BackgroundInterview Date:April 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Sexual Orientation: Bisexual
Graduation Year: 2022
High School Experience: Private school in Los Angeles, CA with a graduating class of about 135 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First-Generation College Student: No
Major: Environmental Studies with a focus in Biology
Minors: French and Urban Studies
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of SEED, which is working towards accomplishing carbon neutrality for Vassar’s campus by 2030. I’m part of Vassar Greens, which works with the students on campus to promote more sustainable activities and lifestyles. I also work at an elementary school in Poughkeepsie.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
My classes this semester have been especially difficult for me so I haven’t been going to the meetings very much, so no. But, I have met a lot of people through those clubs, so in that way it’s helped me socially.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
Environmental Studies is interdisciplinary so you take a bunch of different types of courses. I’ve taken a couple of Environmental Studies specific courses and also Biology, which is part of the requirements. The coursework for Environmental Studies courses differs a lot from class to class. Last semester I took an introductory Environmental Studies class where we had weekly field trips and it was more science-focused. We learned about natural disasters and the human impact on the environment. This semester I am taking a class that is more contemplative. We’re learning about how people related to and thought of the American landscape over the past couple hundred years. We have a field trip every week, three essays and lots of readings, but no exams.
Is there anything you feel Vassar has done especially well or poorly so far academically?
I really like that there is no required course material besides a language requirement and a quantitative class. I really like that because they have embraced the liberal arts experience of having a very varied experience.
How accessible are your professors?
The professors here are very accessible. They are accessible through office hours and email, and also most of them live either on campus or really close to campus. Even if you can’t make the office hours, they’ll make special meetings for you if you need extra help with the coursework. You’ll see them in the dining hall and they’ll say hi to you and ask you about whatever you talked to them about last week when you met with them at office hours or something. You form real relationships, which I enjoy.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s definitely not competitive. Unlike in high school, I have not been asked what I’ve gotten on a test by a fellow student. I don’t really think people care that much about how other people are doing in the class. For Biology and most of the science classes I’m in, I have to work together in groups and with different partners and we have each other’s best interests in mind, so I really have enjoyed that. One thing that does happen here is that people are very stressed about their GPA and even graduate school, but I don’t think that’s a Vassar specific problem. That’s just a problem with our society.
Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I chose it because it interests me the most and is one of the most important things to learn about in our current society because climate change is such a problem.
How was transitioning academically as a freshman? Were there any resources or systems in place that helped you adapt?
There are tutor centers in the library on campus. I’ve used the Writing Lab, the French Lab, and the Economics Lab. They’re completely run by students which I think is really cool because they can relate to you in a way that professors might not be able to. With Economics specifically, I had a rough time just because my professor didn’t have the best office hours for my schedule and then the tutors at the time I was available were not particularly helpful because they were all seniors and it was an introductory class. That was a little frustrating, but the other two tutoring departments that I’ve used have been super helpful.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Cushing House in a double.
Sophomore: Cushing House in a single.
It’s pretty common for people to stay in the same building because the longer you stay in a building, the higher your lottery number is. So, the longer you stay you have a higher chance of getting a good pick at whatever room you want. If I were to change houses, I would be at the bottom of the lottery.
How was transitioning from Los Angeles to Poughkeepsie, NY?
I really enjoy it. I am sitting outside now with a bunch of different varieties of trees surrounding me and it’s beautiful, which is something I didn’t have where I lived in L.A. It’s also interesting to be in a lower-income area of Poughkeepsie. I really like working at the elementary school. Vassar is trying to work more with the city because there is a Vassar Bubble, which is not unique to Vassar, so there are a lot of volunteer opportunities to go into the city. We also have a lot of things to learn from the city, it’s not just a charity case.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
In general, I have felt pretty safe on campus. I feel safe walking back from the library late at night. We had two incidents this year that involved anti-Semitism, one was within the Vassar community and another was from a White supremacist group that put posters around campus. After that, I felt a little unsafe, but I’m also not openly Jewish on campus and don’t really take part in the Jewish community. I understand if the people who are more involved in the Jewish community at Vassar were scared. But, at the same time, our campus is an open campus in order to be more inclusive of the city and town around us, so there’s not much they could really do as far as keeping that out of our campus. They did have people take down the posters almost immediately. Also, whenever something happens nationwide, we have meetings where you can come express yourself and debrief about how you’re feeling, so they’ve been good about giving people an outlet.
