“Part of building inclusive communities means seeing our community partners and neighbors as both potential learners and producers of knowledge and expertise” said Professor of Hispanic Studies Eva Woods Peiró, a leader of the Bridging Campus and Local Communities group, when the Bridging Campus and Local Communities group of Vassar’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI) brought members of the Poughkeepsie community to campus to learn more about college on April 27, 2019.
The event, titled “Connecting Our Communities,” focused on building lasting relationships with students from historically underrepresented groups and their families, in order to make Vassar’s campus more accessible to the greater Poughkeepsie community. Vassar students and faculty provided bilingual tours of the campus, while representatives from DCC, Marist, Vassar and SUNY New Paltz conducted college information sessions.
Aside from making Vassar’s campus more inclusive and accessible, the event aimed to illustrate different aspects of college life to Poughkeepsie high school students, who made up the majority of the audience. Vassar student and faculty volunteers hosted various events, such as frisbee tournaments, chemistry experiments and soccer games, to not only get to know Poughkeepsie students better but also to show them different aspects of a college’s academic and social life.
“I know a lot of Vassar students through the Exploring College Program,” said Tania, a junior at Poughkeepsie High School, “but today has been cool because I got to meet more people and see more of the school.”
Professor Woods Peiró reflected on the history of this event how it fits within the group’s mission: “Bridging Campus and Local Communities works to invigorate our critical understanding of and practice community partnership by reimagining our involvement with local and diverse communities in the area as bidirectional, open and integral to our liberal arts curriculum and to our development as critical global citizens.”
It is clear that the event had the best possible outcome that Woods could have hoped for; over 150 Poughkeepsie high school students attended, with many expressing their gratitude and joy for being on campus.
A junior at Poughkeepsie High, Michelle, enjoyed the events and the friendly environment she found at Vassar. “I’m excited for the soccer game later,” she says, “and everyone has been very nice and welcoming.”
As Michelle pointed out, Connecting Our Communities used many volunteers from Vassar’s students, faculty and staff to ensure that Poughkeepsie high schoolers were introduced to different members of the Vassar community. Margaret Edgecombe ’22 was eager to volunteer, as she felt the mission of this event was important to Vassar’s community. “I found out about the sort of work that Eva Woods is doing when I took her class, Building Inclusive Communities,” said Edgecombe. “That’s when I wanted to be involved. This is my first time volunteering, but I think today is going really well! The purpose of this event is to make it clear that Vassar is inclusive for people who historically would not feel comfortable here, even if they live in the area. I think it’s really important work.”
A Vassar Computer and Information Services employee and fellow volunteer, Jean Ross, mentioned how the event was a big success, saying, “I’ve worked with this EPI group for a while, helping with printing flyers, making programs and planning events … This is one of the best events I’ve seen. People have been signing up for events and everyone seems really happy.”
As Ross noted, elation was definitely in the air of the Bridge building that day. Connecting Our Communities brought food, a live student band and several other Vassar student organizations. The atmosphere was optimistic and points to further connections between Vassar and the larger Poughkeepsie community.
This communal ambiance is exactly what Eva Woods was intending with the event. “We’re hoping to hold Connecting Communities every year,” said Woods, “I hope that everyone on Vassar’s campus can be a part of making that happen.”