Founded in 1795 in Schenectady but first imagined during the Revolutionary War, Union was the first college to be chartered by the Regents of the State of New York and one of the first non-denominational institutions of higher learning in the country. The school immediately set itself apart by choosing a French motto and elevating study of the language to equal footing with Greek and Latin. In 1820, the school also broadened its classical curriculum to incorporate history, science, and math. President Chester A. Arthur and other national luminaries graduated from Union during its peak in the 1800s. Following latter-century scandals, enrollment fell. But in the 1900s Union gradually regained its reputation for innovation, adding a popular Engineering School and going coed. It is now again one of America’s top fifty liberal arts colleges.
Union College’s 100-acre campus feels classy and spacious, with columned buildings (some of which date back to 1814), almost ten acres of formal gardens, and broad swaths of green. The domed Nott Memorial, built in 1875 in honor of President Nott, is a historical landmark and the only sixteen-sided structure in the Northern hemisphere. Union has spent over $26 million to revitalize College Park, a neighborhood west of campus, and it now offers some of the most in-demand housing on campus both in apartments and at College Park Hall, once an area hotel.
Students tend to hang out in the gardens on temperate days or inside the Campus Center, which has a dining hall, a restaurant, and the college bookstore.
Schenectady, NY, is a post-industrial town in upstate New York, close to the capital city of Albany. Most students remain on-campus rather than explore it, since it doesn’t offer too many resources for young people. For those with enhanced mobility, Albany offers a breath of fresh air, and New York City and Boston are both within driving distance. Schenectady’s downtown is also under development, so it might become accessible and vibrant in the next few years.
Traditions at Union include:
Naked Nott Run around the 16-sided memorial.
Walking through the tunnel.
Peeing on the pyramid.
Painting the Idol.
Drinking a beer at every fraternity.
Springfest, an annual all-day concert in the gardens.
Lobster picnic is an outdoor bar-b-que where everyone on campus gets a lobster.
Chester A. Arthur (1848) was the 21st U.S. President.
Jimmy Carter (attended) is a former United States President.
Gordon Gould (1941) was the inventor of the laser.
William Seward (1820) was the U.S. Secretary of State under Lincoln.
Kate White (1972) is the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Union was a founding member of the prestigious the New England Small Colleges Athletic Conference sports conference, or NESCAC, for elite liberal arts college in the Northeast. Union dropped out in 1982, however.
Now athletics at Union College are Division III for all teams except men’s hockey, which is Division I. Serious crowds come to the rink to watch the free games. Football, women’s lacrosse, and women’s hockey are also notable on campus, as are the club and intramural sports. The Dutchmen and Dutchwomen have well-maintained, modern facilities to work with: The gymnasium was renovated in 2006 and the Viniar Athletic Center in 2004.
Music lovers, rejoice: Since 2006, when the college outfitted the new Taylor Music Center with thirteen new pianos, the Center has been “all Steinway” all the time. Its collection features one $55,000 concert grand.
Two Union alumni, William H. Seward and Robert Toombs, were secretaries of state at the same time, Seward for the United States of America and Toombs for the Confederacy.
Union is called “the mother of fraternities” because many fraternities originated there, including the first three modern national ones — Kappa Alpha Society, the oldest in the country, Delta Phi, and Sigma Phi, which, of the three, is the only one that remains active.
The only sixteen-sided building in the northern hemisphere is Union’s Nott Memorial.
Union College recently refurbished the historic frat row for use as the new Minerva Houses, in honor of the Roman goddess of wisdom. (The goddess is also invoked in the college motto.) Freshmen are placed in one of these houses, each of which has its own entertainment budget. Upperclassmen can continue to live there, or they can move to one of the twelve Theme Houses, whose options include a house geared towards community service and one geared towards discussions between faculty and students as well as more standard organizing principles like Arts and Music/Culture.
Greek life still thrives on the campus that spawned more national fraternities than any other school. About 33 percent of the student body participates in Greek life. Those students can also choose to live on chapter-specific floors of the dorms or in chapter houses.
The dorms, College Park Hall, Fox Hall, Richmond Hall, substance-free Webster Hall, and party dorms Davidson Hall and West Hall, offer a mix of singles and doubles with some suites. The Seward/Hull Street apartments just off campus contain several bedrooms, a kitchen, and laundry facilities.