Pros and cons of being located in Poughkeepsie, NY:
I really think it depends on perspective. I knew that I didn’t want to be too close to a major city, so that can be both a pro and a con. But, I’m close enough to go to New York City for the weekend. I like that I’m in a very different landscape, which is a pro. Poughkeepsie is a fun place to explore and is very different from where I’ve grown up. It’s been humbling and informative to learn about other people’s experiences and see different ways of life. A con is there’s not that much to do as a Vassar student. There are a couple of restaurants and bars nearby, but really campus or New York City are the two main ways of entertaining yourself.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
There are always things on campus to go see and do. Tonight, I’m going to a dance showcase, yesterday I went to a choir performance for my friend, and then the night before we went to a musical that was written, directed, and produced by students. They’re good about providing entertainment on campus because there is quite a lack of it in Poughkeepsie. Vassar’s not really a party school by any means, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people who want to go out all the time. Dorm room parties are a thing where like twenty people will hang out in a room.
What nights of the week do you regularly go out?
I’m not a homebody, but I don’t really care that much about the party scene. I go out maybe once or twice a week and hop from party to party. Acapella groups host a lot of parties and different artsy organizations also throw parties. The sports teams throw parties but I don’t go to them because they can be exclusive. There is also a place called The Mug [in the College Center] where they have parties hosted by organizations, like, the Caribbean Club just had a dance there on Friday.
How happy are you with the weekend options at Vassar? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m not a huge party person, so I don’t really care about going to huge parties. I chose Vassar because it’s not a huge party school but people can still have fun in a smaller group of people. There’s not really anything I would change because I knew what I wanted.
How did you meet your closest friends?
We have student fellow groups of eight to twelve freshmen that are basically cared for by a sophomore, and those people are on your hallway. Half of my hallway is my fellow group and the other half is another fellow group. I met my best friend through my fellow group and then most of my other closest friends I’ve met through my classes.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
It’s not very structured. We don’t have any Greek life. It can be kind of cliquey when it comes to sports teams. The dining hall is very much split into one side where all the sports teams eat and then another side is where everyone else eats. People tend to hang out with clubs that they’re a part of, their sports teams, and their fellow groups. For some people, their fellow group is a main source of friends.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
People mix a lot. They are trying to increase diversity because we are trying to be more racially diverse. In terms of sexual orientation, it’s very open here. We also have a lot of different clubs based on campus based on sexuality and ethnicity, so there are a lot of resources and ways to mix with everyone.
How would you describe the LGBTQ community on campus? How strong is it?
I myself am not part of any clubs but I know there are a lot of clubs on campus revolving around that. There are also offices that Vassar has if you need people to talk to. There are also a lot of parties that are not technically hosted by Vassar, but hosted by Vassar students, that are gay parties. They don’t mean to be excluding straight people.
How do you like the size of Vassar in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has it impacted your experience? [Vassar has about 2,450 students.]
So far so good. I wouldn’t say it’s too small socially just because I do see new people every once in a while. For my level of comfort, this is pretty perfect.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful were they?
I’ve gone for help with my resume. It was pretty helpful because it was a one on one meeting and then afterward we’ve been talking by email. It depends on how much effort you put in because if you don’t try, they’re not going to come chasing after you. They also have events during the week where alumni visit or they help you edit cover letters. They’re definitely present on our campus and make it a point to stress how much they can help you.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful to you professionally?
I learned a bit about GIS last semester because we used it in a lab for an introductory Environmental Studies class. We have classes that are specifically about learning GIS, but I just wasn’t able to get into any of them this semester.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Vassar before entering as a freshman?
I’m not sure if I wish I knew this but I think it’s just good advice, Vassar will not baby you or hold your hand. But, if you want to do something they will give you all the resources they can. They very much want you to succeed and will give you all the resources, but it’s what you make of it. It’s up to you ultimately.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I don’t think they show you the gym because it’s relatively far away from the center of campus. There’s an orchard around there which is really beautiful. In general, I think that’s an overlooked part of campus.
Reasons to attend Vassar:
1) You will be academically challenged. Even if I didn’t find a class especially challenging, I’ve learned so much for each class that I took.
2) How available the resources are and how accessible the professors are.
3) It’s a beautiful campus and there is a lot of nature which is calming and helpful when you’re stressed out about work.
4) Although Vassar wants you to focus on academics and do well, they also encourage having fun and enjoying college. They provide you with a lot of opportunities to be social and try new things like learning about other cultures. Two weeks ago, I went to a fashion show that was about the history of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian clothing that was hosted by a Vassar student.
Reasons to not attend Vassar:
1) If you don’t take academics seriously and don’t want to work hard and learn because it’s not an easy school by any means. It’s not the school to go to if you want a party school.
2) They are not prioritizing carbon neutrality and have been difficult about divesting from fossil fuels.