The Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI) hosted an open house in the Aula on Wednesday, Oct. 26. Formed by several different “working groups,” EPI has taken on projects such as the Movement for Affordable Textbooks and the multimedia storytelling exhibit “Communities are Critical.” Director of EPI Jonathon Kahn gave a brief presentation announcing the initiative’s goals once the grant expires this year.
Now, EPI is becoming EP, shifting toward a more permanent, integrated role at Vassar: “We’ve been allowed to do what we wanted to do for the last five years, sort of experiment and play. Our success is that the college has decided now to bring us into its regular structure,” Kahn explained. “Part of the philosophy of EPI is that in order to learn how to belong here, you have to know your community, and we need to break down some of the barriers that come between faculty and students, faculty and administrators. We want to make this a campus where if you need help, you have people in mind because of the work here.”
The purpose of the open house was to come together, listen to new ideas that EPI can incorporate moving forward and get feedback from the community. As EPI intern Manoshi Hassan ’25 put it: “A big part of this event was brainstorming…how EPI can move on, what projects we’re going to do, what issues we should tackle on campus. The students, the faculty, the staff all reshape the campus, so we’re brainstorming how we can improve [and] increase belonging.” Sitting with strangers over fried plantains and vanilla cupcakes, students, faculty, staff and administrators talked about ways to strengthen and better the Vassar community, jotting down their ideas on giant Post-its.
“I really liked our farm idea,” said Associate Dean of the College Luis Inoa, Chair of Student Living and Wellness at Vassar. His table proposed that there be a designated day where members of the Vassar community collectively pause and explore the picturesque, contemplative trails on the Farm and Ecological Preserve. He also mentioned the Wednesday time slot that Vassar allots for EPI-adjacent activities. “The college has this Wednesday 3:00-5:00 that’s supposed to be non-academic time and that’s supposed to be community-building time. I’d like us to be more serious about that,” he said. Of EPI’s restructuring, Inoa is optimistic: “What I found most hopeful about EPI and what I’m hoping for EP is that we find these kinds of cross-constituent participation in it that allows us to, as Professor Kahn says, tell each other stories across our various held identities. So me as Dean and you as student would know each other differently because of EP.”
Associate Director of Campus Activities Will Rush elaborated on the ongoing “Moments of Joy” project. Building upon the quote board outside of the College Center and the randomly dispersed hopscotch squares appearing around campus, Rush is excited about the upcoming Give an Affirmation, Get an Affirmation stress ball exhibit. “We’re trying to create moments to make people smile,” he explained.
In terms of restructuring, Kahn mentioned the integration of other administrators in areas like inclusive pedagogy, restorative practices and employee life. “My role is going to be to continue to organize working groups—more at the grassroots level … But I’ll also be working with these administrators to think about the campus broadly, cross-sectionally about what we can do to initiate and get people to talk.” He continued to say that one of the most important issues EPI is taking into consideration is students’ relationship to time. “Students feel really pressured and rushed. The pace of life is fast and exhausting. Some of the things folks are talking about is that they want the feeling of life to slow down,” he said.
Khan’s best expectations for the night were realized, with discussion lively and engaged: “I was hoping we were going to have a room full of people and that all you would hear was people talking to each other. A room full of people’s voices.” Overall, the open house was successful in getting everyone at Vassar both aware of and excited about the upcoming changes to EPI.