Category Archives: Opinion

Hampden-Sydney’s Most Cherished Tradition: Student Protests

Dylan DelliSanti ’14 and Tarun Sharma ‘15

            Hampden-Sydney, more so than other institutions, places a special emphasis on its traditions. The Honor Code is held in high regard and posted in each classroom; tailgating has likely been the same since football players started wearing leather helmets; and despite over two centuries of existence, the school has managed to retain its old Southern charm. However, there is one tradition that has not received the respect it deserves: student protests. While protesting is not typically associated with Hampden-Sydney students, it is a rich part of our history. Throughout the College’s storied history, protests have been an effective and important method of protecting student and College interests, and should continued to be utilized in appropriate situations in the future.

            One of the main reasons that protests are appropriate, insofar as protecting and improving the College and its traditions, is because student happiness and collegiate life have a symbiotic relationship. Students have an interest in promoting the social fabric of the community because the College is part of each alumnus’ individual legacy. Motivation aside, as young people, they tend to have more “local knowledge” as to what is happening in pop culture and in social life. This knowledge allows for students to define their college experience, which the social interactions between classmates and guests weigh into heavily. At the same time, the faculty and administration can provide a nice counter-weight in trying to promote education, an almost equally important element to the college experience. This has guided past protests, like the Dance Protests in 1904. It is a well-known fact that the College was once directly affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. History tells us that when Presbyterians took control of the Board of Trustees in 1904, they immediately banned dancing due to the fact that it was considered to be an “immoral” activity. This resulted in a lack of dances or yearbooks in 1904 or 1905. Students responded by painting the President’s horse and various slogans on buildings. The student body found a likely ally in Maj. Richard Venable, who organized dances in the house in which the Hampden-Sydney Museum now stands, which was then off-campus and known as the Comity Club. Another example is the access of female guests to dorm buildings. In the 1960s, when students across the country were burning down administration buildings in protest of the War in Vietnam, Hampden-Sydney students camped out in the lawn of Atkinson Hall for most of a week. Eventually, administrators acquiesced to the students’ desires, and students were allowed to bring female guests to their dormitory rooms, a privilege that students still place a high value upon today. Students used quite docile protests in order to keep Hampden-Sydney’s social values and traditions up with the times.

Moreover, students will one day become alumni and will likely wish for their children to attend the College. Thus, they might know which traditions and institutions are worth preserving better than faculty members and administrators who do not have (or do not wish to have) a long-term connection to the College. This can be seen in the undistinguished legacy of President Leutze, who in his short tenure between 1987 and 1990, attempted to motorize the process of ringing the Watkins Bell Tower. Scaffolding was erected inside the Bell Tower so that the ringing could be mechanized. However, students went to the structure in the middle of the night and dismantled the scaffolding, reassembling it on the front steps of Middlecourt. The plans were promptly disbanded, and the bell is still manually rung today. Leutze did not have a great context of Hampden-Sydney’s main bell that, as General Sam says, calls Hampden-Sydney’s sons back to the Hill. He did not understand that not only did students value the tradition of the bell, but that it is considered an honor amongst the Buildings and Grounds staff to be chosen to ring the Bell Tower. Traditionally, the longest tenured housekeeping staff member is in charge of the manual ringing of the Bell. Thus, it is in the College’s best interest for students to determine some traditions that are maintained throughout the tenures of multiple Presidents.

So we find that it is sometimes necessary for student protests to occur, especially if student demands are being ignored. Not only can students curb wrongdoing that are committed by higher-ups in the administration, but preserve traditional values that the College and its sons still care deeply about, such as the aforementioned manual operation of the Watkins Bell Tower. At the same time, students are able to update social values that may be lagging due to Hampden-Sydney’s isolation. Protests have a long history of being successful on the Hill, and it is important to continue to value them going forward in events of student misgivings about occurrences because it is vital to the legacy of alumni and the future of the College. 

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Improvement through Abandoning American Exceptionalism

David Williams ’14, Staff Writer

Many people in the US maintain the belief that the United States is different from every other country in the world because of our beliefs and foundations. This belief, termed “American Exceptionalism”, has morphed into a way to proclaim that the United States of America is the best country in the world. However, this set of beliefs is dangerous to hold at a time when this nation is on the edge of a systematic change in the function of our government.

With the recent government shutdown, it is easy to see that at least one of the systems we rely on to run our country has fallen to a point where we can no longer claim that we have created the best government and culture in the world. By insulating ourselves in an intellectual comfort blanket, we are losing the ability to adapt our government system, economy and culture. Without looking to other countries for successful methods of dealing with the problems that have been plaguing our country recently, we cannot expect to maintain the high level of functioning that we have at least perceived during our country’s existence.

