Pough what? Poughkeepsie? How do you even pronounce that? This was the first reaction I had when I got into Vassar. I admit I knew nothing about Vassar when I was accepted, and I especially didn’t know how to pronounce the name of the city our school is located in. However, this year I had a moment of enlightenment that helped understand more about the place I once couldn’t even pronounce properly.
You have probably heard the term “Vassar Bubble” many times. For those who don’t recognize this term, it means that students become so immersed into the Vassar community that they forget about the community just outside of Vassar’s gates. I myself am guilty of this. However, to change things up this year, I decided to work as a Rape Crisis/Crime Victim Advocate for Family Services, located off-campus, instead of taking on a job as a barista for UpC once again.
On my way to the job interview, I noticed an abandoned building in front of Family Services. Although now under construction, I soon learned that it was referred to as the “crack house,” where two ex-convicts lived in its basement.
During the interview, my supervisor and I were enjoying a nice conversation when the phone rang, and all of a sudden her face turned very serious and stern. She answered, “Was it gang violence? When was he killed…?” You can only imagine my facial expression when I heard this. After a slight pause, she proceeded to tell the other person on the line to call her back later. She faced me and told me a boy had been killed and his mother was asking if there were any reparations she could receive to pay for the funeral. She also mentioned that a 99 year-old lady had been murdered in her own house a week ago. I knew I should’ve expected these kinds of situations to arise here in Poughkeepsie because of its high crime rate, but I couldn’t help but think: what have I gotten myself into?
A few days after my interview, I attended the Community Service Work Study (CSWS) information session in the Aula and got into a conversation with Toni Llanos, the Dance Director for M*Power—a program that is dedicated to empowering kids through the arts. The last words she said to me still resonate through my mind: “The people in Poughkeepsie need hope.”
At that moment, I was struck by how oblivious I was to the issues that were occurring in the very city I will be spending the next three years of my life in. I remember back in high school, when I visited Columbia and Harvard, that the neighborhoods their college campuses were in were not well off. At that time, I thought, when I get into college, I’m going to make sure I get involved with the community off-campus. Yet here I was at Vassar, not really concerned with the issues outside of campus. I felt a bit ashamed of myself for not being able to keep my word, after already having spent a year at Vassar. Sure, I’ve heard plenty about the horrors happening in Syria or the ratchetness of Miley Cyrus from students, but how many times had I heard about the events unfolding right here in Poughkeepsie? I’m not saying that national or international issues aren’t important and we shouldn’t pay attention to them, but I want to stress that there are also problems right here in our community immediately outside Vassar.
Perhap’s it’s just that my job offers me more knowledge that even a typical Poughkeepsie resident would know, and it makes me more conscious about the problems arising in this city. But even if we don’t pop the Vassar Bubble entirely, I think it’s important that we at least are aware of some of the incidents that are going around here in Poughkeepsie. It may be hard for students to come out of the bubble because of their busy schedules, but there are things we can do to help make a difference.
Perhaps a good place to start is by attending some of the events that are being held here in Poughkeepsie, such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, which is a walk organized by Family Services in October to help stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence while raising awareness of these issues.
In either case, it’s important we begin to become aware of what goes on outside of our campus. However, even if some students chose not to become familiar with the incidents that take place in Poughkeepsie, as Lieutenant Mel Claussen from the Poughkeepsie Police Department said, “Something is always happening here.”
—Laura Song ’16 is a prospective political science & media studies double major.