Last week, I and more than 15 other members of the Vassar College Board of Trustees, in small groups, met with a number of student groups. While members of the Board routinely meet with students, this was an unusually wide set of meetings, occasioned by our interest in hearing directly from students about various campus climate issues. We had no agenda other than to listen.
On behalf of every Board member, I would like to thank the almost 100 students who participated for making the time to meet with us. It was invaluable for Trustees to hear directly from students about their issues and concerns, and to discuss their numerous constructive suggestions about how those concerns could be addressed. These meetings were arranged on relatively short notice, and we know, and appreciate, that a number of the students had to miss scheduled classes or other important activities.
While we recognize that many of the issues discussed are interrelated, we felt that the only way to fully understand the overall campus climate was to try to grasp the details of each important issue; in this regard, we decided to meet with small, focused groups rather than hold one public forum, which served us well.
Trustees met with groups of individual students, as well as students who are members or leaders of the following organizations: Act Out!, many of the organizations supported by the ALANA Center (including, among others, the Asian Students Alliance, the Black Students Union, the Caribbean Students Alliance, and the Multi-Racial/Biracial Students’ Alliance), CARES, Chabad, the Class Presidents, the Feminist Alliance, the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, the Gender Neutral Bathroom Initiative, the House Presidents, the LGBTQ Center, participants in the National Coalition Building Institute program held earlier this academic year, the Posse Veterans Program, the Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC), Squirm, the Student Athletic Advisory Council, The Listening Center (TLC), TransMission, the Vassar Jewish Union, the Vassar Student Association, and the Women’s Center.
In general, the students we met with were impressive, thoughtful, and intensely dedicated to their various causes and concerns. A number of students were very upset, even angry, about several issues, and made that clear to the Trustees with whom they met – this too was valuable for us to understand and experience.
We received more than 40 student recommendations on ways to improve Vassar and the Vassar experience. We have discussed many of those suggestions with the Board, and passed them on to the administration for consideration. Many of them were already being addressed, as demonstrated by the email sent this past Monday by Dean of the College Roellke about the increase in counseling resources and the establishment of a mental health and wellness fund to support students with financial need in accessing off-campus care.
No doubt, there is much to be done to make Vassar the best it can be, and some of those changes will take time. That said, we can all take pride in the successful efforts under President Hill to increase diversity substantially at Vassar, to foster access to marginalized communities, and to ensure that the Vassar experience is affirming and empowering for all our students. These efforts have been widely recognized from The New York Times to the White House. The Trustees and the administration understand that a wide range of students in the diverse community that has been created need additional support mechanisms to ensure that Vassar and they fulfil their potential. We are all committed to meeting those needs.
The Board of Trustees has a policy and oversight role at the College, but does not have responsibility for the day-to-day management issues to which many of the student recommendations relate. Nonetheless, to support Vassar in achieving these goals, the Board will continue to discuss these issues with the administration and monitor progress on the fulsome agenda that President Hill and her senior officers have set to create the kind of culture we want at Vassar, and with which the Board heartily agrees.
Again, I would like to thank those students who met with Trustees for their time, their thoughts, and their dedication to making Vassar a better place. Together, students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumnae/i, and the Board of Trustees, can face the College’s challenges with originality and commitment, to help make Vassar into a place where all feel welcome and cherished, and I urge students to consider how they can contribute to that effort.
Bill Plapinger ’74 P’10
Chair, Board of Trustees