By Emma Way
Student Life Editor
For 17 years the Kiplin Hall Program successfully took a group of Washington College students on a hiking adventure to discover the landmarks of literature. Unfortunately the program, led by Dr. Richard Gillin, director of the course and the Ernest A. Howard professor of English literature and Barbara Gillin, lecturer of English, may not continue for its 18th year.
Deep in the countryside of Northern England lies the historical house built by the forefather of Maryland, Lord Baltimore, and then restored by the University of Maryland. Kiplin Hall is centrally located around the national parks of England and points of interest of some of the most established poets and novelists.
Poets like Emily Brontë & Charlotte Brontë, William Wordsworth, and Seamus Heaney have close ties to the area. Dr. Gillin took advantage of the rich literary history of Northern England and decided in 1998 to take the classroom outdoors and stay in Kiplin Hall, upon the suggestion of then Board of Governors Chair and present Interim President Jay Griswold.
“We go out to the various places where the poets lived and worked, but I didn’t want it to become a kind of tour…we wanted to get a feel for the place. We decided to hike into those various landscapes,” said Dr. Gillin. “It’s the best classroom in the world.”
The course is physically demanding; climbing mountains is no easy feat. Unfortunately, during the most recent trip in the summer of 2014, Barbara Gillin had an accident while attempting to take a photograph of the group.
She lost her footing and fell off the edge of a mountain, seriously injuring herself and requiring urgent medical attention. “She fell over face first down to rocks…and she was unconscious,” Dr. Gillin said. “My daughter got to her first and thought she was dead. She was very bloodied and wasn’t responding.”
“The fact is we tell students don’t take pictures while walking on stones. Dr. Gillin was having class and I got up to take some pictures and climbed a little above them on slippery rocks,” said Barbara. “My last picture was of boulders and that’s the boulders I hit.”
The group rallied together in the face of an emergency and came across a hiker who had a phone that could call for help. Because the group was in a remote area and on top of a mountain, the rescue helicopter couldn’t land so the emergency responders had to hike in and then carry Mrs. Gillin off the cliff on a stretcher.
“That was a terrifying and horrifying day for everyone on our trip, across the board,” said senior Maddie Zins.
Gillin left the hospital a couple days later to recuperate from a concussion, a bruised rib, bruises on her face, and a few cuts elsewhere. The program had to continue as planned, but she needed someone there to take care of her while she recovered so her daughter, Erin, flew in.
Unfortunately, “Problems always come in threes… and Kiplin Hall was no different,” said Zins.
Prior to Barbara Gillin’s fall, a van broke down for hours on the side of the road, and then later in the trip, when the group went to fly to Ireland, they had a 13 hour delay costing the group a lot of time and money.
Accidents happen and traveling can be unpredictable. “These were just barriers that we got through together. Even Mrs. Gillin’s fall we got through together as a group,” said Zins. “If we hadn’t been united on that front, we wouldn’t have learned the things that we did on the trip.”
The future of the Kiplin Hall course is up in the air at this point, leaving many students saddened and outraged, sparking a conversation on the importance behind the trip.
“What you learn on a trip like Kiplin Hall is about life…You’re growing as a person and as a scholar,” Zins said. “Kiplin Hall is so important to who I am as a student, to who I am as a human being, and I would never want to see a year at Washington College where such an opportunity can’t be offered.”
Sarah Masker, alumna of the class of 2014 said, “I got to know Dr. Gillin really well, and he ended up writing me a recommendation that probably played a big part in helping me snag my Fulbright… And Mrs. Gillin is so sweet. We have stayed in touch even though it’s been years since my trip [in 2011].”
Senior and participant in the course Lisa Anderson said, “The risk factor does exist in this program simply due to the physically demanding nature of the literature and landscapes course. However, I personally believe that the lessons and experiences I gained far outweigh the few risks involved.”
Provost and Dean Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright is presently working with Dr. Gillin and the rest of the English Department to discuss the future of the program. “I would rather defer comment on anything related to the future of Kiplin Hall until Professor Gillin and other members of the English Department have an opportunity to think all this through. Until that happens, anything I would have to say would be premature,” she said.
Although many unforeseeable difficulties and costs transpired on the trip this past summer, according to Zins, “[The trip] is something that can’t really be quantified.”
Since the beginning, Dr. Gillin and his wife built and ran the program together. “The only way the program would work is if she’s a part of it,” he said. “If she’s not, it’s over. Students who have been on the program could probably attest to that; she brings a kind of energy and a kind of detail that helps everything to go [smoothly].”
“We work together really well and I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else,” Dr. Gillin said. “She provides the glue that really holds it together.”
“The Gillins are a cohesive team, which added comfort and stability in our foreign location. In a space that revolves around hiking and learning, a group is necessarily going to become closer, and the Gillins, through their 18 years of experience leading this program have learned the best ways to embrace us, but also to push us to push ourselves past what we might have thought possible,” said Claire Hansen, Class of 2014.
Zins said, “Kiplin Hall is the reason I came to Washington College. And I know people who have said that Kiplin Hall was the reason I stayed at Washington College.”
“I think over the 17 years we’ve done it, students seem to bond in a way they don’t bond in four years,” said Barbara Gillin. “They have to depend on each other to get to the top of the mountain…We become a real family.”