A = Aaron Berman
W = Will Ryan
W.C. = Me, the interviewer
W.C.– Part of Hampshire’s reputation is of it as a wild place.
It depends, there’s always a range of students and a range of experiences. You know, my own pet historical theory was, that there’s a way in which Hampshire is always sort of… it can drive you crazy, there’s a way in which it’s always in the process of being created and it never quite gels. Which I think is good as a creative thing but institutions tend to be pretty conservative, they tend to be set in their ways fast, and I think somehow at Hampshire my own pet theory is that, you know, a lot of the early planning for this college was done in the Cold War, going back into even the 50’s but it sat on shelves they couldn’t raise money for it. When they finally could raise the money for the new college it was already the later 60’s then it opens in the 70’s so you get this odd combination of, parts of the college that originate in Cold War Liberalism and parts of it which come out of the experience of the late 60’s, and there’s a tension there I always thought was kind of interesting. As someone pointed out to me that of course freezes it at that moment. But there’s a way in which the college is always sort of, it’s in the process of creating itself, which is good I think. Unless you’re stuck in one of those bureaucratic loops which can drive you nuts.
W.C. – Talking to some students some people think that Hampshire has lost some of its radicalism or its ability to change as easily
- That I don’t usually go for
Will Ryan arrived in Aaron’s office and sat down.
W – Alright so where are we?
W.C. – When did you get to Hampshire?
W – 1980, the fall of 80.
W.C. – What was the school like?
W – Well, when you first come to Hampshire usually your frame of reference is where you’ve been. So it was quite unlike any other place I’d ever been, and I’d been in some fairly wild places, in college scenes and stuff. I’d been at Johnson State College in Vermont. It was quite interesting how informal everything was, how coed bathrooms were on halls in faculty offices, there were coed nude saunas, there were, um, everybody called everyone by their first name; a lot of students didn’t complete courses and didn’t seem to mind and nobody at the college seemed to mind. In fact, one of my students who just emailed me, he graduated in ’84. He’d completed in his entire Hampshire career, including his Advanced Learning Activities, seven courses. He’s very successful, very nice guy, seven courses. And his Division 2 wasn’t that bad, it was pretty solid as we’d say in the old days. Now there weren’t a lot of completed courses, but there were a lot completed papers from the courses and the idea at Hampshire was to dethrone the course.
A – Yeah, that was it.
W – Yeah, the courses were the launching pad for student inquiry on some level, but they weren’t to be the container or the index. Um, people [at Hampshire] were really friendly, really nice, I made great friends here early on, and I think Hampshire, Aaron’s always said this, you do basically whatever you want here but you shouldn’t confuse that with thinking you have any power. That there’s a difference between power, as Rachel reframed it, between power and autonomy.
Of course the first reaction, there are always stages, so your first reaction to Hampshire is horror and disbelief, and then the next stage is changing it, you’re gonna change the way it is, you’re gonna change the culture.