If you look at the statistics that the CIA collects and publishes in its World Fact Book, it is easy to see that the US does not have the best policies when looking at certain factors. Most damning to this perception of our supposed dominance is the fact that 15% of Americans live below the poverty line. It is clear that we have a system that is broken if we are leaving behind 15% of our country at a point when we classify them as in need of assistance to maintain their needs. While we maintain the largest economy in the world, we have a distribution of ownership of funds that is similar to that of a lesser developed nation. The United States has the 41st most concentrated income distribution in the world. The top ten percent of income earners in our country maintain 30 percent of the wealth. We have to look to other nations and their ways of promoting income distribution in order to renew the ability of the United States to continue developing our economy and maintain our standard of living.

The current strain of “American Exceptionalism” is a dangerous belief. By putting ourselves so far above the rest of the world, we prevent ourselves from realizing the policies that are best for creating the country that we envision ourselves living in as well as improving the country that we live in now.

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Is America still Exceptional?

Graves Anthony ’16, Staff Writer

Taking a look back at the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, I stop and think about the argument over American exceptionalism. Alexis de Tocqueville, upon visiting America, called this nation “exceptional”. Other uses stem from the early communist movements here in the US. The major leader in the communist party in Europe, Joseph Stalin, is credited for having coined the phrase “American exceptionalism”.  Seymour Martin Lipset defines American exceptionalism, in his book American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword, as the United States being “qualitatively different” from other nations. This notion of America being “qualitatively different” from other nations is shown through the people of the United States who extend themselves, as well as resources, to help people throughout the world who’ve been oppressed. In the search for the truth of why America is exceptional, I look to the impact we, as the US, have made upon the world. For 237 years, America has been leading the way for democratic republics across the world.

In many cases, we, as Americans, see the negatives and the flaws of our society; however we fail to see how good things really are in the US compared to those in some countries in South America, Africa and Asia. We take for granted the fact that we have a say in what goes on in our country compared to those countries that function off of one man or one family ruling a whole people and those people don’t have a chance to change their circumstance.  In a historical context, we see the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his love for America and how he believes in American Exceptionalism. Colonialism is dead and America wasn’t part of the major instances of colonialism that materialized in Africa or in the Far East.  I see America as being the exception from the world at the time of colonialism. That, in turn, defines America as “qualitatively different”.

It has been said that President Woodrow Wilson took a moralistic approach to his foreign policy. This moralistic approach leads to the US getting involved in WWI later rather than sooner. In the last twenty years, the US has taken a moralistic approach to foreign policy, for example: Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans, Libya, and now with Syria. The United States has had a longstanding tradition of fighting for those who are oppressed in countries in which said people would be killed if they spoke against the government in place. So the US goes in, topples the ruthless dictator, and puts in place a democratic form of government. As good as spreading democracy to the world sounds, it doesn’t always work. With this sense of moral obligation, that the US has to defend those who cannot defend themselves, we, as a people, have to accept that the US, in a traditional point of view, has to take the same stance on the issue of spreading democracy to the parts of the world in which it does not exist.

With the spread of democracy and western ideals comes pushback from groups that do not want the change. We saw that in the 1990’s with Somalia and we’ve seen it happen in Iraq and Libya in the 2000’s. The fact of the matter is that the US is an exceptional nation when it comes to the foreign policy of helping those countries in need. President George W. Bush saw a dire need for help in Africa because of the epidemic of AIDS/HIV. So, President Bush became the first President to give financial aid to Africa to help stop the epidemic of AIDS in Africa. I cite the job that President Obama has done with his approach to Syria and the modern application of a moralistic sense of authority that the US has over the world. President Obama did a good job drawing a red line when it came to using chemical weapons on your own people. However, he has sense showed a weakness by handing over primary negotiations on Syria to the Russians and President Putin.

America, as a nation, is qualitatively different from any other nation on this earth by the fact that she is not made up of one people but of many different peoples from many different countries. They all come to America for the same purpose: to lead a better life. Although the US may not be the best in healthcare or education, the idea that immigrants dream about coming to America to not only better themselves but more importantly to create a better life for the next generation. To quote the good Professor Dr. James Y. Simms, Jr., when asked whether America was still exceptional or not, he said, “Damn right America is still exceptional.” I believe that about sums it up. America, in my opinion, is still exceptional and will always be exceptional.

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Welcoming New Watchmen

David Williams ’14, Staff Writer

Video recording devices have been a staple of security systems for years. However, on campus there is a distinct lack of security cameras. Very simply, we need more surveillance on this campus. Twice this year, there has been an attempted robbery of the ATM in Graham Hall, and on the second occasion, the Business Office was broken into as well. Security cameras provide useful information for investigating crimes and also serve to prevent crimes from occurring.

