An Interview On
Vassar College

Background

Interview Date:February 2019

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: African-American
Sexual Orientation: Bisexual
Graduation Year: 2021
High School Experience: Public school in Cambridge, MA with a graduating class of about 800 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Majors: Political Science and Psychology double major
Minor: None
Extracurricular Activities: I sing in an a capella group, I’m part of an activist group called Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, and I’m a Student Fellow which is kind of like being an R.A.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
My acapella group is a really nice community. It’s really nice to have a place to do music on campus with a group of women who I admire.

Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson works on immigrant issues and low-income issues and other stuff in the community, and that has had a big impact on the way I interact with the community around Vassar.

Being a Student Fellow is huge and a lot of sophomores do it at Vassar. You get paid, you get a single room, and you are also in charge of 10-12 first-years. You’re basically a live-in support system, it’s not disciplinary, and that’s been a big thing for me this year.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for your majors?
For Political Science, it’s a lot of essays and reading. We have very few tests, and if we do, it’s more of a sit-down essay. Psychology is a lot of textbook reading and tests. We have some review papers, but it’s mostly tests.

Is there anything you feel your majors’ departments do especially well or poorly?
At Vassar in Political Science it’s really hard to get into the classes you want because a lot of people outside of the major want to take a lot of the classes. But, I think the professors in the department are super amazing and really accessible. I’ve gone to a lot of office hours, which is really nice. Psychology classes are easier to get into and the professors are just as accessible. Psychology classes are mostly going to have Psychology majors and Cognitive Science majors, whereas Political Science classes have just anyone.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I wouldn’t say that Vassar is competitive at all. In Psychology, it can be more individual work and it can seem hard to reach out to people if you don’t know them. Political Science is definitely more collaborative. It’s mostly discussion-based classes so you get to know the class pretty well.

Do you think people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
Yes, for the most part. Because Political Science classes are discussion-based, I think you can have your opinion, say it, and feel good about it. I think a lot of the teachers have the same way of teaching and thinking about political science unless you find the special professors. Usually, those professors are more on the political theory side of things. Most professors try to represent both sides of the argument but Vassar’s a pretty liberal school so I think it can be hard for students to really digest both sides of the argument.

Why did you pick your majors? Are you happy with your choice?
I came into Vassar knowing that I wanted to do Political Science and then I took an intro to psychology class and immediately wanted to declare Psychology. I’m pretty happy with both of them.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman & Sophomore: Lathrop House. I had a roommate last year and don’t have one this year.

How was transitioning from Cambridge, MA to Poughkeepsie, NY?
It was pretty easy. It’s only about a three or four-hour drive. It can be kind of weird going to a rural place, but it’s pretty easy to get to New York City. You just take one train so it isn’t that hard if you really need some city time.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
It’s very safe. I think Vassar students can be kind of scared of the town around it, but it’s really not scary if you know where you’re going.

Pros and cons of being located in Poughkeepsie, NY:
Pros: 1) You can get to New York City pretty easily by train. [It is about 2 hours away.]
2) It is really pretty.

Cons: 1) It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. There’s not a lot to do in the immediate vicinity.
2) You need a car to get around.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
There are a lot of parties around campus, but it’s not a huge party school. There will be some house parties and there are school and organization-based events thrown, like the school will have musicians come play. There are a lot of local New York artists that will come up to play, so that’s cool. If you’re going to a house party, usually it’s thrown by a group of upperclassmen who live in an apartment together. Some parties are off campus, which are only about a 10-minute walk away. The school-based events will have transportation to and from it or they will be held in the Main Building.

What nights of the week are there regularly events?
Thursday nights are when the musicians will come because most students, except for STEM majors, don’t have class on Fridays. Usually, events just happen on Friday and Saturday.

What are some of your favorite events on campus?
I really like going to the comedy shows, those are really funny. When student theater comes around, usually in the fall, those shows are also really good.

How happy are you with the weekend options at Vassar? Is there anything you would change if you could?
Sometimes when you want to party it can be disappointing because you don’t know where to go or you go to one place and it’s not the vibe that you want it to be. I wish there were more events happening all around, but it’s a small school.

How has being LGBT influenced your nightlife experience? Is there an LGBT nightlife scene on campus?
I mean Vassar is a pretty gay place, which is great. That was one of the reasons I was into it. When you’re out, you’ll see a lot of lesbian couples out and about and that’s really nice to see as a bisexual woman. It’s nice to not feel like you’re the only one. People will not assume that you’re straight here, which is super cool.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
When you get into Vassar you’re put into a fellow group, which is about 10-12 people who live on your floor that a Student Fellow is in charge with. You go through orientation with them and have weekly meetings with them for the first semester. That’s how I met two of my closest friends. The others I met through mutual friends.

