On January 26, a letter was disseminated to the campus community via email which called for a major change in the upper levels of administration at Vassar. The letter, authored by the Vassar Student Organizers, outlined multiple situation where the administration failed to utilize impactful change on campus, leading to distrust between students, faculty and administration.
The letter states, “We are calling for new senior leadership. Enough is enough. For the same reasons that President Hill and Dean Roellke have failed at their jobs in the past, we have no reason but to believe that they will continue failing in the future.”
The Vassar Student Organizers asked students, faculty and alumni to forward the letter to Bill Plapinger, the chair of the Board of Trustees, as well as President Catharine Hill and Dean of the College Christopher Roellke.
One of the student organizers explained the importance of the letter for the campus community. “Vassar tries to sell itself as some national anomaly—as a politically ‘progressive’ institution full of radicals. I want this to be less of a lie,” the student organizer wrote in an emailed statement. “I want the school to be run by people who have the heart and mind and education to actually engage with [topics of race, gender, and sexuality] in their everyday lives, in their public discourse, in their leadership and in the policy they implement.”
The letter intends to call for more accountability within the administration to initiate impactful change on campus, starting with the replacement of both President Hill and Dean Roellke.
“[This is] a call for honest accountability, which may mean taking jobs away from people who have admitted and demonstrated failure, does two things in my opinion,” wrote the student organizer. “First, it values the lives of the students who have been undervalued, disrespected and terrorized—it says to those communities ‘when people fail you, they lose their access to power.’ ”
The organizer continued, “Secondly, it sets a precedent, at Vassar, but also I think in academia and I dare say the nation, that establishes that failure and negligence to care about the safety and quality of life for already vulnerable communities, is grounds for losing a job.”
The Vassar Student Organizers agree that major change needs to be made within the upper levels of administration.
Rishi Gune ’17 signed the Vassar Student Organizers letter because he believes change begins in the administration. He commented in an emailed statement, “I think accountability needs to start with the administration. They need to start listening to what we are telling them! The students’ voices need to be heard and that needs to be the top administrative priority.”
In order to see students’ needs fairly prioritized within the administration, the Vassar Student Organizers wish to see more capable and more cooperative individuals help to change the current direction of the school.
“I want the people running this school to have actual education about the reality and function of race, gender and sexuality in this country,” wrote one student organizer. “I want the school to be run by people who have the heart and mind and education to actually engage with these topics in their everyday lives, in their public discourse, in their leadership and in the policy they implement.”
Another student organizer echoed this sentiment. “We hope to see a more integrated administration that has a background in race and gender studies as opposed to one appointed position,” the student added. “If the Deans cared about students of color, LGBTQ students, the SLD, or SAVP, there would be many more resources for the students who feel like the administration has failed them.”
The letter was signed by 203 students and alums and each student had their own reasons for adding their name to the bottom of the piece. Cierra Thomas ’16 found the honesty of the letter particularly important. “In the letter the faults in Vassar’s senior administration are precisely laid out bare for all to see,” wrote Thomas in an emailed statement. “This largely resonated with me because it was brutally honest which is exactly what the President Hill, Dean Roellke, and the Board of Trustees need to hear.”
Like the other students who signed the letter, Thomas wants the letter to Plapinger to make an actual difference in how the College functions moving forward. “First of all, I hope that the problems presented to Vassar’s senior administration aren’t swept under the rug. I hope they don’t try to place a band-aid on a wound that desperately needs surgery,” wrote Thomas.
Amidst an increasingly strained relationship between students and the administration, Thomas’s desire for greater sincerity and frankness in approaching this tension has become the focus of many such gestures aimed at promoting a more genuine dialogue about student issues on campus. Because students feel as though attempts at working within the current system to solve these issues have been unsuccessful, many have sought greater solidarity within the student body to forge a new system. One student organizer wrote in an emailed statement, “We have the power to address our own needs and the needs of Vassar employees. Our many perspectives need to be heeded because we have some great ideas on how this institution can shift for the better.”