Special Edition: Colgate and Hamilton: Finding a Connection

Colgate students – population 2,915 – constantly interact with the village of Hamilton – population 3,500. Colgate students eat, shop and socialize in the village, yet according to the “Town of Hamilton Comprehensive Plan Part 1,” adopted in February 2017, there need to be improvements on a “perceived town/gown split.”

Professor of Art and Art History and current Hamilton Mayor Bob McVaugh has lived in Hamilton since 1980 and became involved with the Village Planning Board in 1987, serving on it until 2013. 

“In terms of activity, with the college and Hamilton, we have a level of activity and in some ways a public excitement that is much more comparable to a significant urban environment,” McVaugh said. “We have the benefits of the small town and we have a lot of the benefits in terms of the intellectual activity, commercial activity, that would be associated with a larger, much more cumbersome community.” 

David Beattie ‘59, who grew up spending summers on Lake Moraine and returned to live in Hamilton in 2007, echoes the sense of excitement about Colgate. A self-described “avid sports fan,” Beattie makes efforts to stay involved with the university. 

“There’s something going on at Colgate all the time, and you just have to take advantage of it,” Beattie said. “It’s a great opportunity. If you want to live in Hamilton, take advantage of what the university offers, whether it’s use of the athletic facilities, the concerts, the lectures, the athletic events.”

Despite this community involvement, there is a sense of some tensions. According to McVaugh, students have a tendency to be oblivious to those around them, particularly at night. 

“I’m sure that there’s many students who go downtown during the day as at night, but it’s the ones at night that tend to be the preoccupation, depending on the area where you live,” McVaugh said. “If you live in an area that’s close to off-campus student housing, your sense of the student behavior tends to be dominated by some pretty awful, reckless, disrespectful behavior that’s related to nighttime activity.”

According to Beattie, who attended Colgate when it was an all-male university, interactions downtown were fueled by the addition of females to the school. However, he does not think that behavior has worsened since his time as a student, and living near students was never a concern for him. 

“When I was in school, it was just a male school so our social life was out of Hamilton,” Beattie said. “We did not interact that much with downtown. With the addition of co-eds, the social life came back to Hamilton so there’s much more social life in town. As for destructiveness – no, I don’t they’re any worse or any better than when we were here. You’re students. You’re here, you’re getting a good education, but you’re going to have fun every now and then. It’s not all put your nose in the book, so I just say fine. 99 percent of the time you’re great people to be around.”

McVaugh cites cell phones as something that has changed, as there have been problems with students being particularly loud on phones at night. In terms of destruction, McVaugh believes that this year had significant problems with vandalism, although he noted that every year when things happen, they may seem just as serious. 

“There was a pattern of perhaps a greater willfulness and destructiveness and no one really knows why,” McVaugh said. “There’s a significant segment of the community that is afraid. Afraid that if students are acting out and they were, for example, to call the police to try to settle and [ensure] their own safety, that they would then be targeted by students for subsequent property destruction and perhaps even physical threat … I think students should be alarmed at that.” 

Senior Kelsey Soderberg echoes a sense of disconnect felt between Hamilton and the university. Soderberg grew up visiting Hamilton, as her grandfather was a teacher at Hamilton High and her grandmother worked at Colgate’s library. As a child, however, she had few interactions with the school, other than as a sports fan. 

“They’re kind of these separate communities that revolve around each other, but they don’t interact as much as I probably thought they would,” Soderberg said. 

As a senior living off-campus, she hasn’t seen these interactions increase. 

“It’s still so Colgate-centric even downtown,” Soderberg said. “Everything is made so easy for Colgate students. There’s very few things that ever put Hamilton community first, before Colgate.”

McVaugh urges students to think more about the community they’re living in, and who they might be affecting when they are loud at night. 

“It saddens me every year, because I get to know the Colgate students every year. Colgate students are fabulous,” McVaugh said. “Students earn the disrespect of the community every year, at the same time as the people at the COVE or associated with the Upstate Institute or volunteering at the school or doing other things, earn great respect.”

McVaugh is hopeful that things can improve, particularly in light of suggestions from Colgate Senate members. 

“As a whole, Hamilton is a wonderful community,” McVaugh said. “It is because of the rich interconnection. It can be better. I’ve given 35 years to the college and the village because I love both, together.”