Follow The Town Hall Meeting- 18 November

*THESE ARE NOT DIRECT QUOTATIONS. THESE ARE ABBREVIATED COMMENTS FROM SPEAKERS*

The moderators will be:

Nicole Wong ’15

Julian Williams, Director of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Title IX Officer

The panel includes:

Christopher Roellke, Dean of the College

Marianne Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning

President Hill

Deb Steinberg, President of the VSA

Stephen Rock, Acting Dean of Faculty

WILLIAMS: These sorts of event are what hold us together. Events like this connect staff, faculty, and students.

STEINBERG: Vassar has a commitment to shared governance, and this town hall epitomizes this. We as students are part of the conversation about what happens in this community. Often we as students are the driving force behind positive solutions. We must both listen and speak up. I speak with all of the members of panel on a regular basis.

ROCK: I am more interested in hearing from you than you are in listening to me. In the Dean of the Faculty Office we are discussing curricular changes. One of the main ideas is the required capstone project. A capstone project was the idea of Dean Chenette over a year and a half ago. This may come before the faculty  in the spring semester, depending on the progress in the coming weeks. We have student representatives on CCP.

We are also considering reducing the number of credits for graduation from 34 to 32. We are looking at possibly limiting the number of distribution requirements of specific majors. We are also looking at limiting the number of double and triple majors. We have been analyzing the ways we could change the CEQ system, specifically the numerical questions and including a narrative sheet that goes alongside the

Gender neutral bathrooms are being discussed with faculty. Pre-registration has also been problematic for many students.

HILL: I want to listen to all of you. But I want to note that I am an economist, and my experience is focused on studying socioeconomic access in higher education. Some of my sabbatical work at Oxford University focused on this issue. I worry these days that American higher education is shifting in not the best way, away from need blind financial aid to merit based financial aid. However Vassar has been working hard to fight this trend.

BEGEMANN: The Library, Faculty Housing, and the Wimfheimer are a few of the areas of campus that fall under my purview. I also work with the Campus Investor Responsibility Team.

ROELLKE: The Dean of the College area is the bridge of the academic and residential lives at Vassar. I have tried to dismantle the divisions between departments. With your help as students, we planted 1,100 trees and did other campus beautification projects. Thank you to the President for organizing this event, I think it will help make our goals more transparent and let us hear student input.

My expertise is with urban education. I am very proud of what Vassar has done in this department. Vassar students have worked on Exploring College and other tutoring programs.

We still need to work on Title IX issues. Students have said that we also need to help students prepare more for life after Vassar. We also want to make better connections with the hardworking member of our campus. We are also continuing to work on residential and academic improvements to study spaces.

QUESTION PERIOD:

Logan ’15: You said that we need to do more work on social justice, what projects would those be?

ROELLKE: We need to keep improving protocol for bias incident reporting. I think we need to continue to listen to students and faculty about how we can make this community better.

HILL: The trends in the US in the last 40 years in terms of social justice, in my opinion, have really deteriorated. I think that Vassar must make a contribution to granting education to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. We then need to help them once they get here. I think we must think about climate change. I know some of us have different views on how to address this, but I think that all of you are going to be living in a world that we need to worry about. I think we can educate and influence policy-makers.

TEWA ’15: Can you speak, Dean Rock, to why the limiting of majoring and double majoring?

ROCK: Some faculty members are concerned that students are getting to narrow a focus while at Vassar. If you are double majoring in departments that have high distribution requirements, then you have very little units left outside of your majors to expand your horizons. I think the same is true for students who have one major but two correlates. Many faculty members also hear reports from students who say they are struggling to complete their majors and correlates.

ERIN ’15: Shouldn’t students have the choice to narrow their focus if they so choose?

ROCK: That is the other side of the argument and there is a trade-off at some level. I think that there are many ways to go about the limiting process. Certain majors are more conducive to double majoring. Also, if you are majoring in two different fields of study, then you are getting breadth, so the limitations may not apply to you. Moreover, we will certainly would take student views into account.

HILL: There is also a concern that some students are spreading themselves a little thin in order to simply acquire the major or correlate requirements.

AT LARGE: I agree with that, but I do think that it should be an option. I think students should be advised against it, but they should have the right to make up there mind.

HILL: There is another concern about the overcommitment of students is that one student who is taking a wide variety of academic burdens may be taking the spot of a student with a more limited major, thus preventing them for taking a class they need even for their single major.

