A View from the Hill

A View from the Hill
A View from the Hill - Winter 2012

When alumni return to campus, they report that among the first things they notice are the new and renovated buildings and even new quads, roads, and walks that organize spaces. Prospective students visiting Denison notice the “new,” too, though their heads are less likely to be turned by campus exteriors than by state-of-the-art laboratories, technologically advanced classrooms, well-equipped studios, updated playing fields, and even the diverse student living opportunities made available by the campus’s latest apartment-style residence halls.

Of course, we’re proud of the tangible Denison, not just the buildings—and the gifts that made those spaces possible—but also the natural beauty of our hill and its surrounding views, including Granville to the south and the Welsh Hills northward. When we plan facilities, we still use as our touchstone the historic 1923 Olmsted Plan for the Denison campus that harmonizes built and natural spaces.

Yet our greatest pride—and I know here that I speak for faculty and staff as well as for alumni and families—is not in things, but in the young men and women who are our students and become our graduates. And our student body is changing and developing, too, just as Denison’s campus is.

“Migrations” is our campus intellectual theme for the year, a topic around which we have built lectures and discussions and even artistic performances. It’s also an apt description of our student body, for Denisonians “migrate” to the campus from a wider variety of places, backgrounds, and life experiences than ever before.

Some of this migration is geographical. Although Denison has attracted students nationally for a long time, as recently as 1990, 90 percent of the student body came from just ten states, most of which were geographically close to Ohio. By contrast, last fall, we had to add up students from 45 states, many of them far to the west and south, to reach the same 90 percent of enrollment. And all 50 states, plus several U.S. territories, are represented on campus through the students, faculty, and staff.

But migration can also be experiential. This fall, 439 Denison students are U.S. citizens of African-American, Hispanic, or Asian-American background. A record number of students of all family backgrounds are first-generation college-goers, and more students are eligible for substantial levels of need-based financial aid than ever before. What characterizes all of these individuals is that they are young people of great talent, and they exhibit substantial academic and leadership potential. In short, Denison’s student body is remarkable for both its promise and its representativeness.

Migration can be cultural, too. More than 150 international students are enrolled this year from 40 nations on every inhabited continent. East and South Asia are heavily represented, but students also come to Denison from Africa, Central and South America, Europe, and Australia. It’s not unusual to see a campus club or musical ensemble that represents much of the world.

As a campus, we’ve learned from our study of migrations that movements of people, cultures, and ideas have enriched and continue to enliven the world. So, too, Denison. If our classes were large and impersonal or our student housing spread out across a metropolitan area, our student body representativeness might mean less. But in a place where classes are participatory and conversational and where living on campus brings students closely together in residence halls, dining rooms, teams, clubs, and ensembles, a broad-based student body provides unparalleled opportunities for young people to learn from one another.

Maybe I should put it this way: Denison is a place where ideas “migrate” constantly, from the wider world to campus and then among students, faculty, and staff. We are fortunate to be able to enroll and invest in a student body that brings with it experiences, perspectives, ideas, and points of view that are broadly shared, explored, and tested. It’s never dull on the Hill!

Published December 2011