Life after Hampshire - Q&A with alum Chaya Grossberg 98F

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

Where are you from?

I’m from Brooklyn, New York.  I went to high school in Manhattan. I’m living in Amherst now.  I lived in this area for about another six or so years after Hampshire.  Then I moved to the west coast for ten years. I just moved back last summer, I guess since I had stayed here for a long time but I had a lot of connections here.  And I always felt at home in this area. That's why I came to Hampshire in the first place. This area felt like home in the first place. I liked the culture a lot here.

Why did you choose to go to Hampshire College?

So I went to a very large, competitive high school, Stuyvesant High school in Manhattan. I wanted something smaller and more personal.  When I visited Hampshire when I was in high school, I really liked the feeling here. I like this area. I wanted a school that didn’t have tests or grades and that attracted creative people. Those were qualities I saw in Hampshire.  The students were free thinkers, doing something they wanted to do. Hampshire College was the least competitive school. I realized from going to that high school, that I just wanted a smaller and more personal environment where I could focus on writing.  Hampshire seemed focused on writing versus testing. I was good at test taking but I didn’t find I learned anything from it.

What was your concentration at Hampshire?

I studied comparative religion, creative writing and experiential education. My Div III was about my own experiences with psychiatry and activism in the medical health system. It was all writing and I ended up self publishing.

What do you miss about Hampshire?

It’s nice being back here. I can drive over in ten minutes.  I really felt safe here and I love the woods and campus. Having grown up in NYC, I didn’t have the opportunity except on vacations, to explore nature that much.  I always felt safe in the middle of the night in the woods for hours. I miss the sense of community. When I was there, 20 years ago, people were loners in their own world. But I met a lot of amazing people and felt very powerful connections with people here with people that were on similar mental, creative wavelengths.

How was SAGA when you were here?

I moved to the mods after my second year. I was in the dorms for the first two years. It was kind of in a changing phase because they started to do things where you could cook your own food. They had vegetables and tofu and you could make your own stir fry. That was cool.  They had a wok set up for people and bins of veggies. It was starting to be trendy to be vegetarian. It was way more trendy then than now. It was a new fad for a lot of young people.

The food at SAGA was so-so.  I didn’t feel disappointed with it.  I liked when I went to the mods and we got a farm share.  I would buy other foods at Atkins and cook stuff. I feel like how the times changed because back then, in the 90s, it was the first wave of a lot of people becoming health conscious in terms of food.  Whereas a lot of things are mainstream now weren’t even there then. Even tofu when I was a teenager was so rare that a lot of people didn’t know about it. When I was a kid I had one friend that ate it and others didn’t even know what that was.

Gluten free wasn’t a thing back then. It wasn’t even a concept discussed.  No one was gluten free. There were actual celiac people, but almost no one knew about it.

I remember eating vegan cookies and one friend would lecture about eating them because I wasn’t vegan. They had better ingredients.

What was the student climate like?

It was very different when I lived in dorms versus the mods. In the dorms it felt like a party scene. Everyone had their own rooms. People were loners and also partiers.  Then when I went to the mods, I was in a sub-free mod in Greenwich. It was chill over there and mellow. It felt like people were loners and sort of serious about whatever they were doing. They were focused on their hobbies.  People were loners and also on some kind of journey.

Greenwich felt like a hippy scene and people were very focused on whatever they were doing.  I feel like mold wasn’t on people’s minds. There was less awareness of certain things because the internet was very new. Info traveled to people much slower.  A lot of people are having mold allergies now and awareness is high because people communicate about it more.

I lived in Dakin for the first two years and third year I lived in Greenwich. Then I took time off and returned to live in Northampton.

Tell me about what you are doing after Hampshire?

I do consulting with people who are coming off psychiatric drugs or who are looking for alternatives.  I wrote a book, called, Freedom from Psychiatric Drugs, and it’s about work I did since I went to Hampshire.  It’s been about 15 years of professional work about people coming off psychiatric drugs. My div II was with Freedom Center which was in Northampton. It had support and activist groups for people who had somehow been harmed by psychiatric drugs.  That group ended up getting grant funds and proving alternatives to the community. They had a support group and yoga class, film screenings and writing group. I started a writing group called Rebel Rousers. Freedom Center hasn’t existed for a while, but it was active for about ten years.  I ended up teaching a yoga class for that group. I did a lot of public speaking. We would go to other colleges and speak about our experiences. The experiences people had were that they were put on psychiatric drugs that made them sick. At that time there was less awareness on drug withdrawal and the dangers.  There weren't support forums and Facebook groups. It was cool to have in person support groups. We were connected to some faculty at Mount Holyoke College and Smith College. We gave a talk at Hampshire. We would talk about our experiences and what we’re doing for people. It was a community. We would have social events and speak at conferences in various places.

How was your Hampshire experience?

I think when I first got to Hampshire, I was lost.  And I had a hard time adjusting to all the freedom I had here and to the social environment.  It was hard at first. I felt lonely and I didn’t have places here to fit in. Then I started to refine what I was doing and looking for.  So I started to seek out different types of groups. When I first got to Hampshire I was in a default party scene. But I actively got more involved with activists.  I went through a phase in my Hampshire experience of being sub-free, stopping drinking and using substances for a while. A lot of my time I was in that phase. It was good for me and helped me focus and find more connections that were more substantial and real versus based on drinking.  The other thing was I felt that having so much freedom here enabled me to explore a lot of things, but I felt lost at times and didn’t feel I had guidance. Other students had similar experiences. I felt lost at times, academically and internally. I wouldn’t blame that on Hampshire. I wanted to have a lot of freedom to explore these things. I was having these spiritual experiences, going through a lot of things.  I felt lost at times, but I don’t think I was actually lost.

How has Hampshire College made an impact on you?

I think that having gone to Hampshire I really developed a lot of my critical thinking abilities. And my writing strength as well as looking at the world from the perspective of how I can impact the world with my own creative skills.

How has Hampshire changed?

The Kern center is super nice. I don’t know that much about Hampshire these days, but I think it’s more competitive now. Before the recent financial crisis, it was harder to get into than when I was there.  People were getting rejected more. Hampshire has changed with society. I did go to one event a few months ago which was a pot luck with alums and students. It wasn’t enough sample size for me to know.

What would you tell first-year students?

It’s so weird how much the world has changed.  I would say to seek out mentors and keep looking for mentors who can understand you and support you in whatever you want to do.

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