Students from Poughkeepsie confront hometown stigmas

Sam Plotkin ’15 of Wappingers Falls is one of many Vassar students from the Hudson Valley region. These students often feel the need to defend their home from negative stereotypes on Vassar’s campus. Photo: Katie de Heras/The Miscellany News
Sam Plotkin ’15 of Wappingers Falls is one of many Vassar students from the Hudson Valley region. These students often feel the need to defend their home from negative stereotypes on Vassar’s campus.Photo: Katie de Heras/The Miscellany News
Sam Plotkin ’15 of Wappingers Falls is one of many Vassar students from the Hudson Valley region. These students often feel the need to defend their home from negative stereotypes on Vassar’s campus.
Photo: Katie de Heras/The Miscellany News

While the town of Poughkeepsie remains an unexplored mystery to many Vassar students, some have been familiar with it for their entire lives. Though their presence is nuanced, students hailing from the local area are a proud and vocal lot who are loyal to their hometown.

In fact, Vassar reaches out specifically to students who live in Poughkeepsie to ensure they don’t discount the school just because it’s too close to home.

Dean of Admissions David Borus explained, “Vassar recruits actively in the local area. As an active and prominent member of the Poughkeepsie and Mid-Hudson Valley communities, the college feels that it is appropriate and desirable to make certain that excellent students from close by are familiar with Vassar’s offerings and hopefully consider it among their college options.”

In recent years, Vassar has seen an increased matriculation of students from Poughkeepsie High School, with twelve students currently enrolled.

Borus said, “This increase, while due in part to more aggressive outreach efforts at [Poughkeepsie High School] by the Admissions Office, is largely a result of the Poughkeepsie High School Scholarship Initiative, an effort begun five years ago at the urging of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence.”
He continued, “This program replaces loans with grants in the aid awards of any Poughkeepsie High School graduate, and has helped to increase awareness of and interest in the college at our local school.”

The Admissions Office noted that there are currently sixty-six students from the local area currently enrolled in classes, with the largest numbers coming from Arlington and Poughkeepsie High Schools.

Amelia Livingston ’15, a graduate of Arlington High School, said, “I’ve always wanted to go to Vassar, and it helped that my dad is a professor here. I’d say that it’s been my top choice since I figured out what college was.”

Livingston, whose father was a House Fellow before, spent part of her childhood living in the dorms. So while calling Vassar College ‘home’ is nothing new to Livingston, a new experience for her has been combating preconceived notions about Poughkeepsie in her fellow classmates.

She said, “Poughkeepsie is really not as bad as some students make it out to be. It’s safe, diverse, historic, and really very beautiful if you know where to go.”

Sarah Milone ‘14, a former student of Poughkeepsie High School, also believes there are misconceptions of her hometown.

“I think the majority of students are respectful of Poughkeepsie and the people who live here, but every so often you hear students making generalizations that I don’t think they would make if they knew the entire city,” she said.

She went on to say that her desire to go to Vassar far outweighed any hesitations she had about staying in her hometown.

Milone said, “When I spent an overnight here as a prospective student…I realized I liked it so much that I wouldn’t mind not going to school away from home.”

She did note that coming to Vassar was, at times, a cultural shift for her. “There was definitely a bit of a culture shock going from Poughkeepsie High School to Vassar, since PHS is predominantly black and VC is obviously more affluent. The diversity aspect of Vassar wasn’t too jarring though, since at PHS there are a lot of kids with Hispanic, Asian, and Caribbean background,” she said.

Justin Nesheiwat ’14, who originally wanted to go to school in Boston, didn’t change his mind until he received what he said was an unexpected acceptance to Vassar.

He said, “My experiences on campus have definitely changed the way I perceive and interact with my hometown. This school has made me see the potential of my hometown because there is real value in all of the community members just like Vassar sees in all of its students.”

Charlotte Andrews ’14, too, said her perspective of the town has changed.

In an emailed statement, she explained, “Being at Vassar makes me appreciate my hometown much more. This is especially true when people hate on Poughkeepsie. I’m sure if I went to his/her hometown and got sub-par pizza and sat at a gas station, I wouldn’t love it either.”

She went on to lament what is, in her opinion, ignorance towards what is beyond the boundaries of campus.

Andrews said, “I would say the majority of students I know have no concept of Poughkeepsie outside of the little part they are exposed to. Many of them think Poughkeepsie is just the shabby buildings along Main Street down to the waterfront and don’t know there is the entire town of Poughkeepsie, which extends to cover four different school districts.”

Livingston concluded, “I defend Poughkeepsie all the time—I know it isn’t a metropolitan haven like many Vassar students might be more used to, but it’s home to me.”

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