Whether it was during your first visit to Vassar as a prospective student or during your Freshman year, you have surely been told at some point that “Vassar is a member of the Poughkeepsie Community.” Likewise, you have probably learned that this statement is not as true as it needs to be. Determining the root cause of this disconnect between Vassar and Poughkeepsie is no easy feat, with some attributing the blame to our institution while others to the city. Regardless of the reason it is indisputable that both Vassar and the city would benefit from a stronger relationship.
Some Vassar students arrive at the college with an optimistic hope of playing a positive role in the community, but become disillusioned when they hear negative stereotypes about Poughkeepsie. Superficial perceptions about it’s poverty and dearth of resources have been propagated on campus, but they only serve to shift the blame away from us. It’s easy to come to a polished campus like Vassar and then wonder what Poughkeepsie is doing wrong, but we must take responsibility for the space we share. We need to learn how to foment better ties with the people around us.
Yet how do we form that connection? Local restaurants handing out flyers in the college center? Probably not. The Administration sending out emails about all the cool sites to visit in the city of Poughkeepsie? Don’t think so. Only when we announce our intentions to become immersed in our city will we be regarded as a part of the community. Only when we declare that we are here to invest in the success of Poughkeepsie will the city then be genuinely interested in our commitment. A Toxic Ash Waste Facility is set to be constructed in Poughkeepsie for the first time in the city’s history. Poughkeepsie’s Burn Plant Facility is about to expand its operations, a construction which has contributed to our city’s “F” rating by Air Quality. A multi-million dollar jail is going to be built in Poughkeepsie, despite our city’s troubling incarceration rate. Influencing these issues, ones that will determine the very nature of the city itself, is how we announce ourselves to the city. Yet what sway can we, mere college students, actually have on such consequential issues?
Did you know that there is a Vassar College student running for a County Legislature position? County Legislatures have the most impact the course of this city and the experience of Vassar students in Poughkeepsie. Unsexy as it may be, local elections often have far more impact on us than Presidential elections. County Legislators are the ones who vote to build, or nix, Toxic Waste Facilities. County Legislators are the ones who vote on the expansion of jails. Seth Warner and Jim Doxsey, the former a Vassar student and the latter a small-business owner, are two fellow community members running for office who ardently defend our environment and those who need a voice in government.
The Vassar Democrats will soon be going around to dorms registering students to vote in Dutchess County. If you are a student at Vassar College, and by extension residents of the city of Poughkeepsie, then you can register to vote here. Care about protecting the environment from the devastation of a toxic waste plant? Or how about helping to establish a more equitable justice system, and supporting at-risk youth in the community? Or even helping the small business owners who run our favorite off-campus restaurants? Then don’t neglect the local elections that make a difference in this community. Elect the people who echo your sentiments, and in the process make Vassar a greater part of the Poughkeepsie community.
—Evan Seltzer ’14 is a political science major.