Senior Retrospective: Sarah Zimmerman

For the past week, I’ve thought a lot about what I should say in this article. I know I was probably asked to write something for this issue because I’ve been a part of the comedy community here at Vassar. I considered writing an article to reflect that—something kooky to sum up my comedy career during my time here. But then I realized that this issue will probably be read by a lot of parents. And that’s when I decided I should use this opportunity to actually say something.

First of all, I should say that I have enjoyed the time I’ve spent on campus, the students I’ve met here, and the opportunities I’ve had to explore my interests. I know that if I had gone to any other school, I might not have even discovered my love of improv and sketch comedy, nor had the confidence to start writing and producing my own content. I have Vassar Improv and No Offense to thank for that. I love you guys.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s be honest. During my time here, I’ve often been made to feel powerless by the Vassar administration. I say this because these four years have been a big lesson on the fact that the administration does not care if students are unhappy. They care if parents and alumni are unhappy, because they’re the ones paying the bills. If parents pay tuition, who is the customer? Because it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s the students.

First, there is the administration’s shameful mismanagement of several different cases of sexual assault. This year, a number of sexual assault survivors came forward to reveal how thoroughly the administration had mishandled their cases. Parents, I encourage you to ask your kids about these cases. I’m sure they’ve heard about them. These survivors had reported being assaulted, and never received any sort of justice. In fact, many of the survivors said that their experience with the administration was actively traumatizing, and made it harder to heal after the assault. As a woman on this campus, I can tell you I would not feel comfortable reporting an assault to this administration. They have proven time and again that they do not stand for the survivors.

Thankfully, there have been options for survivors outside of the administration. These have included peer-to-peer listening services like CARES and The Listening Center. Survivors have been able to call these organizations and speak with fellow students trained to listen and support them. These organizations have been truly amazing additions to the community here, and this month the administration announced it will be shutting them down because of the liability risk. What can we do about it? Nothing. We are powerless to stop it. So now survivors have truly nowhere to turn to.

Need another example? Check out Professor Don Foster’s article “When the Vassar Bubble Pops, What Then?” It’s a powerful analysis of how Vassar has mismanaged its money during Cappy’s tenure as president. Parents, did you know that Vassar’s spending on administration has increased dramatically, while spending on teaching has decreased? If you didn’t, ask your kid to show you the article. The statistics will shock you. And it’s not like these changes have gone unnoticed by students. I have experienced many different course-selection periods when I’ve noticed that departments have very few classes offered. Ask any student and they’ll tell you they wish there were more classes. With more professors, we get more classes.

Parents, ask your kid about when the administration announced a new head of the LGBTQ center without any student input. The result? A letter from the heads of eight different student administrations denouncing their choice, because the professor was known to disrespect and misgender trans students in their classes.

Ask your kid about the lack of sufficient mental health services on campus, or the several different times the Office of Residential Life has made serious mistakes in room draws, or how the new bridge building has gendered bathrooms. Ask them how long it took the administration to admit that security on this campus uses racial profiling. Or simply ask them about their personal interactions with administrators. I know several people who have walked out of meetings with certain deans crying. I have had my own run-ins with the administration that have been dissatisfactory at best, and ridiculous at worst.

I want to be clear—I am not the first student to speak about the failings of the administration. The articles I’ve cited have been amazing at pointing out exactly how this administration has failed students. But these articles (and the discussions we have amongst ourselves) are directed at our fellow students. They do not alert the “true customers” to the issues. Parents, if the administration sees you as the real customers, I want to tell you you’re not getting your money’s worth.

I also want to be clear that I don’t necessarily think Vassar is unique. The problems found in this administration could probably be found at other schools. But I don’t have any personal knowledge of the experiences of other schools. I can only speak to Vassar’s problems.

I think part of graduating is seeing the good of a place like this, and everything it’s done for you. And it can be hard to criticize a place that existed long before you got there, and will remain after I leave. That’s why it’s so easy for these problems to persist—dissatisfied students will leave, while administrators remain. That’s why I didn’t want to brush over the problems I’ve seen here in the interest of positivity.

So Vassar, I’m sick of feeling like nothing will change because I’m “just a student.” I’m sick of knowing that the administration can get away with pure mediocrity because the people paying the bills aren’t even here to witness their failings. So here I am, letting you know, I am not a satisfied customer. My love of this school is tied only to the students I’ve met here—I have no love for the administration.

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