Looking back, moving forward

Hampden-Sydney College alumni have a strong connection to their alma mater; this was their home, the place where they grew from boys into men.

Whether you spent countless hours in the science lab or on the football field (or both), after you crossed the stage with your Hampden-Sydney diploma in hand, you knew that you were a part of something special. Because every alumnus is part of Hampden-Sydney, we knew we needed to hear from as many of you as we could when we decided to take a long, hard look at ourselves as an institution.

Winston HallWe have not done that in a long time. Though we are well practiced at assessing our students and our curriculum, we saw that it was time again to look at our institution as a whole through the eyes of the men we have produced.

Last spring, we distributed a survey by e-mail to every alumnus. We expected about 15% of you to respond. We were pleasantly surprised by an outstanding response rate of 27% (2,492 alumni). This shows us how dedicated you are to Hampden-Sydney and how much you want to guide the College into the future.

The qualitative data in your responses to the open-ended survey questions make up more than 1,000 pages of data that have to be analyzed for trends, concerns, and ideas. You have provided us with insight into what we do best and where we need improvement. You are a passionate audience. President Chris Howard, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Lee King ’94, some key trustee leaders, and other administrators have seen all of the raw data. Mr. King says, “I can tell you very simply that, because you didn’t hold back in expressing both your positive and negative feelings about the College, we have learned an incredible amount from your thoughts. That’s exactly what we had hoped to gain, and we are deeply appreciative of that.”

In the next few issues of The Record, we will be discussing some of the results from this survey. We will compare perceptions with realities and talk about the changes we are making, based on your feedback.

We are excited to share this information with you and for the constructive conversations that will undoubtedly occur.


For the open-ended responses concerning the future of the College, many alumni expressed considerable concern about Hampden-Sydney’s all-male student body. Some alumni are worried that remaining all male will make it increasingly difficult for the College to attract top-tier students, that changing demographics, such as the rising percentage of women entering college, will force us to compete for fewer and fewer male students, and that an all-male environment no longer prepares young men for working alongside or under successful, intelligent women. Other alumni have different concerns. They fear that Hampden-Sydney College will abandon its traditional all-male student body and its commitment to educating young men. They worry that the College will shed that which makes it rare—if not unique—by transitioning to “just another” liberal arts college for men and women. They worry that if Hampden-Sydney goes co-ed, young men would have one fewer option for their individual learning styles.

Both positions have merit and all of these concerns are valid. We understand the challenges facing us in this new century. We have a plan for meeting those challenges, and we are committed to remaining an all-male institution.

This commitment is made clear in Hampden- Sydney’s Strategic Plan, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2011 to begin implementation in 2012. Our vision for the College is “to become a model liberal arts college recognized for excellence in educating men for the 21st century.” Goal Number One of the Plan is “to graduate capable, confident men who are committed to serving with honor and character.” Whereas Goal Number Two is “to achieve an environment for the education of men that is recognized for excellence in learning, teaching, living, and working.”

Being all-male is our defining and differentiating characteristic.

Some alumni said in their responses that they are worried Hampden-Sydney is not doing enough to recruit students from beyond Virginia. This is a reasonable concern; the demographics of prospective college students in the South are changing. While the total number of public high school graduates in Virginia is rising, the number of white and African American graduates is falling. During the next ten years, the number of white graduates is expected to fall by 3.5%, while the number of Hispanic high school graduates is expected to rise by 6.9%. Meanwhile, the number of private high school graduates in Virginia during the same period is expected to fall nearly 25%. The trends are similar in North Carolina, the state from which Hampden-Sydney gets the second-most applications. Seventy-point-sevenpercent of our students come from Virginia and 13.7% come from North Carolina. White and African-American students in these states make up our traditional base. As more and more Asian and Hispanic males graduate from high school and consider going to college, we need to see how Hampden-Sydney can be attractive to those students.

While we have always recruited students from outside the Southeast region, we are redoubling our efforts both to increase our name recognition in other areas and to attract new students from those areas.

Likewise, we need to do more to retain the students we already attract. Our current retention rate is 68%. This means we are losing one-third of the students we recruit. If we can increase our retention rate to that of some of our peer institutions, such as Wabash College (73%) and The University of the South (79% for male students only), we will relieve some of the pressure on our admissions efforts. To this end, we have increased the number of staff in the Office of Academic Success to assist freshmen with the more rigorous standards they find at Hampden-Sydney College than they had in high school. Also, John Ramsay ’05 from the Office of Student Affairs has been appointed the director of First and Second Year Programs. He is responsible for implementing and developing programming that facilitates the transition to college life and helps new students find their place in the Hampden-Sydney community.

As we consider the challenges in attracting and retaining outstanding young men, we are obligated to discuss the rising cost of attending college. Recently, the cost of a college education and the debt many students incur to complete college has been under tremendous scrutiny.

