Professor Rebecca Edwards has long been known to the Vassar community as an exceptional scholar of women’s history and 19th-century America. But, starting on Jan. 1, 2024, she will be taking a two-year leave of absence from the College after being elected as the next Town Supervisor of Poughkeepsie after the Nov. 7, 2023 elections. I sat down with Professor Edwards to discuss her thoughts on local politics and her vision on how to implement positive change for Poughkeepsie.
Edwards has been involved in local politics for over a decade. She served as a Dutchess County legislator from 2016 to 2021, taught a class where students work with elected officials on policy and organized a local group called We Are the Town of Poughkeepsie to promote legislative transparency within the town.
Throughout her time as a representative, teacher and advocate, she was surprised by how much can be accomplished purely through local engagement. “When you actually get to talk to people, you hear a whole diverse array of perspectives and experiences of what people are struggling with,” she said.
Her most recent impact on local politics came when she organized a petition with the group We Are the Town of Poughkeepsie. The town was going to borrow $54 million to move the police station, an enormously expensive project that would provide no new services to the community. With the group, she organized a petition with over 750 votes asking for more transparency on the issue. A few weeks later, the Town Board finally tabled the project.
This success inspired Edwards to run for Town Supervisor, with one of her primary goals being to increase communication with the community. She stated that she wants to ensure “that every Poughkeepsie resident knows what’s going on, whether that’s through a smartphone app or through mailings,” for example. She emphasized that her first priority is making decisions open, accountable and transparent.
Besides increased engagement with Poughkeepsie residents, Edwards has other visions for the town, including fighting for housing affordability, promoting engagement between the town and the three colleges within it and expanding opportunities for childhood education. “It’s hard to afford to live here. Senior citizens are worried about their homes as taxes rise,” she stated. “For some people, it gets to the point of homelessness because they can’t afford the rent anymore.”
Edwards also wants to fund more engagement between the diverse groups that help make Poughkeepsie the town it is. “Poughkeepsie has been built by waves and waves of immigrants––Irish, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Greek and more recently Jamaican, Oaxacan, South Asian and East Asian communities. It’s an exciting thing to think about how we could celebrate that through food, music and sharing one another’s cultures if we had the civic base for it.”
Edwards also plans to remain connected to the town’s colleges, including Vassar, Marist and Dutchess Community College. “Local governments could do far more to tap into the energy and expertise that reside in these colleges,” she commented. “I hope to meet with all three of the college presidents soon to talk about their relationships with their town.”
After being at Vassar for so long, however, Edwards still acknowledges that the extended departure might be difficult. “I’m going to deeply miss being in the classroom. I’ve been here for 28 years, and it’s going to be a big change.”
Edwards should rest assured that her students will miss her as well. “I’m so grateful for the mentorship and support Prof. Edwards provides,” stated Leela Khatri ‘26, a former student. “She is truly stellar, attentive, and beyond caring. I’m excited to see what she will bring to the town of Poughkeepsie! ”