New Seneca Scene

Join the Herald and Seneca Scene as they trace one of the most altering times in America and its effect on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Beginning in 1968 and continuing until 1972, Tommy Tongyai went to campuses all across upstate New York, riling up students and inciting violence. It wasn’t until he arrived on the HWS campus that the violence really started. Tongyai, better known as Tommy the Traveler, came during a time of Vietnam War protests and the counter-culture movement. It was a critical culture moment, one that would forever change Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Episode 1: Setting the Scene details the contextual time for the country and Hobart and William Smith Colleges in the late 1960s before Tommy arrived. It was a time of great upheaval and change for the Colleges with new trends emerging as students were getting drafted into Vietnam. The beginning of the 1970s is when everything changed: the Kent State Shooting was on May 4, 1970, and with it came a fear of radicalism, police, and violence on college campuses that had never been seen before.

Listen to the first episode below and be sure to subscribe to The Seneca Scene on iTunes and on Spotify to stay updated on the Tommy the Traveler miniseries.

The Seneca Scene is the podcast for the Herald and is recorded each week on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Join the Conversation


  1. Amazing work!! THANK YOU to all who have been involved in putting this together.

  2. Thank you for producing this podcast. It brings back many, many painful memories, but it may help me to actually face them instead of just “shoving them under the carpet.” I have had a real hard time emotionally dealing with all the difficulties we experienced back on campus 50 years ago.

    Joyce Killick Fowler ’72

  3. The lottery did not affect your student deferment. If you got a low number it meant you would have to go within days when you graduated, dropped out or flunked out.

    1. On 28 SEP 1971, Nixon signed an Executive Order that ended student deferments for the incoming class of college students. I believe this is what the speaker was referencing.

  4. It’s interesting to see how history is viewed and sometimes rewritten. I was at Hobart at the time of “Tommy the Traveler.” He was also called “Tommy Traveler” by many students. This was a difficult time for our country.

  5. I was born in Geneva General Hospital. I grew up shopping with my parents in Geneva stores and when I reached 18 years of age, began drinking in Geneva bars. My girlfriend during my junior year was from Geneva too, so I was pretty grounded in the community and mostly insulated from the friction referenced in this first episode. However, my girlfriend was the secretary for the soldiers who worked in the ROTC office. The day the office was bombed she burst into my room hysterically crying because the officers were her friends. I really did not know how to feel about that situation, being confronted with the human side of it as well as the issue of the war looming over my head as my Lottery number was 32. I was introduced to Tommy but had little interaction with him. He was not interested in students’ illegal drug use – he was on campus exclusively to incite students to commit acts of violence, a goal which he clearly accomplished. One of my friends at the time was telling anyone who would listen that Tommy was a cop because he and my friend were horsing around one day and Tommy instinctively went into a police “come along” grip on his hand. Regrettably, nobody took him seriously

  6. This was incredible to hear on the eve of my reunion visit to Hobart after a ten year absence. As a freshman in 1969 I went through all of this as a naïve 18 year old. As you will probably highlight in future podcasts, the two young freshman who actually carried out the “bombing” were opposites in manly ways. One was an extremely quiet kid who played no role in the various demonstrations and meetings. The other was a garrulous guy who showed up on campus driving a GTO, and eventually took to wearing Che Guevara garb around campus. The “bomb” was literally a small bottle filled with gasoline. While the fire in the ROTC office in the basement of Sherrill Hall was extinguished in minutes, it should not go unnoticed that it occurred in the basement of a dormitory at about 6am when everyone was asleep. Thus you have the FBI essentially encouraging the bombing of a dormitory full of sleeping students. By the time most people woke that morning both of the perpetrators had been arrested and jailed.

  7. You guys think you had it bad as victims of betrayal. Try being his son at six years old living this undercover hell. If you ever would like to hear a different view of things that were going on behind the scenes regarding the SDS ect.. let me know. That was the target not the students it was the under belly of the SDS and the people that controlled it. The students were actually pawns used by my father to solidify his undercover identity. There were a few times where they almost took him out thinking he may be undercover but then he was able to convince them otherwise. Like him or not there was some genius in the man and love of country. It was a dark time for a six year old and his mother. I have met other individuals that were students at Hobart during that period of time that actually liked what he was working against once his cover was blown and it became clear. The FBI tried to screw him over as did other organizations that wanted to ghost him. His father was OSS (precursor to CIA) in the Army. I think that is how he became recruited. We didn’t have the best relationship as father and son but I will say one thing for sure the guy had incredible courage or was just nuts to put himself so deep undercover in to a very dangerous organization. The understanding that the FBI would support provocateur makes it easier to believe that the Capital riots may have also been fueled by such a person. There are many things I was told as my father was getting older that he did not speak of before but wanted to get it out there.
    The entire thing would make a great movie.

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