One might call the Vassar Facebook scene a Cerberus of sorts. Outsiders may turn to the supposed three heads of the beast—Vassar: The Virtual Version, Vassar: The Virtual Version But We Won’t Delete Discourse (stylized as vassar: the virtual version but we won’t delete discourse), and subgroups like VC Lost and Found or Vassar Online. Since its birth at the onset of the pandemic, Vassar students have coddled this creature in hopes for connection, sharing and discussing their experiences in a virtual space that compensates for the missing social life of campus. But venture deep into the heart of the beast and you may find that the charm of Vassar Facebook groups lies not in fond memories of Deece food or sunny days on the quad—it’s all about the discourse, drama and most recently, the callouts.
But how do we navigate inside this beast? There seems to be no easy start—the distinction between the two Vassar: The Virtual Versions seems blurred now, as discourse within them has evened out over the months of their activity. And diving into the friendliest head of the beast—the subgroups—gives you only niche snippets of Vassar’s community. VC Lost and Found may tell you what prized possessions students leave behind on school grounds, but they are not enough to give the full, virtual campus experience.
As of now, Vassar: The Virtual Version remains the most active head of Facebook Cerebus. With a total of 1,800 members, the page is mostly filled with grievances about the school—often centered on frustrations with the administration. From the Healow app to confusions about how to get meals from the Deece, Vassar students communicate and coalesce their qualms about the college experience as Vassar carries out its COVID-19 response plan.
However, many of these discussions have metamorphosed into callout posts. Users have been sharing anonymized accounts of students who have broken social distancing protocol in order to discourage such behavior with their fellow group members. While one could scroll through Facebook in search of the first of these posts, one post seems to be the fruition of these callout posts.
When explaining how he wrote his post, Ross recounted how he heard about a sports team partying in the THs and received a video of such. “ I called my friend and we vented for a few minutes about how stupid and selfish it is to be partying and sharing drinks and not following guidelines, and I suggested I make a post about it, which my friend supported,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to directly mention the sports team that had been partying but I did hint at it while trying to make a larger point about how students need to be holding each other accountable.”
A post from Ethan Ross ’22 addressed the issue of accountability to Vassar students. At 143 likes, Ross’ post does not condone ostracizing students outright, but asks students to not idle around either. “If we see a group of people not distancing, maybe an athletics team partying or whatever,” he wrote, “I feel like we need to publicly hold those people accountable, maybe a post in this group saying, ‘Hey there’s video of 10 people in a TA sharing drinks and since they refuse to follow Vassar College’s guidelines we need to hold them accountable ourselves.’ This is something that affects our whole community and I feel like we should do more than just sit by and hope everyone follows the guidelines.”
According to Ross, most students supported his sentiment. One comment on his post even referred to an anonymous form that students could send out to the Community Care Team. As for the backlash, Ross received a comment that addressed some unintentional stereotypes in his post. “Someone commented saying they agreed with the post in general but that they were annoyed I had used an example of an athletics team partying, that it was spreading a negative stereotype of athletes, and that comment received a few likes,” he said. “I was later contacted directly by an athlete who said the same thing, but they seemed to understand once I made it clear that it had not been some abstract example but that I had literally made the post in response to an athletics team partying.”
Since Ross’ post, more callout posts have appeared. While not frequent, the posts showcase some ineffectiveness in Vassar’s “We Precedes Me” among Vassar students. One post even features photographs of two groups of students in the dark—seemingly 10 or more in each, huddled around each other. The post explained that these students were standing outside Joss without masks or a six feet distance, complaining that being outside the dorms didn’t make them invisible. While no names were taken and the author noted that security and a house advisor handled the situation, they lamented that students had to do better.
Such a post like this begs the question: are these publicized violations the fault of the students or administration? One post from a student revealed that there is more to these callout posts than just pent-up frustration. The post said, “I do not think this school is doing enough when it comes to the disciplinary action of students […] A mere slap on the wrist or ‘caretervention’ is not enough to deter these students from dangerous behaviors that put the rest of the student body, campus workers, professors, faculty, and surrounding Poughkeepsie community at risk. […] More decisive action needs to be taken against students who are literally putting people’s lives at risk just so they can have a fun night out.”
Sam Patz ’23, an active member of several Vassar Facebook groups, believes that toxicity seems inevitable on any social media platform. He said, “I think the discourse is just as toxic as anything you see on social media. People aren’t afraid to voice their opinions and in some ways feel less censored.” Yet he does not condemn the resentment students have within the Facebook group. “I respect that mantra [of not being afraid to speak out]. People are angry and clearly [Vassar Facebook groups] were made for people to voice their anger.”
But to counter the supposed toxicity in the Facebook groups, active user Mohtad Allawala ’23 offers the idea that these callout posts are opportunities to educate. [Disclaimer: Allawala is an Assistant Design Editor at The Miscellany News.] “People are more ready to call people out, and not in an attacking way, but in terms of an educational way,” he explained. “I don’t think it’s counterproductive because when students call each other out … that creates an atmosphere of fear for people who would have otherwise broken the rules. To some extent, the ability to call out [others] is also a very important right,” he affirmed. “You should have the right to tell people, ‘You’re harming my life being at college directly.’”
Perhaps this calls for us to turn to the other head of the Vassar beast—Vassar: The Virtual Version But We Won’t Delete Discourse. In response to the removal of posts deemed controversial on the original Vassar Facebook group, this space offers students to share their own opinions without them being deleted. But members of both groups find that not much distinction exists anymore, as most discourse shifts to the main community. “It seems like fewer people are using the ‘don’t delete discourse group’ and are moving back to the main group,” Ross believed. “Over the long term I think [Vassar: The Virtual Version But We Won’t Delete Discourse] has become a little more critical of administration, which may be justified given the issues some students have experienced.” Yet he appreciates the existence of the discourse group as a way to hear opinions he hasn’t been exposed to. “As a student who has had very few negative experiences I think it’s important for me and others like me to hear these stories and understand that there are some big variations in how students feel on campus,” he said.
Even the quietest head—the subgroups—still bares its fangs. When Vassar first announced their first stages of shutdown back in March, international students in Facebook groups for different class years managed to voice their concerns about their stay on campus. Just as no Vassar group is completely discourse, no Vassar group is ever devoid of voices rising to address the issues that affect them.
So how to tame the beast of Vassar Facebook groups? Unlike Cerberus, there is no lyre that can lull this beast asleep. Among students, the community can work to continue posting with the intent to educate each other. What is important is where their frustration comes from. As one anonymous student explained, “Students feel intimidated to approach administration because they’ve constantly been shut down and denied. [The] administration needs to work on actually making compromises with the students based on the college’s needs and the students’ needs because the students think that administration is not looking out for them.”
What this all reveals is that Vassar Facebook groups are not merely a cesspool of toxicity. When put to the light, the communities serve as networks of information and discussion, true to the spirit of the Vassar bubble. To dismiss the online debates as mere petty discourse ignores the bigger issue of the Vassar administration’s unresponsiveness. However, the spectacle of callout posts may distract students from actually facilitating change. Until then, ideas remain lost in the beast’s stomach. Discussions continue to be swallowed up by its three mouths, never to be seen in the eyes of the administration.