From overhearing discussions around campus, it seems that many students are opposed to the installation of cameras on campus. These students are unconvinced of the need to violate the privacy of others by recording their actions. However, the installation of these cameras would go a long way to making campus safer. The college has a liability to protect students from events such as the break in and has an interest in protecting its holdings from theft or damage. After Bortz Library was opened, there was an incident when a student removed several Mac computers from the computing lab simply by walking out with them. Security cameras would have provided a way to know who stole those computers and possibly lead to prosecution for the crime and repossession of the stolen property. Also, video identification may be useful if a missing person report was filed. Many colleges go so far as to document entrances to dorms for resident students in order to relieve some of the legal liability the college faces to protect their students in as many ways as possible.

Further, if there is a disagreement over the fundamental issue of privacy, then this is one of the few cases where the common remark, “If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t worry” really does apply. The security cameras installed should be limited to public buildings, such as academic and/or administrative buildings, not dorms. Any activity that would be recorded should be mundane at almost all times. Any evidence of a crime would be recorded in a public place where supervision by others is considered an assumption.

As much as the old charm of Hampden-Sydney does come from its link to the past, we need to take a step forward to adapting to a new world. Security cameras have become almost a necessity in maintaining public safety in modern life. We should welcome the attempt to protect our charm through the least intrusive measures possible, which is ultimately video surveillance.

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A Golden Cage is But a Cage

Tarun Sharma ’15, Staff Writer

A few weeks ago, at a meeting of the President’s Leadership Council, the issue of swipe cards that I have discussed in this very space was debated at length. After the meeting, several students hung around to ask Dr. Howard questions. I bring this up because I was troubled to hear a statement from a fellow student that went along the lines of: “we have to implement the most substantive security measures first so that we can see how much security we really need.” This idea is nothing new. Since the inception of government, citizens of lands across the globe have been willing to give up a great deal of their freedom to their governments and leaders in exchange for the promise of safety and security. On the outside, this seems to make sense. Safety is a primary concern of every individual. The guarantee of security, specifically of one’s life, liberty, and property, allows for all other goals and objectives within an individual’s life to take precedence. However, one needs to look no further than this Hill to find examples of the sacrifice of freedom could lead to a dissolution of those values that a group of people treasure most.

Let us extrapolate the idea of security and its purpose a little bit more. It is my belief that the purpose of security is to maintain stability—enforcing the rules of the game to create an even playing field for individuals to use their talents in order to enjoy a the fruits of their labor in a free manner.  Merriam-Webster defines freedom as: “an absence of undue restrictions and an opportunity to exercise one’s rights and powers.” Thus, it seems to make sense that if the purpose of security is to allow for “freedom” to persist, that freedom should be more highly valued commodity, particularly in our society. The truth is that we do not need to necessarily go to the nuclear option in order to find out what the right number of security devices is for this campus. We, as rational thinkers, can fully consider what each option entails before we commit time, resources, and freedoms as costs for this marginal increase in security.

Evidence from studies regarding the implementation of security cameras and card scanners give us mixed evidence at best. The fact is that camera footage is really only valuable if it can be used in conjunction with prosecution to establish guilt, but we have no indication that the Honor Court would even use this footage to punish students that violate the Honor Code or Student Code of Conduct. Likewise, there is little doubt that larger public universities have a greater issue with rates of theft per capita than our campus. There will always be those amongst us that are not interested in following the rules of the Honor Code that we each sign upon our entrance to the College. In such cases, we trust our completely student-run justice system to deal with those ne’er-do-wells, whom they deem incompatible with our community after examining all pertinent evidence regarding the case. If there is a serious desire to change our policies and move in the same vein as larger public universities by installing card swipes on dormitory doors without any firm student-friendly policy in place, cameras all over this beautiful campus, and a policy of “community policing” that involves more consistent surveillance of students, there will be significant ramifications on the future of our college.

When we came to Hampden-Sydney, we decided that we wanted to live within a community a greater sense of freedom that centers upon the trust that each of us places in our brothers. The most secure community is not one that is constantly being watched from above by the eyes of higher ups, but one where individuals trust one another, whether they be students, staff, faculty members, administration, or campus security. When we implement these devices designed to provide security, which should protect freedoms that we value in this community, we deprive ourselves of those very freedoms. I think that Ben Franklin, friend of founding trustee James Madison, said it best: ”People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”

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Government Shutdown: Don’t Hate the Players, Hate the Game

Dylan DelliSanti ‘14

Due to breakdowns in negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the United States government, for the first time since 1995, has “shutdown.” Unfortunately, this is not the start of an anarchist revolution. Rather, all the shutdown means is that “non-essential” government employees will not be coming into work. Non-essential employees and programs include certain segments of the Department of Homeland Security, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s seasonal flu program, 400 national parks and about 800,000 Federal employees. Already, partisans on both sides are launching into the traditional blame game: Republicans blaming Democrats for not backing down on the Affordable Care Act; Democrats blaming Republicans for using the Act as a bargaining chip to disrupt the budget process. However, rather than blaming either side for the breakdown, it might instead be better to look at the underlying logic that caused this problem.

