An Interview On
Vassar College

Background

Interview Date:July 2017

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Caucasian
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2017
High School Experience: Private school with a graduating class of about 80 students in San Francisco, CA.
Major: History
Minor: International Politics
Extracurricular Activities: I was in two dance groups.

What is the time commitment of doing two dance groups?
15-20 hours a week. During tech weeks it could be way more than that. Those will be upwards of 30 hours a week at least two weeks of the semester combined.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework in your major?
It’s a ton of reading. We’ll have about 3 essays over the course of the semester that got larger as we went along. History’s known as a tougher major at Vassar. You’d have a reading, a response you have to post before class, and you have to be prepared to speak on the reading in class. History does more tests than other majors that are like it. There are final exams and some classes have 1 or 2 tests in a semester.

Did you especially like or dislike anything about your major’s department? Did they do anything especially well or poorly?
The class size was great, a lot of them were smaller than the average. The history professors are tough but it’s good because it pushes your writing skills. They’re a tougher grading department but I enjoyed it because it pushed us all to be better writers. It’s mostly discussion-based classes and a lot of professors try to engage students in class. There were rarely lecture style. [The average class size is 17 students and the student-faculty ratio is 8:1.]

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it depends on your social circle and your major. I think history’s pretty competitive. I think it was a more competitive department in the humanities and social sciences at Vassar. Overall, I felt the environment at Vassar is politically engaged and intellectually curious. I felt most of my conversations more about the course material than what your GPA is.

What was your favorite class in your major?
History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

What was your least favorite class in your major?
US Foreign Policy. The professor has a cult following among some students but I didn’t like him.

What was a fun class you took outside of your major?
Arab Women Writers

Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
My private high school had a really good history program that got me interested in history. It got me to see it as more than memorization. I found the actively engaged history that I found in high school at Vassar. Then I thought it was a good major that set me up with good writing and research skills. I also feel like I didn’t know how hard it was when I started [laughs].

On and Around Campus

Where did you live on campus?
Freshman – Junior: I lived in Olivia Jocelyn freshman through junior year. I loved it. It was a huge part of my social scene because we got along with the people we met there. Jocelyn is known as a nice dorm so I stayed in it, but there are also dorms that I hope they have plans to renovate. Those are difficult to move out of because everybody wants to move out. We were lucky because we had priority to stay in that dorm.

Senior: I lived in a 5-person townhouse. It was kind of run down, but it’s nice to be in a community of all seniors. You work your way up to it and you feel like a free bird. They recently made it so that all seniors have to be on the meal plan. This is a big change because the townhouses have kitchens and most people like to cook, but now you have to go to the dining hall. It will be interesting to see how they like that.

How safe do you feel on campus and in the surrounding area?
On campus, I feel pretty safe. There are probably students of color that would say differently. The population of Poughkeepsie has sharp divides between residents of color and Whites. Some Black students feel that have been harassed off campus and feel more vulnerable. As a woman, I was never scared to walk around at night by myself. But, because our social life is on campus, I’m always on Vassar paths. The main street of Poughkeepsie is never a place I would walk alone at night. There is a mini main street that is connected to Vassar that people feel more comfortable on.

What is your favorite off-campus restaurant?
Bread Alone in Rhinebeck, New York It’s south of Poughkeepsie and has really good tacos. There are some good restaurants in Poughkeepsie, but they weren’t my favorites.

What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
The mountains around the Hudson Valley area. That’s something I didn’t get into at much as I would have liked because of dance rehearsals on the weekends. Hudson Valley has great hiking and great small towns. In the fall there is some great apple picking.

Pros and cons of being in Poughkeepsie?
Poughkeepsie is a really interesting place. It has a complicated history. It’s not your idea of a picturesque college town. Sometimes I wish I had the cute college town experience. The Poughkeepsie community is interesting and has a long history. Having to think about the relationship of an elite liberal community and a town that has a disparity socioeconomically is a positive thing for students to think about. It impacts some students to the point they choose to have a positive impact on the community by volunteering, but the downside is that a lot of Vassar students don’t choose to do that so you end up very separated from the community and being at Vassar all the time. [Poughkeepsie has a poverty rate of 22.6% and about 36% of the population is Black and 20% is Hispanic.]

A pro is being in the Hudson Valley area in general. Poughkeepsie is a funky town. I ended up liking it over the 4 years, but I can see how some people may not like that it’s not a beautiful, manicured college town.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I tend to go out on Friday and Saturday, and sometimes not Friday. There’s also a low-key Thursday night scene. Vassar doesn’t have any off-campus bars. Most of the parties are at senior housing apartments. Dorms are pretty relaxed because we have Student Fellows, instead of Resident Advisors, who are non-disciplinary. As I got into dance groups, I’d have parties thrown by my dance clubs. That’s where my social scene expanded. That was always fun because I got invited to senior houses that I actually knew.

