Elizabeth Anne Farrington graduated from Hamilton College in 2010. She received awards in both Russian and history, including the Putnam Prize in American History. Her senior thesis, which received honors, was supervised by Dr. Christopher Hill, now a Resident Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI). Liz received a scholarship to attend The Law School, University of Notre Dame. She received her law degree in 2014 and is now a practicing attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Liz Farrington was one of the first undergraduates to be nurtured by the AHI after its birth in 2007. She can be seen at the Turning Stone Resort addressing an audience gathered for the AHI’s annual Carl B. Menges Colloquium. She sat down recently for an interview with current AHI Undergraduate Fellow Amy Elinski.
Tell me about your experience as an undergraduate at Hamilton College.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Hamilton—but I found it deeply frustrating. Hamilton is a beautiful place, a place where I met some exceptionally bright and wonderful people, and I think it has the potential to be a really great school. Some of the administrative decisions, the behavior of certain professors, and a culture increasingly attached to a particular ideology have limited that potential dramatically. Many times when I was at Hamilton, I was flabbergasted by the narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness of the school’s initiatives and actions. It affects, in my opinion, both the caliber of student drawn to Hamilton and the quality of student that emerges.
Did you have any particularly hard times with certain professors?
Yes. There are two incidents in particular that I thought troubling.
The first occurred in my freshman year. One of my first papers in college was about Gertrude Stein’s “Three Lives.” I happened not to enjoy the book, and so focused my paper on its failings. When I received the paper back, I was completely horrified to discover that I’d gotten an F. The professor’s comments filled the margins—things like “you write like a conservative,” comparisons to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, and the (still absurd) statement that “an intellectual reads with sympathy for the protagonist.” (Apparently the professor had never read “Lolita,” or perhaps had and woefully misunderstood it.) In the end, the professor allowed me to rewrite the paper after I showed due remorse for my deviance. “You said I write like a conservative,” I reminded her when I went to her office. She generously admitted, “That was a bit harsh.” Afterward I was so nervous of expressing any opinion—after all, this was by no means a political paper, and yet apparently I had been immediately unmasked—that I kept a very low profile for the remainder of that year.
The second incident happened much later, after I had become involved with the AHI and felt more confident. It was in the midst of one in a series of fraternity “scandals,” this one concerning a party themed “Golf Pros and Tennis Hos.” There was a beyond-parody little conference held on the very deep offense this party had caused, appropriately called “Words Hurt” and introduced with an email reading: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can really, really hurt.” A particular point of offense was that the invitations to the party featured a professional female golfer kissing a phallic-looking glass trophy. It emerged in the course of the discussion that almost none of the enraged professors had even seen the photo, as the Womyn’s Center had snapped up all the invitations very rapidly. After discussion had ended, one professor continued to rail at the hurtfulness of the photo until one of the fraternity members actually showed it to him. He was visibly surprised by its banal lack of sexiness, but quickly recovered to tell us that “any woman” would find the image offensive. I told him that I (the only woman present at this point) had seen the image previously and was not offended. Surprised again, he proceeded to chastise me for being ignorant of the “history of womanhood” and “cut off from my femininity.” Now actually offended, I found myself having to tell a Hamilton professor that I have never felt removed from my womanhood and in fact identify as and rather enjoy being a girl. When I pointed out, after a lengthy exchange, that he was trying to strong-arm me into changing my position by accusing me of, of all things, not being a good female, he quickly back-pedaled. He was simply trying to create an “educational moment,” he claimed. He then congratulated himself on having helped me “crystallize” my views.
One of the ways I measured my growth at Hamilton was that after the second incident I (though still infuriated) felt that I had defended myself and ultimately made my point. Nothing of the kind happened during the first confrontation. I believe I have the AHI to thank for the difference in my response between the two incidents, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
What is your favorite experience from Hamilton?
Many of my best experiences in school related directly to the AHI, which I spent much of my time with. But there were two other major activities that occupied me as well: softball and our newspaper, Dexter. Dexter drained and frustrated us in many ways, but there was nothing quite like seeing the finished product and feeling that we had accomplished something very tangible. In fact, I even enjoyed seeing copies of the paper later strewn about the Diner with “FUCK THIS PAPER” written on them in blue crayon. I knew then that we’d done something worthwhile.
Do you feel you received a well-rounded education at Hamilton?
Yes. Though there are virtually no general education requirements at Hamilton, I had self-structured requirements to ensure that I would not become complacent or overly specialized. In this sense, I cannot overstate the blessing it was to have Professor Ambrose as my advisor. With his help, I was able to avoid some of the more outrageous and aggressive professors, but still manage to diversify my courses. I learned two languages, took math even though I hated it, and studied abroad. At the end of the day, I got a degree of which I could be proud.
How did you get involved with the AHI?
I got to know Professor Ambrose and was beginning to involve myself—cautiously—in the College Republicans when I met Professor Paquette. From there, I just volunteered for everything they proposed because I liked the people at the AHI and thought they were accomplishing good things.
What is your favorite memory with the AHI?
My favorite meetings at the AHI were typically the smaller groups, where talk was most intimate and frank. Presenting my senior thesis in front of the Christopher Dawson Society proved in many ways more fun and challenging than my official honors presentation. But perhaps above all these was the happiness I felt during our first AHI colloquium. Seeing the whole project come together so successfully and seamlessly was a pleasure beyond description.
Were there any speakers or events with the AHI you found particularly enjoyable?
The AHI did a remarkable job of getting consistent, interesting speakers to come to us. There were so many I enjoyed that I could not name a favorite—but I will say that my association with the AHI led me to attend talks, such as Carla Main’s talk on eminent domain