful," she beamed, "to take chances on guys below those standards who then come here and absolutely blossom."

Aesthetically there were some noticeable differences, especially in regards to the fraternity system. Whereas at Wabash the percentage of Greek membership traditionally hovers around 60 to 65 percent, at Hampden-Sydney that number is closer to 30 percent. Despite that, fraternities seem to remain the anchor of social life and most parties are open to the whole campus. Parties also benefit from the presence of several all-female colleges nearby.

But beyond the differences, once underneath the surface, the similarities keep cropping up. The description of the college as a "big fraternity" and "a brotherhood" are similar to the way Wabash men describe their alma mater. 

The sense of community and camaraderie are also strikingly reminiscent of Old Wabash. All in all, the trip was a great first step towards what many hope will be a beneficial relationship between two members of an endangered breed in higher education.

Stewart is editor of The Commentary and was one of four students who traveled to HSC for these stories.

 


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