An Interview On
Vassar College

Background

Interview Date:January 2019

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: Caucasian
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2021
High School Experience: Public school in Cambridge, MA with a graduating class of about 500 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Environmental Studies with a either a Political Science cluster or a double major with Political Science
Minor: None, but I if I don’t double major I’ll have a minor in Geography
Extracurricular Activities: I’m a student representative to the Climate Action Sustainability Committee, which is charged with advising the president of the college on all climate-related decisions. I’m part of the Students for Equitable Environmental Decisions. I also play club Ultimate Frisbee.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Frisbee helped me meet some of my closest friends. The sustainability stuff is really helpful for me because I have been able to gain a lot of experience outside of academics through those extracurriculars.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
The Environmental Studies major is very much in your control to create. You have your requirements in natural science and you have to take a sequence of five courses in one department or with a common focus. Right now, my focus is Geography but that could also switch to Political Science if I chose. Your work depends semester to semester what your course load looks like. I will likely never be someone with a lot of problem sets. I’ll have to take three or four classes with labs. My major is more humanities-oriented, here you’ll talk more about the relationship between the natural world and humans than the specifics of Geology.

Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
It gives students the ability to really shape the major to whatever they want and to not feel restrictions in terms of what one can study. For students that want something more traditional and environmental science focused, this is not the major for you.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it depends on who you surround yourself with. In terms of the culture around work, I will say that there is a culture here of kids feeling like they have very stressful lives when they maybe don’t. In terms of grades, I don’t feel pressure to get a certain grade to be seen as smart by my friends. The culture of stress exists in certain circles and in certain circles it doesn’t. My friends and I don’t buy into that but I know circles where it certainly does.

Do you think people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
It depends. I think Vassar pretends to be a very open and tolerant place, and Vassar is very tolerant of all liberal ideas. It’s a hard balance because I don’t think Vassar students should accept more conservative views, I think there should be a level of engagement or an ability to see someone’s perspective without agreeing and be constructive. I think Vassar students, in the classroom and outside of the classroom, are more judgmental than maybe we would like to be, especially since one of our mottos is Engaged Pluralism. At the same time, I really love the environment because it’s a place where men can wear nail polish and be treated normally. It’s not the type of place where frats and athletic culture dominate. It’s a place where everybody can express themselves, so, in some ways, I think we’re incredibly tolerant, but, in some ways, it feels like everyone’s walking on eggshells.

How accessible are your professors?
I picked it because of the freedom to explore different disciplines. I came in knowing wanted to do something relating to politics and the environment, and I feel that I can do that through multiple majors, but I thought Environmental Studies gave me the most options and allowed to take the most classes in a lot of areas while also feeling comprehensive enough to provide me a good foundation.

Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I think a combination of things. The freedom to explore different disciplines was a big part of it because I came in knowing I wanted to generally do something related to politics, the environment, and climate change work. I see it as the kind of work that I could do through multiple majors, but I felt that Environmental Studies gave me the most options and allowed me to take a lot of other classes in different areas while also feeling comprehensive enough to provide me a good foundation coming out.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman & Sophomore: I lived in Raymond House for both years. Freshman year I had one roommate. It’s very common for sophomores to live in the same dorm they lived in freshman year in a single, so that’s what I’m doing now.

How was transitioning from Cambridge, MA to Poughkeepsie, NY?
For me, it wasn’t very hard because it was not my first time away from home. People complain about Poughkeepsie because it’s a post-industrial city that is lacking in a lot of ways, but for me, it’s been pretty fine. [The median household income in Poughkeepsie is about $40,000 and there is a 22.6% poverty rate.]

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I feel completely safe on campus. I feel pretty safe off campus as well. I mean, I’m a man so I can’t speak to gender-based violence, but I don’t feel less safe than I did at home by any stretch.

Pros and cons of being located in Poughkeepsie, NY:
Pros: 1) It’s easy to get to the city just by hopping on the Metro North train. Even if you don’t drive, the city is [about 2 hours away.]
2) There is a ton of nature that is close by and we have an Outing Club that is pretty devoted to going to places like the Catskills and other stuff. You can get out into nature easily if you want. It’s nice that both the city and nature is within reach.
3) If you’re from New England, it feels like it’s far enough to be far away but you’re not completely out of reach.

Cons: Poughkeepsie is lacking in a lot of ways [in terms of entertainment].

