Disorientation rehashes campus controversies

Courtesy of Olivia Watson/The Miscellany News

“Refuse to see the university as a place of enlightenment.” 

So say the authors of this year’s Disorientation Guide—a student-authored pamphlet critiquing the college—which evocatively implores students to engage in a culture of dissonance: to “change everything” by “beginning anywhere,” in its own words. 

On Aug. 30, 2019, a group of Vassar students released the second installment of the Guide and publicized it with flyers taped around campus. A sheet printed black with a QR code linked students to the guide’s electronic form, a departure from its physical circulation last year. 

This year’s Disorientation Guide marks the second consecutive year that an anonymous group of students has sought to spread information contrary to what the institution provides first-years during their Orientation Week—a goal explicitly stated in the guide’s introduction. Furthermore, its aim is to “to disrupt the narrative that Vassar is committed to being a ‘just, diverse, egalitarian and inclusive college community’” (Issuu, “Vassar Disorientation Guide,” 2019). 

Much like last year, the Disorientation Guide provides extensive critiques of Vassar, including its relationship with the Poughkeepsie community; views of Poughkeepsie evidence of burnout among students; the use of Wappinger people’s land to establish the College; a timeline of student activism on campus pertaining to environmental justice and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and a discussion of Vassar’s relationships with the New York State Prison System.

“While we do apologize for any harm that was caused…the response was frankly ridiculous.”

—Disorientation Guide author(s)

This year’s guide included substantial revisions and additions, particularly to statements considered inflammatory around campus, including the oft-mentioned quote “slap a zionist <3.” The new introduction features the following statement: “Vassar…is still an incredible place in many ways and most of us generally enjoy our time here.” Still, the writers maintain that, “while we do apologize for any harm that was caused and acknowledge that last year’s guide…the response was frankly ridiculous.” 

As was acknowledged in The Miscellany News’ coverage of last year’s guide, pamphlets akin to the guide have appeared at peer institutions, such as Amherst College and the University of Pennsylvania. The writers of this year’s Disorientation Guide agreed to discuss the publication with The Miscellany News once more, again contingent on their maintained anonymity. 

The writers maintained that their reasons for releasing a new guide were based on the same frustrations presented in the previous one. In particular, they consider many issues raised in the guide to have been drowned out by the ensuing controversy surrounding it: “House teams justified this policing and censoring by alluding to the fact that first-years may feel uncomfortable. Our response is: good! 

“The people affected by Vassar’s complicity in these oppressive systems do not have the liberty to choose whether or not to feel comfortable. We need to stop catering to white upper-class folks’ comfort and instead reveal what our initiation perpetuates and engage in critical analysis about what our roles as students are,” the authors explained. [Editor’s note: all house teams are required to remove all non-authorized posters].  

When asked about what its specific critiques of the College could mean for conversations in the future, the authors of the guide commented, “[The critiques] are important because they all reveal the same things: Vassar perpetuates this idea that it is a progressive, welcoming institution, while it simultaneously contributes to and benefits off of the oppressive systems…all students need to realize that Vassar is complicit in cementing the same racist, xenophobic ideology it says it stands against.”

Administrators have not commented on the new edition of the Guide, with a note from President Bradley indicating that last year’s statements do not apply in this context, but student leaders have. In response to an email inquiry, VSA President Carlos Eduardo Espina ’20 wrote: “If any student has suggestions on how to improve the campus, I invite them to attend our weekly Senate meetings … If students cannot attend a senate meeting, they can just email me with whatever they want to talk about.”

The Disorientation Guide, in its two years of existence, has been cemented in the memory of the college’s student body as a polarizing work. After last year, various student groups released statements in response to it. William A. Jacobson, a conservative commentator whose 2017 on-campus lecture was met with fierce criticism from the student organization Healing to Action (H2A), wrote a response to a section in the 2018 edition critical of his appearance. The question remains as to whether the “tradition” will continue, or will it fade out as students, it seems, come to expect it.

One Comment

  1. Vassar was built on the former site of the Dutchess County Race Course, which had formerly been a farm. Tragically, the Wappinger people had ceased to exist in the area as many as 50 years before Vassar College was constructed. The building of Poughkeepsie, the city the authors would have Vassar more openly embrace, most certainly displaced Wappinger peoples, and the Dutch people who built the city killed many of them. Thank you for sharing the guide with the world outside Vassar. The authors’ message is degraded by its being severely one-sided (and wildly over-long), and they clearly hold grudges with a Vassar administration that was indeed very flawed … but is long gone. Finally, if the authors are not going to threaten violence anymore, as they are reported to have done last year, why the anonymity? Cowardly.

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