As you float through the haziness and drunken chatter of AC’s Bar and Grill, the last thing on your mind is probably your pre-modern history professor. But flashback to about 15 years ago and you might have been sharing a brew with a dreadlock-adorning Professor Kristin Halvorson. Rewind roughly 20 years and you might have even stumbled into Professor Christopher Day, rocking a shoulder length hairstyle and trucker hat. Although many things have changed since these professors were college students roaming King Street and adopting eclectic hairstyles, there is one thing that will never change: their shared Alma Mater, the College of Charleston.
Imagine the campus without Addlestone Library or the New Science Center. Classes were held in random rooms of houses around town (which are now some of the department offices). Classes were smaller. Rent for houses on Bull Street was at most $120.
According to Patrick Manning, Assistant Director of Database and Reporting , roughly 17 professors and assistant professors here at the College also claim this school as their alma mater. For professors from the Chemistry Department to the Theatre Department, a degree from the College was just not enough.
Professor Edward Hart, class of ‘88, is and always has been a Charlestonian. In addition to teaching classes, Hart is currently the Department Chair of Music Theory and Composition. Interestingly enough, Hart nabbed this position from one of his own ex-professors, Steve Rosenberg, who gave him recorder lessons when Hart was a student. As a testament to how drastically students can change their minds, Hart started out at the College as an economics major. But “at the end of the day,” he said, “Beethoven was more interesting to me than Gross Domestic Product.”
As far as his own college shenanigans, Hart remarked, “Let’s just say I had a colorful past.”
Unlike Hart, adjunct professor Kristin Halvorson traveled to Charleston from Duluth, Minnesota in the Fall of ‘97. Why choose Charleston when you live in Duluth? “I was dating someone back then,” Halvorson chuckled.
Halvorson shares an office with two other College of Charleston alums: adjunct professors Heather Crosby and Hayden Smith. Crosby, another native Charlestonian, graduated in 1997 with a degree in modern European history. The three professors did not know each other when they attended the College, but now find themselves reliving their favorite college memories back in the halls of Maybank–such as sneaking Citadel Cadets into the all girls dorms after hours (looking at you, Professor Crosby). Crosby chose to be involved on campus and remembers busying herself with history club events, the Catholic club, student government and volleyball intramurals–while still taking advantage of classes without attendance policies as well as hitting the bar scene at places such as Club Tango and ACME.
Assistant Professor Chris Day graduated with the class of ‘95. Day, who grew up in Canada, bears stories of a more spontaneous and rebellious Charleston. In his days at the College, he and his friends would repel down from parking garages and protest societal issues.
And–up until this moment–he never got caught for pouring dish soap into the fountain behind Randolph Hall.
Though it may be weird to think that you share a common college hangout spot with the person who is assigning you papers and lecturing you on foreign policy, some professors barhopped down King Street just like you might have done last Saturday night. Professor Day reminisced about blurry nights at dives such as King Street Station, Cumberland’s, Vickery’s (which is now Leaf) and AC’s Bar and Grill. Day talked about how the pop culture of Charleston has changed since he was a student; he remembers the hippie/Grateful Dead edge of Generation X. Halvorson said the same thing–and had the dreads to prove it. “But,” she said, “I washed them every day.” Hart’s memories of Charleston also reflect a gritty downtown area–with a nightlife that was a lot less classy than it is now. “It was also different because the drinking age was lower then,“ Hart said, “so college students could legally go to bars to drink beer.”
If you have ever felt like your professors do not understand how much you have to deal with outside of their classes, you may be shocked to find out to just what extent they feel your pain. Struggling to pay rent? Juggling several jobs as well as maintaining an acceptable GPA? Surprisingly, your professors have been there, done that.
Professor Hart managed going to school full time while working 30 hours a week at a “high falootin’” men’s clothing store–but that was only during the day. Hart recalls bouncing around underground bars and sketchy dives playing concerts with his band to scrounge up some extra dough on the side. Fun fact: he played keyboard and guitar in a band whose lead singer was comedian (and Charleston native) Stephen Colbert. Halvorson also recalls working her fair share of 30 hour weeks at Black Market Minerals (a mineral store that just closed last semester) as well as–get this–working three nights a week as a professional DJ. “My name was DJ Tuff Girl,” Halvorson said. “People still call me that sometimes.”
Both Crosby and Halvorson have both been tour guides in the Charleston area at
places such as the Calhoun Mansion. (Halvorson still does Carriage tours downtown, so keep an eye out for her at the reins.)
Day, on the other hand, worked at a bar and a music shop, both “under the table” because of his Canadian citizenship.
A common theme among all four alums was the impactful relationships they shared with their previous College of Charleston advisors and mentors. Although he jokes about being a “profoundly unmemorable student,” assistant professor Chris Day recalls John Creed’s “Problems of the Third World” class as what made him interested in the developing world and helped him focus his energy on going to Africa.
Halvorson came to the College as a transfer student from the University of Minnesota as a Biology major; if not for her mentor Peter Piccione, she would never have discovered her passion for Egyptian history. As for Crosby, this summer, her own love for history will lead her to teaching American History for the U.S. Navy on an aircraft carrier on the Mediterranean Sea.
As Hart said, and we think the other alums would agree, to be back at the College as a professor is like being “rolled in butter.” It’s pretty unusual to land a job exactly where you want to be, but all four alumni are pretty confident that, at least for now, they want to continue to call Charleston, and the College in particular, their home.
This article first appeared in the February 2015 issue of The Yard.