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I like to go out. I’d say we are lacking in nightlife. On weekends I end up going to a decent amount of off-campus parties. Off-campus parties are most common, but different groups of people have different types of parties. Most of the people who I talk to agree that the administration could do more to have a more consistent social life like other schools have with stuff like themed houses where there is an intentional community and is also a place where people could throw parties. Parties are held at the Townhouses, or “TH’s,” and the Terrace Apartments, or “TA’s,” if they’re on campus. There are off-campus houses that host parties a couple of blocks away.

What nights of the week are there regularly parties?
Friday and Saturday. There is a bar people go to on Thursdays if they are of age. The bar will also do nights where they have Vassar students do DJ sets.

What is an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out?
I really like doing something more low-key with friends sometimes. I mostly go out, but if I wasn’t going out I’d probably go out to dinner or just hanging out with friends in a dorm room or common area of a dorm.

How happy have you been with the nightlife at Vassar? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I think there should be better and more consistent parties. I’m happy with the nightlife in that it’s not dominated by frat culture and it doesn’t feel like a big deal to go out or get really dressed up for. But, I wish there were more parties that included more people of diverse interests in different groups around campus. There are certain groups that never mingle with certain other groups based on interests.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
Club Ultimate Frisbee is how I met half of them and I then became of their friends outside of frisbee. I also became friends with the people on my hall freshman year because they put you in groups of people who are close to you on your hall during orientation week. That can be hit or miss, some people have their best friends for all four years from that and some don’t. I also met people from classes who are interested in some of the same things that I am in.

How would you describe the overall social scene?
The athletes absolutely have their own social scene here. If you’re not part of that you don’t see them. I see them around but I’ve never been to one of their parties. I don’t think Vassar is dominated by any one scene socially, and it doesn’t feel like there are strict groupings, but people tend to stick with what they know. It’s also a really small school so a lot of people know a lot of other people, so maybe they don’t hang out with certain groups but they’ll say hi walking around campus or talk at a function.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
It depends. You will definitely see friend groups that are all White people from New York City. At least to me, there are certain groups where there is a lot of integration and there are certain groups where there isn’t, and I think that is partially determined by what you were used to before Vassar. If you want to seek out a friend group that looks just like you, you can find it, or if you want to mix more, I think you can too. I’d say my friends come from a lot of different backgrounds, so it’s possible.

How do you like the size of Vassar in terms of undergraduate enrollment? [There are about 2,450 students at Vassar.] 
I like it a lot. It’s the same size as my high school, which is kind of funny for me. I like having a small school where you feel like you can grasp everything that’s going on here and the opportunities are easy to find. I wanted a small school and I really like the size. I’d maybe add a few hundred people if I were to change anything, but the size feels great.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not yet, but I know that it can. I’m a little behind in terms of internships so I haven’t utilized those resources as much but I know they exist.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful were they?
I haven’t used them at all, but I plan on using them.

Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful to you professionally?
I came in knowing Java from high school and didn’t continue Computer Science here. I’m in a GIS class where I’ll learn geographic information systems.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful was the office?
I do have financial aid. I got less than I thought I should last year and they were not that helpful when I tried to work with them. There were specific reasons why I didn’t get as much last year and I am getting more this year. Vassar is pretty well known for meeting students’ full demonstrated need, but, in my personal experiences with the office, I didn’t really enjoy my time.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Vassar before entering as a transfer?
Vassar has this reputation for being a really liberal, inclusive campus. I wish I knew that sometimes people’s interest in social issues was driven by a desire for social capital on campus and sometimes it doesn’t come from the most authentic place. People don’t necessarily get involved in a cause, but they will voice their opinions about them very loudly. They are opinions that I share and I probably agree with them on what they’re voicing, but there are people who will not actually do the work to help their view, they will just voice them to fit the mold of what a Vassar student is supposed to be.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Go into Ely hall because it’s a beautiful building that I think you will miss.

Reasons to attend Vassar:
1) There are professors here that will teach classes that absolutely blow your mind, and that’s been really positive for me.
2) The beauty on campus and the beauty of the area. I don’t think people should underestimate the importance of the physical space of a school’s campus because you’ll be there for four years.
3) Vassar teaches you how to think and how to write. If you want it, there is a structure in place for you to think critically about the world and have a direction coming out of college that isn’t just getting a job or the to the next step, it’s much more intentional.

Reasons to not attend Vassar:
1) If you want huge consistent parties, you won’t find that.
2) It’s going to be difficult for you if you’re a really conservative person, but I think you should still come because Vassar could use that difference of opinion. You won’t find a lot of people like you if you’re super conservative.

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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