After a 4:30 wake up call so I could make my early morning flight to Lynchburg, Virginia and join 29 colleagues on the annual private colleges tour, I admit I was dragging a bit by the time evening rolled around. When the bus pulled onto the red brick campus of historic Hampden-Sydney College, however, I quickly found my second wind thanks to their warm welcome and the opportunity to learn about what makes this unique school so special.
(It also didn’t hurt that Hampden-Sydney is a men’s college and I’m an admitted sucker for young gentlemen who not only hold doors open for ladies, but who can answer sentences with “Yes, ma’am” in a way that doesn’t make me feel like my grandmother.)
Those familiar with American history are, of course, well aware that much of it can be found within the commonwealth of Virginia, which provided the stage for a lot of Thomas Jefferson’s greatest ideas and accomplishments (the University of Virginia, anyone?), but when you look at the history of Hampden-Sydney, the first thing you learn is that the founding of the college actually predates the founding of our nation. That’s right, readers – Hampden-Sydney has been part of the American educational landscape since 1775 and can boast famous statesmen James Madison and Patrick Henry as two members of their earliest Board of Trustees.
Very obviously, both the country and the way we approach higher education have changed dramatically since the American Revolution, however, and in many ways, Hampden-Sydney has evolved with the times. In many other ways, however, the college has remained committed to the liberal arts ideals on which it was founded – elements that can be seen clearly in programs such as the school’s famous Rhetoric Program, which was established in 1978 and is a treasured part of each young man’s Hampden-Sydney experience, regardless of his major. With the goal of making sure that each graduate has a clear and deep understanding of how to write well and how to develop and utilize arguments in all facets of his life, each student is required to pass a rhetoric proficiency exam as a graduation requirement and each year on the exam date, Hampden-Sydney alumni from around the world toast the current students on social media and wish them luck in the endeavor.
A small school at just over 1,000 undergraduates, students at Hampden-Sydney are guaranteed small class sizes and close relationships with faculty and staff. What’s more, because it’s an all-male school, the teaching style is geared toward hands-on, active learners. The campus setting also facilitates this with its rural location and easy access to fishing, hiking, and hunting in the area. (Hunters may bring rifles to campus and store them in the security office’s gun locker and fishermen can find their prey in one of the three stocked lakes on campus.)
Unfortunately for male equestrians, Hampden-Sydney doesn’t currently carry an equestrian team on its roster of varsity or club sports, though the location does allow for active riders to find access to boarding and training facilities in the greater area and a particularly enterprising young man would have no trouble starting a club team if he wished.
In closing, I do find it worth mentioning to my female blog readers – many of whom have read my campus visit recaps of trips to women’s colleges across the country – that, just as you may be reluctant to attend a college or university dedicated to students of just one gender, all of the young men I met at Hampden-Sydney said the exact same things that I hear from many of you. Yes, they feared not meeting girls during college (unfounded, by the way, ladies – the boys will always find the girls, no matter what and Hampden-Sydney is the long-time brother school to nearby Sweet Briar College) and likewise, now that they’re enrolled, they love their school. In fact, one young man made the comment, “It’s nice to roll out of bed in sweats and go to class without worrying what anyone thinks of what I’m wearing.”
Summary: Don’t judge a school by its single-gender set up. Judge it instead by what it can do for you. (I believe President Kennedy said something like that in a speech. Okay, maybe he wasn’t talking about colleges at the time, but you get the idea.)