How would you describe the overall social scene?
There’s definitely a divide between athletes and non-athletes at Vassar. The only athletes I know are through clubs that I do, otherwise, I don’t really see them. I think clubs somewhat determine your friends at Vassar, but they aren’t the be-all-end-all because club events aren’t very prominent and aren’t exclusive. We don’t have fraternities and sororities and I don’t think anything takes the place of that sort of social scene. It can be kind of cliquey, but after the first year you can easily break that. Early on people have their friend groups and those can be pretty regional, like the California people will stick together and the New York people will stick together, but later on that goes away.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Races can be kind of segregated. There are some parties that I go to where it is almost all people of color, and if I’m at one of those parties and a White person walks in [they stick out]. I was also part of an acapella group last semester that was people of color only, so there is a strong community of people of color on campus but we’re pretty small and condensed. [About 56% of students at Vassar are White, 10% are Hispanic, and 4% are Black.]

How would you describe the student body?
Pretty active. If anything happens on campus, the students will be the first ones to tell you and organize around it. Everyone’s smart, which can be strange sometimes because you’ll meet someone who makes you wonder how they got in but then you have a class with them and you’ll realize that they’re incredibly smart. But, I’ve never felt competitive. Everyone here is pretty calm and not very grade-oriented.

How would you describe the Black community on campus?
It’s pretty connected because we’re so small. If you see another Black person on campus you’re going to know them. I’ve never been to the Black Student Union events, but I know they’re pretty active.

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.]
It’s very small, so if you want to avoid someone you can’t, which can be weird. It’s nice because you really get to know everyone in your classes and who you live with but it can be frustrating when you’re trying to go out and you see the same people everywhere and you end up going to kind of the same party every weekend.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not yet. I went to the Sophomore Career Connections program this year which is a two-day program and I met a couple of cool people there. But, so far I haven’t had any extensive experience with alumni.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful were they?
They’re pretty helpful. I started using them more this year. I used them for help with my cover letters and resume. It can be nice to just talk to them and figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with the cover letter and resume. Other than that, I don’t think they do a lot. It’s more on the student than the career office to reach out.

Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful to you professionally?
I’m in a statistics class right now and we use JASP, which is a statistics software.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful was the office?
Yes, I’m on financial aid and they’re pretty much the reason I can go here. Vassar is known for having good financial aid, which is really nice. But, I haven’t gone to the office personally without my parents.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Vassar before entering as a freshman?
I wish somebody said to me to not take anything too seriously because you’re in classes to learn and not to freak out about a grade. Also, when you go to a new place to meet a bunch of new people, everybody’s going to be strange. People are going to be so strange during orientation week and you just kind of have to roll with it. Everyone at Vassar is pretty weird and not ashamed of it, which is great. If you are coming from a city, you may be thrown off by how small it is and how often you see the same people.

What is something a prospective student of color may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
There are a lot of White people and you’re going to be thrown off by it at first. But, there are also a lot of people of color here and we do stick together. If you need a space where you need to be around people of color, Vassar has a lot of those. Ujima was the acapella group I was a part of and that was really nice. I also went to the Multiracial and Biracial Students Alliance, or MBSA, and that really helped me out.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I think they have to go to the cafeteria and try the food because that’s what you’re going to be eating for four years.

Reasons to attend Vassar:
1) It’s a great school with a high reputation.
2) Classes are really small, so if you like to talk you really get to talk. You get to talk to all of the students and build a good relationship with your professor. [The average class size is 17.]
3) It’s a pretty artsy school so you get encouraged to do what you want. There are a lot of ways to make art how you want to make it. It’s very easy to go to a studio if you want to.
4) It’s a really pretty campus, which can be so nice. It’s very calming to sit outside and do your homework.

Reasons to not attend Vassar:
1) If you don’t like small schools, it’s definitely not going to be your thing. You’re going to know everyone super well. If you like to keep to yourself more or really like to be a social butterfly, you don’t get to meet a bunch of people or stay anonymous, you just get to know the same kind of people very well.
2) If you don’t like winter, definitely don’t come here. Most of the year is winter and you have to get used to the cold, which can really affect your mood.
3) If you’re not into work, don’t come here. It’s a lot of work to keep up with the classes and all the organizations you want to be part of.

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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