What have been your favorite days and nights at Vassar?
The highlights were dance parties that we through. Our dance club would throw parties for the school and we’d perform at midnight and we’d suck because we were all drunk but it’d be fun. I also liked it when my friends would have parties. At Vassar you live in dorms for the first three years, so it’s exciting senior year when you have an apartment and can have the room to have people over.

How happy were you with the nightlife at Vassar? If you could change anything, what would you change?
I think one of the issues is that, because it’s a small school, it feels like there are limited options. There’s not as much party hopping just because there are two options for parties a night and if you don’t like those two that’s really it. Overall, it was pretty fine for me, but, for somebody that wanted to party more, it would be frustrating.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
Freshman year you have a Fellow Group of 10 people in your hall. They do this because you’re in a dorm of mixed years. You have a Student Fellow who’s a sophomore who’s in charge of you. The first week of school you do everything with that group, which is good for some people but doesn’t work out for some people because they don’t like their group. My Fellow Group helped me make my best friend, and then dance is where I met my other closest friends. As the years went by I met a few through classes. Extracurriculars are really important at Vassar because we don’t have Greek life.

How would you describe the social scene?
It definitely becomes more divided by the time you’re a senior, which I think is kind of normal. But, by senior year, I was still meeting new people. It’s better than high school because there are not “cool kids” and “uncool kids”. There may be kids that think they’re the cool kids, but that’s not as important. Most of my friends who came from freshman year were people that liked to go out. That may be a divide because I didn’t hang out with people who are a much a part of that scene. My friends weren’t super heavy drinkers, but they wanted to be out on weekend nights.

To what extent people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
It definitely depends on your social space. The dance community is where I made some of my more diverse friends. Overall, Vassar is a good place for people of different sexual orientations or races, but some students of color may not feel similarly. There is some separation. It’s also a very politically progressive school so there is a lot of divisiveness around politics sometimes. Depending on the spaces you hang out in you will have more diverse communities. [In 2018, a student who identifies as a centrist liberal created The Vassar Political Review due to a lack of diversity in campus politics.]

Coming from an elite private school, I really appreciated that my friends came from a very diverse group of socioeconomic backgrounds. In my townhouse senior year, we would cook food every day and we all had different budgets for groceries. Our president worked really, really hard on offering financial aid to many students, and I benefitted from that because I wasn’t surrounded by the same types of people. At the same time, it sometimes felt that you weren’t getting all the perks of an expensive private liberal arts school because Vassar offers so much financial aid. [Socioeconomically, about 5.4% of students come from the bottom 20%. Vassar offers financial aid to 61% of students. It practices need-blind admissions and meets 100% of demonstrated financial need of admitted students. The effects of this policy were discussed in the Revisionist History podcast, “Food Fight.”]

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not exactly. I’ve had some good conversations with alumni. They have a big networking event sophomore year where they bring a bunch of alumni on campus. I found my internship last summer through the Vassar job posting page.

What did you use the career office for? How helpful were they?
They helped me with editing my resume and some cover letters. Professors were helpful with writing recommendations. I think people found them moderately helpful. Overall, they were decent.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Vassar before you entered as a freshman?
I feel like most of the things I found out were good. I guess the political liberalism is something people should know. The dance program is really good and that was a surprise for me. It’s big and well established. There are a lot of good dancers on campus. The level of academic engagement is unique. It was nice to be surrounded by people that were into talking about classes. It’s a school where people care about what they’re taking and care about politics and what’s going on with the world. I think a lot of really cool people go to Vassar.

Reasons to attend Vassar College:
1) The professors/academics. I think they’re great.
2) People – I think there are a lot of really great people at Vassar.
3) The arts community is really strong.

Reasons to not attend Vassar College:
1) Location. For some people I could see it being a problem It’s not a huge city. You don’t have access to a ton of things, and the fact that public transportation isn’t good makes it so you need a car to get places off campus.
2) There are some people who are frustrated with the mental health resources [See Boilerplate Magazine article, “The Results Are In: Vassar Administrators and Mental Health.” See Poughkeepsie Journal article, “Vassar College decision limits mental health help options.”]
3) It sometimes felt like there were limited courses because it’s a small school.
4) If you’re somebody that wants a huge party school that would be a reason to not attend.

Notice: Vassar College is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Vassar College.

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