Alumnae/i administrator spotlight: the coffee, tea of SAVP

Erin Boss ’16 (left) and Nicole Wong ’15 (right) pose in SAVP’s office, located in Metcalf House. Both alumna administrators bring to their positions a personal understanding of Vassar student life. Duncan Aronson/The Miscellany News

Vassar administration. The enemy. In student discourse, the two terms are usually interchangeable. Vassar’s administrative bodies are the faceless entities that reduce a student’s financial aid, demolish faculty housing for conference venues and increase campus wages in a way that doesn’t quite add up as advertised. But there are real people—complex people—who have to navigate these complex situations. Getting to know these individuals can create new dimensions, of hopes and successes, challenges and mistakes, intentions and idiosyncrasies, that will ultimately help us relate to Vassar’s administrators. 

My journey starts in Metcalf House, or Metcalf for short, which is the home of Vassar College Counseling Service (VCCS) and the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP). The building’s interior is filled with white walls and dark olive carpets, and brightened by comfortable chairs, colorful posters and equally colorful, tactile manipulatives, like the ones you might have played with in your local pediatrician’s office. 

Metcalf’s full name and the intimate spacing of its halls, rooms and stairs hint at its residential history. Each room has since been repurposed into office spaces with comfortable blue sofas and dark brown desks. Office four, the domain of SAVP Office Director Nicole Wong ’15, did not seem to break from the pattern. SAVP Program Coordinator Erin Boss ’16, whose office is across the hall, joined us. 

Looking down from the vista of retrospection, their life trajectories align in a comprehensible, even straightforward fashion. Their paths have criss-crossed and paralleled one another as they have orbited around the cause of preventing violence and providing support for survivors. First Wong, then Boss worked in their senior years as Community Fellows for the Center for Victim Safety and Support (CVSS). By the time Boss was writing her senior thesis on legislation related to sexual violence, Wong had already made a post-graduation beeline to become the High Risk Case Manager at CVSS. Boss would also find her way back to CVSS as an advocate, overlapping with Wong for about six months. Later, Wong and Boss would work together as the CVSS Coordinator of Advocacy and Dutchess County Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator, respectively. Everything would finally come full circle and converge at Vassar, when Wong was hired by the SAVP office as Vassar’s Violence Prevention Educator, and brought Boss on board. 

The clear-cut metaphor of astrophysics is illusory at best. You might expect a common set of character traits or approaches to life as explanations for their intertwined life-threads, but their personalities are divergent. My oversimplified analogy of choice: Wong is to Boss as coffee is to tea. Wong speaks and processes at a fast clip, and processes even more as she speaks, incrementally building her bridges of thought as she walks on them. Boss, on the other hand, tended to defer to Wong, steeping over Wong’s response to my questions while formulating her own. 

Not only do they have very different dispositions today, but they have been very different people stretching back to their student days, too. “When I was a student I just wanted Vassar to be Hogwarts,” Boss reminisced. “I took it upon myself to try to find all of the secret passages and places…without the Marauder’s Map.” Something tells me she checked “Yes” to the housing application question, “Do you believe in magic?” 

Wong, on the other hand, described herself as a meticulous planner. She pragmatically saved her dining bucks for winter and enjoyed the high bang-for-your-buck breakfast wrap in the toasty indoors. “Working at the Center for Victim Safety and Support, and interning as the Community Fellow and starting my [post-graduation] internship when I did had always been part of the plan,” she confessed. 

Wong hardly took a breath before she hit the ground running; she started work the Monday after her class year’s commencement. She later added more to her plate, taking evening classes through an online residency program to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work at Columbia University. Pretty straightforward, right? 

Actually, Wong was constantly recalibrating and grappling with questions. “I think my plan was finite,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to be doing this work, but I didn’t know in what capacity, I didn’t know where.” When she saw an open postion as a violence prevention educator at Vassar, her career snapped into orbit. 

While planning gave her a general direction in which to travel, she still had to build her bridge as she walked on it. 

In contrast, Boss was in a less optimistic state of mind after graduating. “I had a lot of feelings of burnout at the end of my senior year of being so involved in anti-violence…I didn’t have a job lined up and like it was scary. It’s not a comfortable thing to be plucked out of the Vassar bubble and thrown into the world.” She nannied in New Paltz for six months. Then, wanting a change of scenery, Boss moved to Philadelphia and searched unsuccessfully for nonprofit jobs. Meanwhile, she paid the bills with a customer service job. After attending a friend’s wedding in the Hudson Valley, she realized that she wanted to return more permanently. That’s when she decided to knock on CVSS’ door, and was hired as an advocate. The rest is history. 

In the hiatus between their studying and administering, what was once the SAVP program had expanded into its own administrative body with the new administrative positions Boss and Wong now occupy. They are happy to see this development. With Washington rolling up its sleeves to roll back Obama-era Title IX provisions and shift away from federal influence and survivor-centered philosophies, SAVP’s status as an independent office is more salient than ever. 

Wong and Boss have undertaken winding journeys from their beginnings eating breakfast wraps and searching for Hogwarts. Looking forward, the two are acutely aware of the power vested in their administrative positions and the antagonistic dispositions of some students towards the Vassar administration. They reflect constantly and discuss their positionalities, and the best ways to facilitate trust and erase spaces of distrust. What the future holds for them is uncertain, but I am certain that they will walk forward to their own individual rhythms.

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