The tangible divide between Vassar and the surrounding Town of Poughkeepsie is clear in the minds of most students. Living on campus means living inside the mythical “Vassar bubble,” in which all destinations that can’t be entered with a quick Vcard swipe fall out of sight.
Most students have come to accept this simply as a part of their Vassar experience, whether they like it or not. We at The Miscellany News see problems with this paradigm. Far too often Vassar students openly express the sentiment that the locals hate them, or that there isn’t anything to do off-campus. Vassar students often talk about the bubble as a joke, however, we encourage students to consider why there seems to be such a sharp divide between the college and the community, and why we have not moved to change this.
From the start of our Vassar careers, we come to understand the universal truism that our community and those surrounding us have a tenuous relationship at best.
After big campus events, it is old habit for administrators and the VSA to field complaints from Poughkeepsie residents irritated about the noise or about drunk students wandering around on their streets and lawns. Rather than dismissing this behavior as typical of young students, we should endeavor to be more considerate of those that live near campus.
There is little to no dialogue among students about our neighbors, and most people do not seem particularly concerned about how our actions reflect the Vassar community’s ideals and affect Poughkeepsie residents around us.
Additionally, in recent years, the campus has had a number of run-ins with town residents coming onto campus, and many of those instances have not ended well for anyone.
Our own hospitality—especially for a supposedly open campus—has proven insufficient, and students and administrators seem more suspicious than welcoming when it comes to community members. In light of our treatment, Poughkeepsie residents’ discomfort and frustration with us can hardly seem inappropriate.
Fortunately, some students have noticed the issues surrounding Vassar’s relationship with the town of Poughkeepsie. One of the largest resources for getting involved in Poughkeepsie is the VSA’s Community Fund, which allocates $10,000 each year for community outreach projects.
However, this is the VSA’s least-used fund. This discrepancy could exist for a number of reasons—students could be uninformed about off-campus activities and organizations, most students are possibly unable to get around Poughkeepsie in a convenient way or perhaps community involvement is simply not a priority on this campus.
The lack of interest in working or living in Poughkeepsie seems to be based more on stereotypes than facts. There are many opportunities in the area surrounding Vassar that suit a multitude of interests and purposes. There are a number of students who have taken the initiative to break the Vassar bubble.
Many students go off campus to do their part in serving the community, either through sustainability-oriented student organizations that work with nearby scholars and activists or through the Vassar After School Tutoring program, in which Vassar community members work one-on-one with young students at Poughkeepsie Middle School. Students are also able to do field work for class credit, which serves as an extra incentive to explore off campus. These examples show that organizing events and programs off campus is not impossible, and in fact often yields useful and rewarding opportunities to those willing to put in the extra time and work.
Therein, however, lies the problem. The effort required, to many students, outweighs the excitement of exploring the people and places outside the bubble. We at The Miscellany News believe that the Administration must take action against this imbalance. It is clear through the College’s efforts to change campus culture with the smoking ban that the Administration is ready and willing to make long-term changes to Vassar culture and experiences.
The same student body will not be here in five years. The structure of the College and the institutional power that it has, however, will, and so the onus of making this change must fall on administrators, faculty and staff.
We have seen very little effort from the College’s leadership to address the concerns students have had with the pervading sense of isolation Vassar has from its surrounding community. Students know that this problem does not stem from a lack of activities and opportunities that are available. Students must, then, challenge this status quo, lest they be content to define their Vassar experience solely by what happens on campus.
We commend the College for the efforts that it has already taken to help students get off campus. The Field Work office provides student drivers for those who do not have cars, and some student groups reach out to Poughkeepsie businesses when planning events. This is a good start, but there is much more to do.
Perhaps the College can start by changing the rhetoric and language it uses when it refers to the campus and the community. Many students complain that Poughkeepsie is boring and unsafe, but maybe if both students and administrators made an effort to see the positive aspects of Vassar’s location, students would be more inclined to explore the surrounding area.
In addition, classes often take trips to New York City to supplement what students are learning in the classroom, and for good reason. New York is home to multiple cultural and educational institutions, and we absolutely should take advantage of our proximity to the city.
However, it is much rarer for classes to go on trips to local events or attractions. This would not only be more convenient, but would also expose students to what the Hudson Valley has to offer and help to dispel misconceptions about Poughkeepsie. The Hudson Valley features a number of art galleries, local cultural heritage centers and many hiking trails.
Although there are many reasons for Vassar students to get involved in Poughkeepsie, perhaps the most important one is that we will not be students on a campus for the rest of our lives. It is important that we learn to engage with our communities regardless of where we live, and only staying within the confines of the bubble will not benefit us after we graduate.