Athletes add to the Vassar community through unique campus perspectives

Vassar College stands for a lot of things, and it means different things to different people. But, when I think about this prestigious institution, the buzz word “diversity” probably comes to mind first. Vassar’s doors are open to all kinds of students—regardless of race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background and so forth—and we’re drawn together by the combination of elite academic standards and a very unique campus life here at Vassar.

It’s a pretty cool concept: people of entirely different backgrounds are drawn to a small liberal arts college in upstate New York because they share strikingly similar goals.

The great thing about “diversity” is that it manifests itself in very different – and very unexpected—manners. It takes different forms, and we experience “diversity” firsthand every single day. As we sit in Rockefeller Hall, as we head over to the Retreat. It’s all around us, and we’re lucky to experience so much difference in such close quarters here on campus.

But we also shouldn’t define “diversity” too narrowly, either. Believe it or not, Vassar’s varsity athletes contribute to that culture, adding their own little tinge of difference to the institution’s utopian canvas of “diversity.” There’s no doubt that they’re different than a lot of non-athletes on campus, and partly because they have to be different. Varsity athletes wear team colors and muscle shirts—not quite the same as the hipster garb popular around campus—as they busy themselves with lifting schedules and team meetings, all in an attempt to weigh academics and athletics. The routines are different, as are the concerns.

On one hand, college life is just busier for varsity athletes. The day isn’t over when the last class comes to an end; you might have a team lift or a captain’s practice or a one-on-one meeting with your coach (or all of the above). The calendar’s usually packed with obligations, and it can be overwhelming at times. On top of that, the typical concerns that accompany varsity sports only add to the “grind.” Why are practices so hard? Why do we have to wake up early for morning conditioning three times a week? Why am I not playing more? Why, why, why. Your mind is overloaded with questions about all sorts of things.

And then there’s the whole academic-athletic balance thing. You have to worry about that essay due Wednesday evening, in addition to that practice Wednesday afternoon. You’re nervous about the challenging problem set coming up, as well as the conference game coming even sooner. The burden is doubled. What’s my GPA looking like? Can we beat them? Surely, varsity athletes and non-athletes are concerned about some of the same things – grades, internships, job experience, and so on. Everyone wants to be prepared for the “real world” when the time comes. But then there’s also a clear divergence, when athletics comes into the picture. Nothing drains you—mentally and physically—quite like focusing on schoolwork and athletics with equal intensity.

You almost need a two-track mind, with one piece concerned about academics and the other involved with athletics. In the morning, you’re on one track. In the evening, you jump to the other and flip your thought process. The trick is to minimize the overlap; there’s nothing worse than thinking about schoolwork while lifting weights with your team, or vice versa.

(Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about juggling the two tracks. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m just trying to explain the process of playing sports when confronted with a challenging academic environment.)

Non-athletes just don’t share the same concerns. And they definitely don’t have the same hectic schedules. The priorities are different. But that’s what makes Vassar’s version of “diversity” so unique, as well as interesting. Different people have different ways of thinking — dissimilar tracks, if you will — and that dissimilarity makes Vassar one-of-a-kind compared to other academic institutions. That’s probably the most defining characteristic of Vassar-esque “diversity” – all of the difference makes this place different than the others, setting it apart from more homogenous institutions.

A hub of all sorts of races and religions, preferences and backgrounds—collegiate athletics being one of them.

We shouldn’t underestimate the value of that convergence. This campus would look completely differently without all of the varsity athletics in the picture, and not in a good way.

There would be too much homogeneity in feel, too little variance in style and preference and routine. Vassar’s varsity athletes — with their tip-top time management skills and ability to switch tracks in a heartbeat — bring something refreshing to the table, which would be lacking otherwise. There are differences in schedules and dress, yes. But one style of dress isn’t better than another. Above all, there’s a difference in vibe and spirit – without this difference, a certain void would be tangible.

Maybe, this comes down to the two tracks. There would be a sort of emptiness with one track and not the other. But, one thing is certain: Vassar’s image of “diversity” is very unique, and the school’s varsity athletes only add to that image. They bolster it.

 

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