At a College with a rich history of student activism, community engagement and opportunities for growth, we often take advantage of our communities. From the Vassar Student Association (VSA) to the numerous publications on campus like Contrast, Grey Matters and The Miscellany News, students lead this campus into the future and into pedagogy unknown as part of our deep involvement in the liberal arts.
Founded in 1861 as one of the Seven Sisters and a pioneer for women’s education, Vassar College holds the unique attribute of being coeducational, becoming so in 1969. As such, our history of serving as a historically women’s college still rings true and vital to our campus life. Whether deconstructing the binaries that life throws at us or combating hate on campus and around the globe, students lead the very life that we enjoy here with pride. Ultimately, it is these student-led organizations and individuals that are the heart of our campus.
When I first approached the college admissions process, I knew I wanted a tight-knit community of engaging and academically rigorous classes. I knew that I wanted to be surrounded by students who share strong passions in their work. It is exactly what I found here at Vassar, but not for the reasons one might think.
I owe a lot of thanks to the professors, administrators and other faculty that have guided students in a bountiful of different manners. But I can honestly say that after three years of attending this College, I learned the most from other students—outside of class.
That is the difficult thing about classes: No matter how they are structured, there is a structure, and that prevents true critical dialogue from occurring in classrooms. If I have learned anything at this school, it is that structure and tradition limit a diverse student body, where perspectives, beliefs and academia vary more than one can imagine.
Take a partner project, for example. My ANTH-223: “Primates” class, one that does not apply to my major but rather a “wildcard” course, as Vassar proclaims, actually taught me about research and project-based learning better than my traditional International Studies classes. My partner and I met in the Collaboration Studio of the Thompson Library, a typical study spot for any work of this type. Immediately, we were lost—we had no idea how to even begin assessing the tasks at hand. But my partner’s major was in STEM—she was a computer science major. Our talents complemented each other nicely. She focused on how to fact check our work, and I dealt with the delegation of the workload—a talent that I learned at The Miscellany with a valuable staff of remarkable and heterogeneous individuals with different academic and personal backgrounds. Although it may seem minute, our collaboration in that partner work illustrated the impact of student-to-student learning.
These experiences are not new. I have been having them for years here at Vassar. Last year in my HIST-225: “Renaissance Italy” course, we had an interesting group project. A group of five of us would have to prepare a 12-minute skit portraying some essence of the Italian Renaissance’s social or political life. I was dumbfounded. I had little knowledge or interest in Italy and the Renaissance, and neither group projects nor skits piqued my interest at the time. We faced numerous problems—from scheduling group meetings, to deciding on a topic, to staying focused long enough to record our skit. But nonetheless, we persevered. Our group presented our work and we received a good grade. Do I think the content of our skit would wow Italian Renaissance scholars? Absolutely not. But I like to think my good grade was not reflective of the outcome, but rather the work process. We managed to work through our dilemmas. We managed to engage in critical dialogue about ideals of Renaissance society at the time. We engaged in real world activity: You are always going to work with diverse, sometimes opposing perspectives, and you will just have to make it work. It might not be the best final project, but the skills you learn along the way are invaluable. Most importantly, we managed to break the status quo of learning, with the help of our professor, outside of the classroom and within a group of intelligent and driven students.
All this to say, when asked on your college admissions tours what is attracting you to one school over the other, I ask that you hesitate at the simple blanket of “rigorous academia.” Instead, as I have found so helpful here at Vassar, find a college where students are as interested in making a difference and changing how we learn and understand the world as you are.