The Fairfield Society is being resurrected from its time of inactivity. Freshmen Mary Kate Boyle, Madeline Hedrick, Ian English, and Sara Garfinkle have been handed the reigns of the society that began more than 20 years ago on Hillsdale’s campus.
The Fairfield Society, named after Hillsdale’s first president, Edmund Burke Fairfield, began around 1995, and for many years was a strong organization on campus. John Somerville, professor of English, and John Willson, an emeritus history professor, were the original faculty advisors for the Fairfield Society, and Somerville is still the faculty advisor.
Somerville said that the society originally began as group discussions with students and professors talking about serious issues. Most of the original members graduated in the late ’90s, before Larry Arnn was president of the college.
“There was a group of students and some faculty who would be eating in the cafeteria, and they would be talking about issues… The spirit was very collegial, harmonious,” Somerville said.
The original group that started Fairfield Society focused on theological issues.
“Overall, we were looking for an expression of theological reflection that wasn’t presented elsewhere,” Jonathan Den Hartog, the 1996 – 1997 Fairfield Society president, said. “Many early members didn’t believe the administration did enough to cultivate thoughtful Christianity, while other student groups encouraged piety but not deep intellectual engagement.”
The group wanted to preserve those collegial and harmonious discussions, Somerville said, so they gave these discussions the formality of a club and called it the Fairfield Society.
“The intention at the beginning was to try to maintain, to continue to cultivate this kind of opportunity for discussion of serious matters,” Somerville said.
For years, the Fairfield Society was active and had discussions, and for some time weekly meetings. The Fairfield Society occasionally held panel discussions on important issues, many theological discussions, and even some movie nights. But in more recent years, the Fairfield Society began to decline, and ceased to be the active presence on campus that it once was.
Within the past several months, however, some freshmen began discussing how they wanted a group on campus that would promote discussion among all students about a variety of prevalent and modern issues. Freshmen Ian English and Madeline Hedrick spearheaded this initiative. Around election time this past November, English and Hedrick talked about how they wanted to promote conversation about important issues in our society among the many different perspectives on campus.
“We had the idea to form a group that would talk about these things and bring about conversation and not be one perspective, but bring about all perspectives,” English said.
They planned to start a brand new club, but then heard that the Fairfield Society was still technically in existence and its original purpose was to promote discussion and conversation like this. They then decided to take over the Fairfield Society and try to revive it.
“There’s already funding, there’s already some name recognition among professors and speakers, so we took we took over in January and have been trying to rebuild the club since,” English said.
The team is now writing a constitution and mission statement for the society because it had existed for years without either.
“In order to improve the hearts and minds of Hillsdale students, the Fairfield Society seeks to foster discussion from a variety of perspectives on civic, philosophical, and theological life as it relates to our mutual pursuit of truth,” reads the newly-formulated mission statement.
The Fairfield Society is also putting on events. Its first event is a film viewing of “White Helmets” at 7 p.m. April 6 in Lane 125. “White Helmets” is a documentary about volunteer rescue workers and the dangers they face daily in Syria and Turkey. The Fairfield Society’s second event is a panel discussion on the legalization of drugs, and will be held April 20.
“The Fairfield Society encourages all students of all perspectives to come and participate,” Communications Director of the society Mary Kate Boyle said. “It’s something that is applicable to everyone. No matter what your views are, you are welcome, and we’d love you to participate. And we are really focused on relevant issues. We’re talking about things that people actually care about.”