From Friday, Feb. 7 to Sunday, Feb. 9, the Vassar Student Administration (VSA) hosted the annual Seven Sisters Conference. The conference began in 1915, when Vassar President Henry Noble MacCracken called together Wellesley, Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges to discuss the quality of women’s higher education (VC Encyclopedia, “The Founding of the Seven Sisters Conference”). In 1926, the Four College Conference expanded to include Radcliffe, Bryn Mawr and Barnard to become what are now known as the Seven Sisters schools. Since then, the gathering of the Seven Sisters schools has evolved into an event in which the student government associations (SGAs) of each college converge to commiserate and discuss the problems each SGA faces.
Because the host of the conference alternates each year, Vassar hadn’t held the forum since 2014. With little to no information on how Vassar planned the last conference, organizing this year’s event posed a challenge. When asked about what planning such a large event was like, VSA Vice President Jenny Luo ’20 described the process as “Stressful, but also fun. Because I feel like I had freedom to do anything.” The conference was organized with assistance from the Operations Committee. The committee brainstormed bonding activities ranging from a showcase of Vassar’s a capella and comedy organizations to a night at the observatory. However, time was of the essence. There was only so much time to coordinate housing for attendees, cater meals and request rooms on campus.
The Seven Sisters Conference is typically held during the fall semester, so this year’s conference was unusually late. Ideally, the conference would have been planned during the summer. However, due to poor communication between the Seven Sisters schools, the VSA didn’t know Vassar was the proverbial chosen one until August, leaving little time for a traditional fall conference. Communication issues continued when Luo mentioned the complications reaching out to the six different institutions (Radcliffe College has merged with Harvard University). Despite the hiccups, the conference accomplished bringing 22 students together to learn from one another.
On Saturday morning, the post-breakfast ice-breakers gave way to a large circle discussion about the various compositions of each SGA. Some have organization senators, while others don’t. Some SGAs livestream their senate meetings; some meet Tuesday night, while others prefer a Sunday afternoon. The conversation flowed from government structures to projects. The group began discussing Barnard’s First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) Library for accessible textbooks, then eventually found inspiration in the VSA Health and Wellness committee’s first-aid kits initiative.
Mount Holyoke’s Chair of Halls Dannye Carpenter ’22 was impressed by the work being done by the other Seven Sisters schools. She remarked, “It’s a constitutional review year at Mount Holyoke, so it will be really good to implement some of the innovations that other schools, including Vassar, have into our SGA structure.” Whatever the topic, conversation centered around how to better support students through governance.
Despite breaking off into smaller groups during lunch, the sound of students chattering echoed through the Aula well into the afternoon. Discussion wasn’t solely serious— bursts of laughter rang out, and there were whispers of tunnels underneath the Wellesley hills and stories of Mount Holyoke’s infamous Jorge “the Menace” goose. All too often, SGAs, and college students at large, are inundated with minute-by-minute agendas. Take a look at anyone’s Google Calendar—so much of our time is structured. Instead, the Seven Sisters Conference encouraged unstructured conversation.
Dinner came and went. Afterward, the group continued the festivities with an impromptu “shindig” at the Days Inn, then rising early for Sunday’s closing breakfast. As snow gently drifted outside the Ordan Meeting Room windows, the students inside spoke about anything from the projects they wanted to enact to their dogs’ cuteness.
At that moment, it felt more like a group of friends, sisters even, than a formalized conference.