Google “Vassar College,” click on the first hit and you will be directed to a page featuring a wide horizontal photo. The College’s main website—www.vassar.edu—contains the links to resources and directories to every section and level of the institution, but its central display is a photograph detailing some aspect of campus life. The image constantly changes and is replaced with a new one by the Office of Communications every two or three days.
Collected together and viewed in full, the homepage image offer a sweeping tableau of Vassar history and life, as told through a careful selection of some of its more intriguing and beautiful photos.
Director of Web Development at the Office of Communications Carolyn Guyer oversees the homepage. She works with the office’s web developers and said she has the final decision over which photos make it online and when.
When the homepage updates, two photos are ever the same. In the past month photos appearing on the website homepage have shown a portrait of the women’s rugby team; Vassar’s production of Way of the World; an alumnus from the class of ’89 who was named teacher of the year by People Magazine; a detail from a painting on loan in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center; and Tasty Tuesdays.
The wide selection of photos, according to Guyer, aims to showcase to the general public what she describes as the eclectic range of interests and topics on campus. “[T]he range is quite diverse, and is intended to cumulatively convey the breadth and nuance of the college’s character,” wrote Guyer in an emailed statement, adding, “We cover student life, the full range of academic life, alums, athletics, etc.”
Vice President For Communications Susan Dekrey said that her office is responsible for promoting college information not only to those affiliated with Vassar but also to the outside world.
“The college homepage serves as an entry point for many people who are interested in Vassar. The stories we tell about the college through the photographs, captions and related links on the homepage can give people a sense of the college,” wrote Dekrey in an emailed statement.
Guyer echoed that the website is the public face of Vassar College. “The homepage has an extremely broad audience, including prospectives, campus community, alums, families, local region, other colleges, the media, and basically anyone else in the world who might be interested in Vassar,” she wrote.
The new homepage began in 2011 with the 150th anniversary of Vassar’s founding. Guyer told how the rest of the Office of Communications designed a new homepage, whereby a new image appeared daily on the website in honor of the milestone.
The photos were taken from the archives that showed different points in the college’s history. Each day brought new snapshot of the college in a particular moment in time and in the world, from its time as an all women’s school up to its coeducational present.
“However, changing the homepage daily is almost impossible given our staffing and workload, so for that one year, it was a gift to all who love Vassar and were celebrating our sesquicentennial,” said Guyer. After 2011 she continued to change the homepage, instead of less frequently than once a day. “Changing the image and story three times a week is still a very high challenge, but so far, we’ve been able to meet it,” added Guyer.
Today, nearly three years after the sesquicentennial, the homepage’s backdrop focuses more on the college’s present history: current art installations, features on alumnae/i and student projects. Accompanying each photo will be an explanatory caption and often a link to a story written by a staff member of the Office of Communications.
Guyer said that she plans the homepage far in advance, deciding which photo will appear and when. “Ideally, I try to stay a couple months ahead with prepped homepages, if I can. But I often plan the schedule farther ahead than that,” she wrote.
Occasionally the office will design a special homepage. Examples of this include the annual Halloween digital illustration.
One homepage that proved enduringly popular, Guyer said, was the 2008 April Fools page, which took on the appearance of a mid-1990’s webpage complete with brightly colored font and spinning GIFS. “This site requires Netscape Explorer 3.0 or later,” reads a scrolling bar of text, while another proclaims “Best of the Web 1996.”
Web Developer Chris Silverman created the page, and he was also the one responsible for the past eight annual Halloween pages. This year his page featured an “Architectural rendering for the future Center for the Study of Dark Arts.” A moving graphic of a castle-like building that, from its appearance, shoots lightning bolts and is home to the Eye of Sauron and a giant womp-womp—though Silverman intended it to be a squirrel.
As Silverman wrote in an emailed statement, ”Each project gives me a chance to try something I’m interested in, or explore a new approach, so I’m proud of all of them for different reasons. That said, the Halloween pages are high on the list of the coolest things I’ve worked on at Vassar.”
Every homepage dating back to January 2011 is available in a digital archive found underneath the week’s current photo.