11/22/2010 Magazine Staff

Dean Hammer: New Don of Fifth College House

In July, Dean Hammer, the John W. Wetzel Professor of Classics and professor of government, accepted an appointment to become don of the new College House when it opens next fall.

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Why did you want to be a don?

I was excited by the idea of trying something brand new. I like that challenge. It presented a way for me to think about how to extend and redefine the nature of the classroom and the nature of my relationship to the intellectual life of my students.

What advice did the other dons offer?

It's a very positive group of people. The advice that came through was to bring your own personality into the House. They said we are all working together, but we are not identical in how we go about approaching things. So you're allowed to—and encouraged to—experiment, try out things and not be afraid when something fails.

What will be your House's personality?

I have a hunch of what the atmosphere will be like. I want it to be a site of performance. For example, I hope to attract dance performances and have artistic performances—maybe have one of the art majors set up a studio and be painting or sculpting.

Do you have a favorite course?

My Foundations course, Mortality and Meaning. I get to draw from the entire student body, and it exposes students to ideas and texts that they had never encountered. We spend six weeks on The Iliad by Homer, and they end up loving it.

How would your students describe your teaching style?

They would describe me as variously passionate, animated and sometimes ridiculous. It's my attempt to get them to feel their own thoughts and then cultivate those thoughts. I want them to feel that same excitement about their own ideas.

What pages are bookmarked on your computer?

The Facebook fan page for the new College House. A used- car site, even though I've been told I can't buy another sports car. The Open Table site, where you can make restaurant reservations. And the Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

Is Don Dean Hammer any less confusing than Professor Dean Hammer?

It is a disaster. Invariably I have students who think Dean is a title. So they try to be formal by calling me Dean, and they are actually being most familiar. Now it has only become worse with don. Students think Dean is a title that goes with my new don role. I am convinced no one will ever know my name here.
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