From Nov. 1 to 3, students from the nation’s prominent women’s colleges visited Vassar’s campus for the Seven Sisters Conference.
“The Seven Sister’s Conference as a concept has happened several times throughout history,” explained Vassar Student Association (VSA) President Deb Steinberg ’14. “I was doing some research before putting on this conference and I think it was in the 1980’s that they went through and were doing conferences. Then it stopped for a while, just because when those students graduate it’s harder to keep it going if you don’t really motivate some of the underclassmen,” Steinberg said.
She continued, “I know they did it again at Vassar in the year 2000. I think in the year 2008 or 2009 it started up again, maybe in the year 2010, and Vassar wasn’t invited originally. Then two years ago we kind of pushed our way in and invited ourselves to Mt. Holyoke; we went to Mt. Holyoke, and they liked us. They invited us back to Smith, and they were like, ‘I guess we can do it at Vassar’, and we were like, ‘Cool.’”
While the conference took place last weekend, Steinberg and other members of the VSA have been planning the event for months.
The main day of the conference, Saturday, Nov. 2, was divided into four phases. They focused on collaboration between the Seven Sisters and how each college could improve from its relationship with the other sister colleges.
“Benedict [Nguyen ‘15] and I have been meeting about once a week since the beginning of the year to plan out the conference itinerary and all of the logistics,” Steinberg revealed. “Then I worked with [Assistant Director of Residential Life/ Leadership and Development] Terry Hanlon and [Executive Director of Activities] Terry Quinn to plan the first phase of the conference; I worked with [VP of Activities] Stephanie Goldberg and the VSA Activities Committee to plan the second phase; [Nguyen] and I planned out the third phase; and Benedict worked with [Coordinator of the Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Program] Elizabeth Schrock to plan the fourth phase,” she said.
On her involvement in the conference, VSA VP for Activities Stephanie Goldberg ’14 said, “Members of the Activities Committee—[President of Strong] Carolina Gustafson [’15], Claire Grosel [’14], [President of Main House] Reuben Moncada [’15]—and I planned and presented one of the four phases of the conference. Specifically, we focused on Phase II—Intercollegiate Collaboration.”
Steinberg acknowledged that the goals of the conference change from year to year. “The host gets to decide,” she said, “So two years ago, it was very much geared at political action, last year it was all about individual leadership development, and this year we decided to focus on collaboration.”
One activity during the conference that encouraged discussion was participants breaking off into pairs. Later, they grouped themselves by school to discuss what they learned from those dialogues. A representative from each college then shared their overall findings to the whole conference.
“Our expectations for Phase II and the conference were exceeded in the best ways,” Goldberg said on the exercise, “During Phase II, they were so engaged in discussion that we had to ask them to hold their thoughts and conversations for a later time so we could proceed with the next activities. [Gustafson], [Grosel], [Moncada] and I were all so happy and proud that the presentation for Phase II was so thought-provoking.”
Raymond House President Ramy Abbady ’16 commented, “The VP for Activities [Goldberg] identified four major areas that make a college run. So we’re breaking up into pairs and talking about each area at our colleges and what areas can be improved.”
“It’s easy to think that we’ve lost a lot of connections to the Seven Sisters because we’re co-ed now,” he said, “But, despite that difference, we are still a small liberal arts college with similar situations to the other Sisters in many ways. I think there’s a lot we can learn from each other.”
Other members of the VSA also weighed in on the experience. “As a member of VSA Council I was expected to attend the conference,” said Moncada, “However, even if I wasn’t expected to attend, I was interested in attending the conference anyway because of how interested I am in how our sister schools structure their student government.”
He continued, “Particularly, I’m interested in what kind of implications their student government has for the various aspects of campus life, like campus activities for example.”
Abbady agreed with this assessment. “I was really excited to be involved because I wanted to know how other schools’ student governments work, and what challenges their schools face. As I learned, a lot of us deal with the same problems on our campuses,” he said.
Students from Vassar’s sister colleges were also pleased with the discussion.“I got an idea of the ways other SGAs [student government associations] run at other schools. I got to see how their SGAs are more efficient that ours, and how our SGA is more efficient than theirs. So I got to pick up on some key ideas that we can possibly use to improve,” said Smith College student Shreeya Rajanarayanan.
“We often talk about all of the things we could be doing better, but we so rarely take the opportunity to think about all of the things we do well, especially compared to other schools,” said Steinberg, “This conference reminded me how wonderful Vassar is. We still have some things to fix here, but we should also make sure to take the time to appreciate everything that makes Vassar special.”
“Honestly, the conference was ten times better than I had expected,” Abbady concurred. “There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of students, allowing for all of the students to really get to know each other and share about their respective colleges in a more intimate way.”
“I learned a lot; not just about student government, but about broader campus issues that we all have in common,” he went on. “I also got to meet some very interesting people that I plan to stay in contact with.”
Goldberg affirmed, “I truly enjoyed the conference and meeting new individuals of the Seven Sisters. I also appreciated exchanging information with students holding similar positions to my own.”
“The implicit goal of the conference is to celebrate and strengthen the relationship between the historical Seven Sisters Colleges. I think everyone had a great time and had the opportunity to network, reinforce our similarities, and learn more about our differences,” Steinberg noted.
She echoed enthusiasm for the conference, concluding, “Beyond that, the explicit goal of the conference was to collaborate with one another. We addressed how to do that on our own campuses, with each other, as the ‘Seven Sisters’ and with the greater community. We started many important conversations about inclusion, accessibility, traditions, sustainability and more, and I hope everyone continues them throughout the year and beyond.”