By Aaron Richmond-Havel 09F
Bright yellow leaves line the walkways near the Dakin dorms, calling an early onset autumn. Coming from South Texas, I have no concept of seasons, just “hot” and “extremely hot.” I am still amazed that the lawn that students lay about studying will, in a few months time, be a crisp foundation for thick snow.
Walking around campus, it becomes apparent that the changing of seasons is not the only change around here: It is the first day of classes at Hampshire. Orientation is over. An air of seriousness for study and the excitement of again being a student permeate conversations.
I had a class at 10:30, and a meeting with a professor at 1:30. As I make my way through Franklin Patterson Hall, and through the professors’ offices, it is evident immediately this is no off-limits faculty lounge. The hall swarms with students. Professors’ doors are wide open.
I walk into my professor’s office. Surrounded by what seem like millions of books, facts and figures, and a complex accumulation of knowledge, a realization sinks in that I am actually experiencing what I had read about in countless college publications – a progressive academic system that I have bragged about, and campaigned for when others misunderstood. Sitting in my Division I academic advisor’s office, she addresses me by name. This is my first meeting with her, and I am one of only three students in the room.
Already, there is a sense of that community, of individualized care that the college makes a name for. Myrna Breitbart is the professor of my first-year tutorial, a class designed solely for first-year students to acclimate them to the college system while also making sure they master certain skills.
“Now, what is your schedule, Aaron?” Myrna asks. Earlier, she noted that most Hampshire professors are most comfortable being called by their first names.
“Well, there’s your tutorial, Streetwork,” I tell her. “And I have Controversies in U.S. History and Economics, Intro to Neuropsychology, and Dramatic Play to Creative Drama.”
“What is that last one about?” she asks, understanding that Hampshire classes often have unusual names that span disciplines.
“It’s a class about how children play and how we can use drama to teach children different things.”
“That’s really interesting! It sounds like you might be learning some things there that could be useful in our class,” she says excitedly. She is absolutely correct. Her class, Streetwork, focuses on how urban environments affect children, and vice versa.
That’s when I realize that the academic system, and the use of dialogue and debate in classes, really puts the power of learning into students’ hands.
When I walk into my class with Myrna, I am not thinking, “I wonder what my professor will teach us today,” but instead, “I wonder what conclusions we will come up with, together.” When she asks a question she most obviously knows the answer to, she still lights up when she hears it, debating how that could be, as if she were still a student.
An academic advisor is in place to make sure new students understand how the Hampshire system works exactly, while also keeping up with writing and other skills necessary to carry you through your academic career. Generally, advisors have experience in a field of the student’s interest because they teach tutorials the students chose to take.
As we conclude our meeting, Myrna looks over my schedule to make sure I am taking appropriate steps to be able to file for my Division II next year (which means, essentially, that I need to take a variety of classes now).