This isn’t the first time the United States government has shutdown. From 1976 to 2013, there have been 18 shutdowns. Some of these shutdowns occurred with a Republican President and Democratic Congress, while others occurred under the opposite circumstances. Clearly, forcing a shutdown is not a tactic intrinsic to members of the vast left- or right-wing conspiracy.

Rather, forcing a shutdown is a tactic often employed by any minority party who controls at least the House or Senate and is unhappy with the budget, or want to use the budget to change other laws. The idea is that the minority party can make the President’s party look foolish if they prevent them from passing a spending bill. Constituents, who rely on those government services which were shutdown, will plead with the President to compromise with the minority party, as will government employees who are unable to receive pay checks.

Herein lies the fundamental problem: Our government has become so large that political parties view government shutdowns as an effective political tactic for advancing their agendas. In essence, the more services we grant to the government, the more vulnerable we are to these sorts of machinations. If our government was smaller, then fewer people would be affected by a shutdown, and the ploy would lose its edge.

Thus, when thinking of expanding government, we should keep in mind situations like these. If a good or service can be provided through market mechanisms, then we ought to lean on the side of the market. Unlike the government, the market is more robust to “shutdown”-like situations. For instance, imagine orange farms in Florida shutdown due to drought or disease. Orange consumers, rather than going without oranges as some citizens are going without government services, will still be able to purchase oranges from Brazil, Spain, and other countries that produce the fruit. By having competition, consumers are not tethered to any one producer, but instead can choose from a range of options if one option shuts down or ceases to provide a quality service.

We can try to play the blame game, but ultimately, shutting down government is a bipartisan tactic. Rather than relying on the benevolence of our elected officials (you would think that at this point we would realize they have none), we should instead to seek to liberalize as many functions of government as possible. Allowing for competition in the provision of these services will leave us less vulnerable to political manipulation and strife.

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The Most Important Question You Can Ask…

Alexander C. Cartwright ’13

Changing ideas is difficult; especially when it comes to our most cherished beliefs. Even though it’s easy to pass on a well-written and well-argued article to a friend, there is little chance that the article is going to have much effect on his on his or her thinking. I have found a very effective strategy for debating and speaking with those who don’t necessarily agree with me: ask the following: What hypothetical or theoretical fact, logical mechanism, statistic, or conclusion would cause you to change your mind regarding that position?

Though most of us do not have an answer to this question for each position we hold, we should. What would cause you to believe that the welfare state is a good thing? That socialism is the superior method of social organization? That natural rights exist? Or even that Jesus died for our sins? By having an answer to this question, you are acknowledging that there is a hypothetical case in which you would change your position, given that your hypothetical threshold (whatever it may be) is met. By acknowledging that there are circumstances under which you would change your mind, you are demonstrating that your position is not one that you dogmatically hold but rather one that is the product of, at least some, critical reflection.

Answering this question for each and every debate we have is so fundamental that I’m comfortable saying, those who have no answer it are not worth talking to. If someone explains that there is no hypothetical or theoretical world under which they would change their position, then it is not possible to debate with them. They have, by responding ‘no’, acknowledged that there is nothing that would convince them that their position is wrong or unfounded. Those who respond ‘no’ to this question are by definition being dogmatic, not valuing the pursuit of truth, showing disconcert for reflecting on their own positions, are not practicing the virtues of intellectual honesty, and quite possibly are ‘irrational’ individuals.

I’ve found that even though many people see the value in answering these questions, they feel as if they are conceding their own positions by admitting a theoretical circumstance in which they would change their mind. This is incorrect. By simply acknowledging that if, for example, socialism led to a more just and prosperous society to capitalism, one would advocate socialism, he is not at all conceding his position or undermining the strength of the argument for capitalism; in fact, by admitting that the set of circumstances in which you would change your view, makes your own view appear to be the product of critical reflection and thus stronger.

One might object to this method of forcing your opponent to be intellectually honest by pointing out that it appeals to consequentialist intuitions. By asking someone under what circumstances he or she would change his or her position, or asking the person to imagine a hypothetical outcome that would cause the person to change an opinion, the question explicitly appeals to the ‘consequences’ and has nothing to say about any intrinsic good, value, or honor that comes from the act of holding a position or doing what one believes to be correct regardless of consequence. This is a reasonable and correct objection. This question is consequentialist in nature; I don’t see that as any mark against it.

In order to stay on the pursuit of truth and practice the virtue of intellectual honesty, there should be a hypothetical or theoretical fact, logical mechanism, statistic, or conclusion which would cause us to change your minds for each and every position we hold. Furthermore, before any debate, we need to be asking our opponents this question not only so that we can make sure they are worth debating, but also because it allows us to discover which points we need to appeal to in order to win the argument.

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