BY KILLIAN DOBROTH
In the midst of the chaos at Hampshire College stands a 6-by-15-foot portrait of two symbolic Hampshire College activists: former professor James Baldwin and alum Cara Page. Both Baldwin and Page reflect values that Hampshire College has embodied such as community service and advocating for equal opportunity. The James Baldwin Scholars program has provided scholarships for students from underserved communities to attend Hampshire College. Page is an alum who has brought healing practices and community organization to marginalized groups on campus.
The portrait is located in the President’s office, which is surrounded by mattresses, plugged-in laptops and activists’ signs. This is the frontline of Hampshire Rise Up, the Hampshire College student body’s push for representation in the process of the College’s uncertain transition into the future.
On Jan. 17, Hampshire College announced that it would not accept an incoming class in fall 2019 except for early decision students. Hampshire College President Miriam Nelson has justified this decision by stating that “Hampshire College did not have the confidence to graduate a class in four years.”
Even though Hampshire’s students are left with little power to effect change at an administrative level, student activists are still trying. Students Whealon Costello, admitted in fall 2016, and Mika Cook-Right, admitted in fall 2018, created the portrait of James Baldwin and Cara Page for Hampshire Rise Up.
In the spirit of collaboration, many more than these two students were involved in the portrait’s creation. “We broke it down by elements so [one] person right now is working on windows; [another] person is focused on walls,” said Cook-Right. “This is the first time I made something where I was in a state of joy when creating the product, and I am still in a state of joy now that it has been created,” they added.
“When I was painting [Page’s] portrait, I was smiling the whole time to wear her expression and feel it,” said Costello, who researched Page for the portrait. “I looked up [Page] on You Tube. When I watched her videos they spoke to me and my problems. I smiled so much. To do anything to give thanks of her influence and to remind people the same way that I have been reminded: Hampshire people are out there doing some pretty amazing things. We can be too,” she added.
The portrait is a reminder of Hampshire students’ dedication to their institution, but their effort is not unique in the face of everything Hampshire’s staff, students and alumni are currently doing in order to preserve the institution’s future. As of Feb. 28, alumni had raised about a million dollars in an effort to keep the college afloat, and Hampshire Rise Up’s sit-in is the longest consecutive sit-in in the history of Hampshire.
Since the beginning of the sit-ins, President Nelson has not elaborated on her plans for the College moving forward. As of April 1, the Chairwoman for the Board of Trustees has resigned, citing “vitriol” and “slanderous attacks.” When asked about working towards the survival of the College, President Nelson replied, “We are looking at a range of options. They are all at different levels of development. We will be pursuing one; but that doesn’t mean it will transpire.”
“For three consecutive years, the College has been saved by rescue gifts from donors. Student tuition accounts for 90 percent of the College’s revenue, an alarming statistic when considered in conjunction with the 19 percent enrollment decrease of the last three years. We don’t have the plan figured out yet,” said President Nelson about her plan to increase admissions at Hampshire College.
In response to the upheaval and the resulting student resistance, CookRight commented, “Hampshire to me represents doing what’s right for education and not what is lucrative or saves money. Being such a green school that also probably can’t afford to be a green school is a thing of principle.” They added, “I feel like we are setting a precedent here if we just let Hampshire die and don’t invest in it. It’s doing good things and we have to keep letting it do good things because there isn’t a better place [than] this.”