CAT ’15: I would love to see more student seminars that are more lecture-based or at least more academic approach. I don’t want to take a year-long art class in the Art Department, but a student-run class may be a better option.

ROELLKE: My role does not include the faculty, but I think that as a faculty member I appreciate that comment. I do think there is a real benefit from talking to Vassar faculty about this issue.

ROCK: I think in principle in that idea. I just wonder at how this would be organized, who would give lectures, etc. I think that faculty members would be happy to give lectures or a once every so often event, but they wouldn’t want to teach a half-unit on top of their other work.

JULIANNA ’14: There has been a concern about hate-speech on campus. What broader events are happening in the future and what has the administration done?

HILL: I hope that we can have more events like this.

ROELLKE: We are still learning from the improvements we made over the summer by the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT). I am thinking about when the WBC came to protest us. We can use this as a way of rethinking how we respond to hate-speech. I know that events are ongoing about bias incidents. BIRT has another meeting this Wednesday. We, speaking for the Dean of the College Office, have tried to make people more accountable.

ROB ’14: In what ways could you bring in the social consciousness requirement? We have a climate that encourages homophobia, trans*phobia, and sexism, and we must address this.

ROCK: In terms of education, I think that the vast majority of students already take courses that would fall into the category of a social justice requirement. Moreover, I think there is a better way of preventing hate-speech than teaching a class because I don’t think that this is ignorance.

ROELLKE: I want to trumpet the work of the Committee Inclusion and Excellence. We are considering re-orientation opportunities. The work we do on social consciousness is not a one-time deal, but rather they must be continually addressed.

ROB ’14: I think that is really important that the work we are doing is not so limited, but rather we are bringing these conversations into the classroom in critical ways.

INOA: This isn’t just on the faculty or the staff in terms of education; we need to all work together to educate each other.

ALAMO: I agree with Inoa , however I slightly disagree with the role of education. I think that some of my students come into my class speaking very poorly about issues of race and other forms of identity. I think that the institution can be more proactive and show some institutional will. I think that it is good to make professors who don’t want to learn about how to ‘teach diversity.’ We all need to learn new traditions and fields.

ROCK: I don’t disagree substantially with what you have said. I think that the classes are already there. I worry about, and others worry about, is that you can’t take a person who doesn’t want to get along with others, teach them diversity, and then expect them to come out accepting diversity.

BEN: I think that the students who are doing these incidents hate-speech are probably are not taking these classes. Students cannot be happy in their ignorance. And I agree with Professor Alamo’s comment about institutional will.

HILL: This issue is one that falls completely in the Faculty’s domain. It would have to go before CCP and be discussed.

ROCK: The social consciousness requirement came before CCP and the committee did not want to support it. I think that the committee felt that many courses where this dialogue can take place. Moreover, most all of our students are already taking these classes.

ERIN ’15: I think that a student committee to explain our opinions on this issue would be helpful. I think that it was unfortunate that the requirement failed to pass in the spring. I think there is more room to discussion.

ERIN ’16: Dean Roellke, I think you mentioned a re-orientation process. In what ways would you incorporate student feedback, especially beyond house officers who are fairly self-selecting?

ROELLKE: This is very much in its pilot stage and are definitely looking into feedback.

PITTMAN: Last year the Vassar First Year Orientation Committee analyzed identity and what role it played in orientation. We found we had a very vague connection to this concept. There is a committee meeting now on this issue. Right now we envision a 2 day re-orientation event. There would be 2 speakers who will come, as well as faculty engagement, at a spring orientation event.

INOA: I want to work with the ALANA Center, the Women Center, and the LGBTQ Center, the International Students Office, to discuss making safer spaces for students in residential spaces.

LAYMON: As a member of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence, we knew that we a requirement was not enough. Also we knew the requirement would not pass on the Faculty Floor. I think that in many ways the students are more educated than the faculty in this way. We are trying instead of a requirement, to come up with creative ways to educate this campus. We want to change the CEQs, adopt a spring orientation, and teaching faculty on issues of diversity. We want more than a course.

LAUREN: I don’t think this question can be answered right off the bat. I don’t think that whiteness, which perpetuates many other issues of racism, sexism, etc.  is being recreated on this campus. I want to challenge you to talk about things as it is. I want more than a list of things that you can do.

GISELLE: I think we need to do things that help students who don’t need to battle ignorance, but who need to be healed after facing issues or racism, sexism, classism, ablism. I want to make sure that we help students who have been hurt.

