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Letter from President Hill

Recently a student used the word “home” in describing to a colleague what the college is, or is supposed to be, for students: not just a place where you study or socialize, but a communal place where you feel you belong, where you are comfortable being yourself. We know that many of our students don’t feel this sense of belonging, don’t see the college as a home, or Vassar as a community. Instead, they feel frustration and pain. I am so saddened by this. These issues are important to me, to you, and to Vassar.

I want you to know that my colleagues and I have heard what many of you have been saying about changes on campus.  We know the steps outlined in this message are only a beginning and that there will be other, longer-term steps required to support the changes we need. This work will remain a priority as we move into the next semester and beyond. With these near-term steps, we believe the community will see immediate changes reflecting our deep commitment to inclusion and equity on campus. Please help us think through what else we need to do to make Vassar the supportive, compassionate community we all want.

In developing these actions, there has been deep and passionate engagement by many of our students, those of us who work at the college, alumnae/i, and members of our Board of Trustees, including work by our Committee on Inclusion and Excellence, the Campus Life and Diversity Office, and other colleagues throughout the college. The actions that follow include new initiatives, as well as improvements to existing services, that will better support the full inclusion of everyone in our community.

  • We are committed to adding a senior-officer-level position for institutional diversity and inclusion. The person in this role will be responsible for, and empowered to, coordinate the work of ensuring that our campus is inclusive and welcoming, and free of discrimination and harassment for everyone.  There are many different models for such positions across higher education. We will be asking our community to think through the ideal goals for and structure of such a position at Vassar. We intend to develop a recommendation for the position early in the spring semester, and immediately commence the search to fill this position.
  • I have asked two faculty members – Zachariah Mampilly, Associate Professor of Political Science, Director of Africana Studies, and the Chair of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence, and Mia Mask, Associate Professor of Film – to act as advisors to the president and the senior administration on issues of race and inclusion. Zachariah and Mia will assume these roles immediately.
  • To strengthen planning and collaboration in support of diversity and inclusion, several positions that have been academic-year-only will be increased to full-year, effective immediately. These positions include the directors of the ALANA Center, the LGBTQ and Women’s Centers, the Office of Health Education, the coordinator of the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) program, and the Rose and Irving Rachlin Director for Jewish Student Life. These changes are being made to support at a higher level the needs of our campus community. We will be working with all of these offices, as well as with other colleagues in the Office of Campus Life and Diversity, as we continue to develop plans in support of diversity and inclusion.
  • We commit to providing bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention training for all students, through additional resources at orientation and other programming throughout the academic year. Further, we will continue to review our Title IX policies and procedures, to ensure a victim-centered approach aimed at eliminating sexual assault while protecting the rights of all parties involved in formal proceedings. In addition, we are working to implement the recent recommendations of the Vassar Sexual Assault Response Team.
  • Mental health services are key to the well-being of our students. We are establishing a Mental Health and Wellness Support Fund to eliminate financial barriers to accessing those services both on and off campus, including resources to cover transportation and co-pay expenses. We will fill the open position of assistant director of the Counseling Service as quickly as possible, and a search is now under way.  We will also add one more counselor position and make permanent the post-doctoral fellow position in order to expand group counseling opportunities and decrease the waiting time for appointments.
  • Residential life is an extremely important part of students’ experiences at Vassar. We are committed to adding an additional house advisor, assuring that our house advisor team will be able to focus more on supporting students in the houses.  This has implications for other areas of student services, so the Director of Residential Life will work with his colleagues to determine how best to allocate these resources. We also are working with Residential Life staff and with students on other proposals to improve student support, including the creation of additional community spaces for dialogue, study, and events. 

The Board of Trustees has been following events on campus closely and with concern, and is committed to addressing these issues.  The Chair of the Board of Trustees, Bill Plapinger, and other trustees will be on campus very early next semester to meet with students and others to discuss and learn more about your concerns.

I want to close by reaffirming the college’s statement of diversity:

Vassar College is committed to working toward a more just, diverse, egalitarian, and inclusive college community where all members feel valued and are fully empowered to claim a place in—and responsibility for—our shared working, living, and learning. The College affirms the inherent value of a diverse campus and curriculum reflective of our lives as members of multiple local and global communities.

During these final, intense days of the semester, I hope you will find time for rest and for support from family, friends and mentors. Please know that my door is open, as are those of other members of the senior team, and we want to hear from you if you have ideas or need someone to talk with.

I wish for everyone a wonderful break with the chance for renewal.  I look forward to continuing our work in building a better Vassar home for all.

Cappy Hill