Every college and university has had to increase tuition costs to meet the ever-rising expense of maintaining an educational institution. Hampden- Sydney College is no different. To make tuition more affordable, colleges participate in tuition discounting, which is the discount students receive from an institution in the form of grants. This discount is vitally important for middle-class families trying to send their sons to Hampden-Sydney College, and each year the College distributes about $6 million in financial assistance to its students.

If we are going to be able to continue offering the level of financial aid that our students need, while meeting our operational expenses, we need to increase our scholarship endowment. Income from the restricted scholarship endowment offsets the discount rate. The discount rate not covered by the endowment must be made up by tuition and other income, such as annual giving. Increasing the scholarship endowment was a principal goal of the last fundraising campaign, Through These Gates, and happily it was fully subscribed. However, we must continue to make advances in this area.

Another issue that concerns many alumni, according to the results of the survey, is the racially based incident that occurred on campus the night of the 2012 Presidential election. Some survey respondents believe that the College has not done enough to address racial issues on campus, as well as general issues of diversity. The following is a comprehensive look at what we have been doing before and since the incident.

Gilmer HallOver the past year, the College’s program in Intercultural Affairs has been expanding. With the hiring of Hakeem Croom ’10 as assistant dean for Intercultural Affairs in September 2012 and Karin Gollin, director of Civic Engagement, the Office of Student Affairs is shifting from general cultural awareness to community inclusion and acceptance. The election night incident here at Hampden-Sydney sparked a campus-wide conversation about improving understanding and support for students with different backgrounds—especially differences in race and sexual orientation. This intensified the program’s focus on promoting a more inclusive campus and on encouraging bystanders to become “up-standers.”

Soon after the November 6 incident, the College reached out to Jonathan Zur, president of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC). Mr. Zur came to campus and mediated a discussion among various student leaders. The students included fraternity presidents, members of the Minority Student Union (an organization established in 1998 and open to all members of the student body), head resident advisors, and members of student government. The discussion was a productive one, and students who participated felt inspired to set a new standard on campus.

David Coe ’14, president of the Minority Student Union, and August Widmer ’13, chairman of the Inter-Fraternity Council, decided to call a student-run town hall meeting to publicly discuss the issues raised by the incident. Overall, the panel of 15 student leaders asserted that the actions of those involved in the incident did not reflect the pulse of our student body. Students spoke out strongly about the need to increase civility, to make it clear that intolerance has no place on this campus, and to create ways for students to learn how to respect, appreciate, and actively support their brothers. They reaffirmed Hampden-Sydney’s core values and the importance of the student Code of Conduct.

After the town hall, Coe and other members of the Minority Student Union began a new inclusivity initiative entitled, “Hand in Hand, Together We Stand.” Participants signed a pledge agreeing to stand up against acts of intolerance. Another response to the incident and to the student-led demands for change was the creation by the provost and dean of the faculty and the dean of students of a shared framework to increase civility and inclusion. Provost and Dean of the Faculty Dennis Stevens and Dean of Students David Klein ’78 outlined the following five-point plan in January 2013, which is being financially supported by a group of alumni:

  1. Spring of 2013: Move forward the campus conversation on race and the November 6 incident through a workshop series with VCIC.
  2. Student Leader Training: Build the capacities and confidence of student leaders to challenge expressions of intolerance on campus and to model civility in action.
  3. New Student Orientation: Set expectations on day one; communicate clearly that expressions of intolerance are unacceptable at Hampden- Sydney.
  4. Scholarships for Students: Provide annual scholarships to enable students to deepen their knowledge and skills in promoting inclusion and civility through attending a conference or workshop.
  5. Link with Related Campus Programming: Intercultural Affairs Committee, Wilson Center, and Lectures and Programs. Encourage faculty and staff to integrate the themes of inclusion and civility across several College committees and programs.

In adherence with this plan, last spring a group of students participated in a series of three workshops between February and April. These students came from a range of backgrounds— including members of the Minority Student Union, the Unity Alliance, resident advisors, fraternity leaders, and several individual students interested in the topic. Facilitated by the VCIC, the workshops focused on examining issues of difference in society and in their own experience, exploring intolerance at Hampden-Sydney and developing their own ideas for how the College should address them, and building skills to intervene in difficult situations.

In response to student recommendations during the town hall and the spring workshops, Hampden-Sydney worked with VCIC to create a strong focus on inclusion during this August’s Student Leadership Summit. Taking place just before orientation, the Student Leadership Summit included over 100 student leaders, including resident advisors, student government members, fraternity presidents, and orientation leaders. The VCIC program focused on a more inclusive and affirming living and learning environment. Through a combination of large and small group sessions across the day, they explored issues of difference and did some role-playing to develop skills for managing inter-group and intra-group conflicts. They also spent time exploring the question “What is a gentleman?” and the role of the Honor Code in creating an atmosphere of respect and acceptance.

