Hampshire College was founded in 1965 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Amherst College alumnus Harold Johnson donated $6 million to found Hampshire as a beacon of alternative education in the liberal arts world, one that would complement the other four other colleges in the area (Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and UMass-Amherst). With a matching grant from the Ford Foundation, Hampshire’s first trustees purchased 800 acres of orchard and farmland in South Amherst, and construction began. Today, Hampshire and the other Amherst schools make up the Five College Consortium.
Almost immediately after Hampshire opened its doors to students, it became one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the nation. Though less selective today, applications are still at an all-time high. Hampshire continues to operate as an experiment, with a curriculum unlike any other in the country.
Hampshire was one of the first colleges to have an openly gay president, Ralph Hexter. In August, 2005, Hexter married his partner of many years, Manfred Kollmeier, on the Hampshire campus.
Hampshire has struggled financially over the years, though their plans for the future suggest they won’t be having trouble for long—-expansion programs are in the works, as are programs designed to attract a more diverse student body.
“Aesthetic beauty” isn’t Hampshire’s claim to fame. Since the 800-acre college campus is still fairly new, there hasn’t been much time to raise enough in donations to really make major architectural changes to its rather haphazard 1960s design scheme. Hampshire still lacks even the most basic of college campus staples, including a central student center and a “main street” in or around the campus for students to buy more than just standard student store snacks.
Fortunately, Hampshire students have access to everything the Five College Consortium has to offer, including each of the other four school’s facilities. Hampshire also has an alternative-minded student body to match its occasionally “alternative” facilities, like the student-run Goodread Library, whose collection consists mostly of students’ used books, and the Airport Lounge, which is designed for coffee-consumption and all-night studying.
The Tavern and the Red Barn are two sites students also frequent — the former for drinking and hanging out, and the latter for school-wide events.
Hampshire is located south of Amherst and east of Northampton, MA, in the Pioneer Valley. Amherst and Northampton are both geared towards college life and college students, with a constant stream of live shows, readings, lectures, and film series. These towns are known for political and social activism, but they're not exactly renowned for their bustling nightlife. There are a number of bars and clubs where students will mix with the locals alongside thousands of UMass students, and the few nightclubs usually draw a decent crowd. Hampshire students also make trips to Springfield, MA, and other nearby towns to sample their drinking and dining establishments.
Students are quick to point out that the other colleges within the Consortium are all within ten miles of Hampshire’s campus, making it easy to head out for a night to catch an event or lecture. The libraries and facilities (and even professors and administrators) at the other schools are all part of the Hampshire community.
The Drag Ball occurs each spring. GLTB groups organize a huge campus-wide party with student bands and raucous dancing, and students show up dressed as a member of the opposite sex.
It’s never a good sign when your cool party is profiled in Rolling Stone, but that’s what happened to the “Trip or Treat” Halloween party at Hampshire, after the magazine covered the debauchery-laden, drug-filled event. Still, the party goes on, with a few more provisions and a few less invitees. Highlights of the party include fireworks, phenomenal costumes, and art installations.
Every Easter, groups of students go out into the woods to hide kegs of alcohol and other treats. Then, with their plastic cups in hand, other students go out to search for them. It's a day devoted to drunkenness and insanity.
The Velvis, or the “Velvet Elvis statue” was the centerpiece of a long-standing Hampshire tradition until it was given as a farewell gift to outgoing president Gregory Prince. In the past, the statue was prominently displayed in student houses.
Ken Burns (1975) is a documentary maker who has filmed Jazz and Baseball, among many others.
Eugene Mirman (1996) is a comedian and actor.
Liev Schreiber (1988) is an actor who has appeared on Broadway, film, and television.
Elliott Smith (1991) was an Oscar-nominated musician.
Naomi Wallace (1978) is an award-winning playwright.
Hampshire College forgoes organized sports completely. But there are some intramural teams, as well as great outdoors and hiking programs, including kayaking, cycling, and skiing excursions. The club Ultimate Frisbee team is popular and quite good - many students turn out for their games and tournaments.
Students ring the “Div III” bell next to the library entrance when they have completed their year-long senior project.
Hampshire is officially a “clothing-optional” institution. Presumably, that means students are allowed to go to class without pants.
Rachel Dratch and Jimmy Fallon played characters in a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live who attended “Hampshire College,” although the college mentioned on SNL is in New Hampshire, and the students they portray don’t seem much like Hampshire students.
Hampshire freshmen are relegated to either Dakin or Merrill which, for freshman dorms, aren't too bad. Most the rooms in these buildings are singles, and many students end up meeting their closest friends freshman year.
Students usually move out of the dorms to the "Mods," apartment-style modular houses that fit between four and ten students, as early as their sophomore years. The Mods are home to many of Hampshire's spontaneous parties and are equipped with all the necessities. There are a variety of Mod locations to choose from, each with its benefits and downfalls.
By senior year, students are usually living in some kind of on-campus apartment or off-campus in town nearby.