In the week before October Break, the Board of Trustees held three dinners with Vassar students from Noyes, Cushing and Raymond Houses in an effort to initiate a relationship between Vassar students and the Board, according to Special Assistant to the President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees Wesley Dixon.
He explained, “We have heard from students in the past that trustees feel like distant figures who are inaccessible and may not have the best interest of Vassar students in mind.” Hoping to mend these perceptions of the Board, a total of 43 students and 23 trustees met to informally discuss issues like student employment, financial aid and other personal matters. “These dinners are an attempt to humanize each group (students and Trustees) in the minds of the other,” Dixon affirmed in an email correspondence.
Students who attended the events expressed mixed feelings for their effectiveness. Leslie Partida ’25 had a very positive experience speaking with trustees, confirming that these dinners helped to “humanize” the members of the Board in her mind. “I really enjoyed how one of the trustees told me to fight for the change I want to see at Vassar and that nothing is ever finalized and can be changed,” she wrote in a written correspondence.
Partida spoke highly of Leslie Chihuly ’83, a trustee with whom she shares a first name and hometown of Seattle. Partida communicated that the friendly, peer-like conversation was uplifting: “We talked about a world of things from personal to professional life…[the trustees] also emphasized enjoying our college years because it’s one of the best times of our lives and we’ll never be able to get it back.”
But Charlie From ’25 was underwhelmed by the dinner. In coordination with some other students, From brought up issues like Vassar’s JobX system, federal work-study requirements, low-income student support and the Hazara genocide. In a written correspondence, From explained how their discussion with one of the trustees was frustrating: “[The trustee] was a low-income student at one point (also from rural [Texas], like me) which resonated with some of us, but she mostly resorted to talking about how functional the administration is here or how much better the college system is nowadays, which is fair, [but it] still doesn’t recognize the structural problems here.” While trustees’ support and optimism was comforting, From explained that without change, the night was for nought. They suggested that Vassar adopt a similar program to Williams College by removing requirements for work-study, and that Vassar admit a larger number of refugees. “Their statements are hollow without action,” From wrote.
The three dinners came just before the launch of the Fearlessly Consequential campaign. Such an ambition will hopefully serve as a tangible step toward alleviating students’ financial burdens, which is exactly what Vassar’s student body craves—structural progress with student concerns as the top priority. Dixon explained that the campaign’s $500 million mission aims to ground Vassar as an inclusive and accessible liberal arts institution. “Funds raised will help ensure that the next generation can access the educational resources needed to contribute meaningfully to the world,” Dixon wrote.
The dinners accomplished their mission of facilitating conversation between trustees and Vassar students. As for the structural changes within Vassar’s financial policies, change appears to be on the horizon–conceivably, the new Campaign will fulfill, or get closer to fulfilling, student demands.
It’s cute that some think that major structural changes would be immediately implemented as a result of one dinner.