Helping Save Hampshire College - Q&A with Jonathon Podolsky
HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE - Jonathon Podolsky is originally from Glencoe, Illinois and has lived in Northampton, Massachusetts since 1995. He has been active in saving Hampshire College. Below is his story on why he chose to help the college.
What is your connection with Hampshire College?
I attended Hampshire College from 1994 to 1995. This year I've mainly been active trying to help Hampshire though not in any traditional job or official position. I was working full time by being a member of the local alumnx group, Hampshire Future (one of the two alum fundraising groups which turned over pledges to the college once the administration changed), the Re-envisioning Coalition including several committees, and supported the student sit-in last Spring semester in a number of ways that I could help as an alum. I wrote an article that was in the Hampshire Gazette and was interviewed for newspapers, blogs, TV, and radio. I was active on numerous social media platforms. I did event planning for the Coalition.
For the sit-ins, I did some logistics to help with "teach-outs", one at Smith and UMass, raised money for food, sometimes brought in food and supplies, helped with the website, attended some of their meetings as a non-voting observer, and provided moral support. For the alumnx group, I helped with planning some of the weekly meetings, planned some social events, came up with the name Local Frogs, created the website (featuring illustrations from Mark Tuchman), and moderate the Facebook Group. For the Coalition, I served on the Re-Envisioning and other committees, I manage the listserv account, helped with some event planning and some of their meetings, especially over the summer.
I also originally steered the event committee which later ran the "Our People, Our Hampshire" event under the leadership of Amy Halliday. Together with Joan Wattman, Nathalie Arnold, and the AAUP we organized an inspiring talk by Dr. Lili Leonard who wrote her dissertation on the Saving of Sweet Briar College; Joan was the essential link because Lili was a friend of a friend, and I thought of inviting Lili to speak at Hampshire. Later Prof. Dan Gottlieb of Sweet Briar presented a very informative talk debunking financial projections by the top leadership who were in charge at that time. I created a Facebook group called Amherst to Amherst, to further the connection with the Saving Sweet Briar community, since their college is in Amherst County, Virginia. I have also arranged tabling at local events where we sell Local Frogs t-shirts as a fundraiser and hand out information about Hampshire. I ran a small fundraiser/film screening of Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl in Greenfield. I was with a group that met with Rep. McGovern's office. I attended the talk by the Commissioner of the Department of Higher Education, along with a lot of others interested in Hampshire, and followed up with a letter during the public comment period.
What made you decide to return to help out Hampshire College?
It gave me a sense of meaning and purpose. Hampshire always meant something to me. It always had a special spot in my heart. I felt it's important to have a place for unique and creative people who are willing to question the status quo and not expect things to be one way. It has gotten activated this year especially since the announcement in January 2019 that didn't make any sense. As we checked it out, I felt it would have ruined the college to get a strategic partner. There are wonderful things about Hampshire that need to be saved.
What is your profession?
I'm a filmmaker. I have one freelance project which has been on hold. I was working on a documentary about a former teacher I had. I didn't get very far with it. I had a lot of information and did interviews. I also started Western Massachusetts Filmmakers group that meets monthly in Northampton. It's a critique group and it's been fascinating. We've had some Hampshire professors and students come. We've had award winning filmmakers come and it's been interesting to see different kinds of works and the perspectives of people who give feedback. The group has been running for two years. My film project is mostly on hold, but it started three years ago. The teacher was a six grade teacher I had in Glencoe, Illinois. It's about my connection with him. I was trying to archive his material because he had a big impact on a lot of families and students. Later I found out about some accusations against him.
When did you go to Hampshire?
I came in the fall of 1994 and stayed until the spring. It's what brought me out to the area. I think at Hampshire I liked the layout of the campus that blended community, dining hall, classes and culture all together. I liked the sense Hampshire was open to finding better ways to doing things for the world. So in that, I sensed a spirit of possibility, innovation, and creativity.
How has it changed?
I was aware of The Eric Carle Museum and Hitchcock Center as they were being built. Culturally, The emphasis on pronouns and innovation of taking stack are new. It seems social justice is more on the forefront than it used to be. When I was here it was before gay marriage was legalized. The whole country has changed and Hampshire has co-evolved.
What would you want to let first-year students know about Hampshire?
That they are not alone and even though the campus population is smaller than it used to be, there are alumnx locally, around the country, and even around other parts of the world. That they have been very active this year to save Hampshire. They are viable to be mentors, network with, to interview and to learn about certain professions. That there is a network of alumnx that they can be a part of and interact with at every stage of life and career. After they graduate, it can be helpful to check it out right away or during their time at Hampshire and to learn different ways of navigating through Hampshire. The younger alumnx are helpful since the Hampshire system is changing. In our local group we've had attendance by current students, faculty, staff, parents of alumnx, and alumnx of every decade of Hampshire's existence. Jonathan is the moderator of Local Frogs: Hampshire College Alumni of Western Massachusetts. You can find more information at the group's website: www.LocalFrogs.org.