Since the beginning of my time at Vassar, I’ve been closely connected to the issues that affect various communities on campus. The first essay I ever wrote for a class was one that grappled with the question of what Vassar’s purpose of education was, which I will admit is one that is nuanced and complicated; in my freshman year I worked with Campus Climate, Spectrana, the VSA Academics committee and various other orgs to push the campus culture towards one that is more just and socially conscious. It has not been an easy endeavor, but the people I met through that process have continued to remind me of my purpose and motivate me to continue working toward these goals.
Over that year I developed a really strong interest in the racial climate on college campuses and I really wanted to better understand how the administration was actually going about dealing with student concerns. I personally always felt like things weren’t getting done fast enough and that there were obvious glaring issues that weren’t being thought about. This semester I started interning with the Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity, Ed Pittman. Working in the Campus Life and Diversity Office has given me the space and support to continue to develop and help operate a program more than a decade old called the Campus Life Resource Group, or the CLRG for short.
The CLRG began in 2000 when a Vassar comedy group, in an attempt at satire, used the word “nigger” in a skit. This offended many members of our community and after weeks and weeks of sustained conversation and healing the CLRG came to fruition. Students at the time wanted there to be a group that could sustain dialogue about the difficult issues that our campus endured. Over the years, as the founding members graduated and moved on, the CLRG became more institutionalized, which required continual support from Vassar Administration. Its purposes and prominence on campus have also changed as other groups on campus also sought to take on similar issues that the CLRG would try to address.
I still think the CLRG is a necessary entity that is able to connect with people from various facets of campus so that they can engage in dialogue on pressing issues via conversation dinners which are open to faculty, students, and administrators who are not members of the group. There haven’t been any conversation dinners this year up to this point because I did not want them to seem like an inevitable and mechanical production but rather something that came out of an organic process.
A guiding principle that I entered the semester with was that this group would be more student-centered so that the students who entered the space could define the goals of the CLRG, rather than the other way around. This was a bigger challenge than I expected it would be for various reasons, one of them being that everyone who entered the space had a somewhat different point of view on what its purpose should be. Still, as a student intern, I was able to shift things around to make meetings a more conducive time for conversation and consciousness-raising.
This year’s CLRG sessions have worked to grapple with topics like the issues of tone policing and “call-out” culture among students and the difficulties that such dynamics present. Another project of the CLRG has been to organize All College Day. This year we piloted a new planning process which entails having fewer short meetings but instead a few longer meetings so that members could talk more in depth about what they envision the event to be like.
In the past, the CLRG did so by having a series of shorter meetings throughout the beginning of the school year which often presented various difficulties, such as finding a time when everyone could meet and come up with ideas for a truly transformative program. I wholeheartedly believe that the annual All College Day event this year will depart in some ways from its past iterations but will still meet its goal of sparking necessary conversation. It’s extremely important that we continue to have these conversations and the CLRG space has worked to sustain them this year. What I want more people to know who might be afraid to have these conversations is that it’s okay to be nervous. It’s okay to say the wrong thing. The nature of community is that in spite of difference, we can talk about them and learn from one another.
—Alejandro McGhee ’16 is an educational studies major. He is an intern for the Campus Life and Diversity office