ROELLKE: There have been discussions of trying to increase the support to students. We are working as hard as we can to help students. One of the challenges that lies ahead is getting more skill at that support. We do need to do better.

WILLIAMS: I can tell you that, in light of the bias incidents, we as administrators and faculty members feel your pain and we feel it too. We can always do better.

MYA: There is a huge amount of apathy on this campus. Look at the number of people here versus the campus at large. I think we need to get to a point that bad press can eventually turn into good press. Consider installation art projects or other actions that are aggressive.

ROELLKE: I wish that students had the benefit of being here longer. The progress has been slow and painful, but progress has been made and it has been significant and palpable. We are trying to be more transparent and we are acknowledging that we need to do more.

WILLIAMS: The Privilege Campaign is an artistic and campus-wide campaign.

AT LARGE: One frustration that I have had is the degree of apathy on this campus.

LEO ’15: I don’t think that there is enough support for directors of the LGBTQ Center, ALANA Center, and the Women’s Center. I don’t want to shut you down, I want to work with you.

JENNIFER ’15: I think the support networks are there but they are being fought for by the same people. It is an exhausting fight and the same people are being tokenized and overworked. The resources can’t go as far as they can and do everything they want if they don’t have institutional support behind them. As senior officers, when you get people in the room, you need to do more than speak, but rather act. We need to work on action.

HILL: I kind of object and think that it’s kind of unfair. This is our entire community’s problem, not jus the administration’s. I think that we are improving and we are working very hard with faculty and students. I think we are working in the right direction. We must work together on these issues. We shouldn’t be blamed, but people should .

ROB: Who else can we hold responsible? You have so much authority? You admit people and grant professors tenure.

HILL: Do you want us to not admit certain applicants or not provide tenure.

AT LARGE: Why are we accepting students who are ignorant and unwilling to learn. It harms our community and it makes students feel unsafe here.

HILL: I hear you but I really worry that what people are suggesting stereotyping. I think we can change a person over the four years when they are here; they can grow and change during their time at Vassar.

AT LARGE: A course and classwork can really change people’s minds. Students are forced in the classroom to accept that problems arise.

GISELLE: There is a lack of transparency and students are forced to go to the same people for assistance constantly. If there are things happening by the administration, I don’t feel it or see it.

HILL: I think that over longer periods of time, we are improving. 8 years ago the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence. We have tried to talk about what we are doing in terms of curriculum. It might not be visible in a year or two, but there have been institutional changes.

ROELLKE: We run into the risk sometime of cheerleading of all the things we do. I have worked like hell on educational outreach, and I don’t want to champion that all the time. I would battle your statement and say I want to tell you everything, but I don’t want to become a cheerleader. I think a lot of the work that is done is completed confidentially to respect students’ rights.

AT LARGE: I think that we need to also talk about stereotyping not just in the admissions process, but we should also acknowledge that there is stereotyping people face when they get here.

INOA: I think that safety is a spectrum, not just ‘safe’ and ‘not safe.’ But you were able to get up and express this opinion. There is some agency and some voice for students, but we understand that students are not comfortable being completely themselves. We want to make this space as safe as possible.

JOSHUA ’16: How would you define shared-governance? There are things that were passed by the VSA that are suggested to the administration and now we know very little of what happened. There is an issue of connecting the dots of what happens in the administration.

HILL:  I meet once a month with the VSA, as do other senior officers. I think that shared governance means that students can suggest topics before the administration and we can then talk some more before

WILLIAMS: I would like to give 5 minutes for Senior Officers to say closing remarks.

ROELLKE: I hope that this is seen as an attempt at shared governance. I learned from students that when you critique the administration and the institution, they do it out of love and want to make it better. I think that students are looking for acknowledgement of the issues. I want to open myself to further discussions and collaborations.

BEGEMANN: I want to acknowledge that not everybody here are speaking up and in classes not everybody feels empowered to speak. Listen to the voice that aren’t always willing to speak up because they have something to say.

HILL: I think we are all committed to making Vassar a perfect place; this will never happen because every year we get students who come from an imperfect place. We must be more proactive in the future.

ROCK: I want to thank everybody here, especially those who speak up regarding the social consciousness requirement. I don’t think that social consciousness cannot be learned, but rather I think it may not be successful in the classroom. My personal development in terms of social justice or consciousness I did not learn from a class itself, but in the interactions of a class or the living situation. There is a place for the classroom for this learning process, but it has to be much larger than that.

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