There were two changes to orientation this year that relate to the Inclusion and Intercultural Affairs Program: First, as a result of discussions among student leaders, the focus of the small-group discussions right before the Honor Convocation was enlarged to include both the Honor Code and the Code of Conduct. Rather than a discussion of judicial procedure, this year greater emphasis was placed on generating discussion on core College values of honor, respect, civility, and brotherhood. Second, the initial version of H-SC Step Up was presented to freshmen. Adapted from Step Up programs at other Virginia colleges, this program has a core focus on bystander intervention in a range of situations involving unhealthy and/or inappropriate behavior—drugs, alcohol, sexual harassment, not attending classes, etc. Future work on this program will incorporate segments that specifically target intolerance.

In the coming year, we are looking forward to continuing to develop programs in this area.

Respondents to the survey had many comments about the relationship between the College and our alumni. These comments are already affecting what we do and how we do it. Most notably, the Hampden-Sydney Alumni Association has made considerable changes to its governing body. On September 6, members of the Alumni Association approved a revision of the Association’s bylaws during the fall Alumni Leadership Meeting. The new bylaws were proposed by the Executive Officers of the National Alumni Association and creates a Board of Directors, replacing the former leadership body, the Alumni Council. In addition, the new plan creates an annual Alumni Leadership Summit where leaders and volunteers of regional and special-interest alumni clubs will gather on campus for training and planning workshops.

The plan was first announced in a July 31 e-mail from Bill Howard ’77, President of the Alumni Association, to the current roster of Alumni Council members. Mr. Howard made a call for nominations and shared the Executive Officers’ rationale for the move.

“A growing number of alumni tell us that they no longer attend the Alumni Council because the meetings lack substance and outcome. Other invitees are unsure why they even received an invitation,” Mr. Howard wrote.

Over the years, the Alumni Council had grown to an unmanageable size, as Alumni Council members were added to the roster for myriad reasons. These problems caused poor and inconsistent attendance at meetings that, in turn, prevented the Alumni Council from executing the work needed to provide leadership, organization, and direction to the National Alumni Association.

All members of the Board of Directors have committed to set term-limits, attendance at two meetings per year, subcommittee work, and leadership giving at the Society of Founders level, among other responsibilities. During the meeting on September 6, the Board of Directors celebrated their commitment to the Alumni Association’s mission, which was first written in 1839: “to promote at all times the general welfare of the College, and to this end maintain the goodwill of all former students toward the College and their comradeship toward each other.”

This publication, The Record of Hampden- Sydney College, has been the primary means of communicating with our alumni for decades. In recent years, with the development of digital communication, we have incorporated new ways of spreading the news of the College. However, many survey respondents told us that most of the time the College reaches out to alumni, we are reaching out for money.

Though this may be the perception, it is not the reality. The Record, for example, does include reminders about planned giving opportunities and The Hampden-Sydney Fund, but a vast majority of the content is about the accomplishments of students, faculty, and alumni.

Occasionally there are articles about generous contributions to the College that have resulted in improved facilities or scholarships, but these celebrations are not solicitations.

Social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, give the College a more immediate and fluid method for creating a dialogue with alumni and friends of the College. Topics in these digital forums range from moments in Hampden-Sydney history to current student research projects, and our social media followers get the chance to show their love and support for the school with a few quick clicks of a computer mouse. For many years, we have kept you up to date with campus news through the regular e-mail Tiger Headlines. Also, during the past year, we created the Engage H-SC e-mail campaign that highlights the accomplishments of alumni across the country. This is yet another way to quickly and economically spread good news about Hampden-Sydney.

We are trying to improve our internal coordination to avoid overwhelming our constituents with repeated requests for money, which is ineffective and annoying. We understand that these solicitations are distracting alumni from the multitude of ways they can contribute to the College. For example, we want you to become Career Education mentors to our students, to register for the Man Up prospective student recruiting plan, to attend a class reunion where you can reconnect with old friends, to cheer the Tigers on to victory in athletic competition, or to return to campus for a lecture or student play. None of these opportunities—and others like them—require a financial commitment by you to Hampden-Sydney. Instead, they give you something: the chance to share the pride you have for your own experience on The Hill.


The results of the alumni survey cover many topics and we will share more of them with you in the coming issues of The Record. It is important for us to have frank conversations with alumni about Hampden-Sydney’s challenges, because you are a huge resource that too often goes untapped. Already we have learned much about how to better communicate with our alumni and how to better represent our alumni on campus through the Alumni Association. We want our alumni and our community to recognize our commitment to educating men and to teaching understanding and acceptance of an increasingly diverse world.

President Howard and members of the senior staff are presenting the State of the College at alumni gatherings from now through February. We encourage you to attend one in your community to hear the latest news and to ask questions about your alma mater.

For those who completed the alumni survey, thank you for your insight and concern. Your comments truly are making at difference at Hampden-Sydney College.