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Comments from the October 7, 2004 Conversation Dinner

Below are the responses to a questionnaire by participants in the Conversation Dinner that took place on November 7, 2005 in the College Center Muti-Purpose Room. The Campus Life Office  and the Campus Life Resource Group (CLRG) sponsored the event and recorded these responses, which came from Vassar students, faculty, staff, and administrative personnel.  The questionnaire did not ask for respondents to include their names, position at the college, or any other biographical information so as to provide the space for uninhibited commentary and critique.  As CLRG strives to encourage all members of the Vassar community to voice their experience in and around the College, herein CLRG has strived to transcribe the responses verbatim and in precisely the same form as they appeared on the pages on which respondents wrote. CLRG has done so that the Vassar community now and in the future can appreciate individuals' accounts of their experience at and understanding of Vassar College.

Vassar and the Community: Questionnaire


Please share your thoughts on the topic, "Vassar and the Community".   If this were a theme for All College Day (February 22), how could it be presented for discussion?  Your suggestions for future Conversation Dinner topics?

THE RESPONSES (numbered, but in no particular order):

1. I think that this dinner was a great opportunity for people to come together to exchange ideas.  However, the people here have already been thinking and talking about Vassar and the community.  How about inviting the people who might not be thinking about these issues?

2. This is a REALLY important topic that should definitely be the topic of ACD.  Better yet, we should invite members of the Poughkeepsie community to the day's events - high school field trips, maybe?

3. I think this would be a great topic for All College Day – because community is for all the college.  Topics: Walls, Bubbles, Safety – are these protective or restrictive.  Also: Liberal politics or Classical Liberalism?  Which are we?

4. Yes-it should be.  I think it should be presented from several perspectives: one, introduce the initiatives that exist (the many committees, orgs, individuals that do engage off campus); two, from the institutional perspective about how Vassar lacks a commitment to the outer community.

5. There needs to be a discussion of how to break down the Vassar wall and physically mix Vassar and the City of Poughkeepsie.  What happened to [the] space in Poughkeepsie that was promised after the student takeover of Main and the subsequent formation of the Africana Studies department?

6. I think class issues should be more heartily analyzed by all members of the college.  We can't ignore anymore, at all forthrightly.  It dictated our lives and shaped our experiences before we got here and since we've been here.

7. I think this would be a great topic - perhaps as a beginning (maybe this one should be internal) - perhaps as a discussion about the FUTURE - arranging ways to FREQUENTLY invite the outside community IN for shows, speakers, parties…Make it frequent enough that it is not so shocking…Perhaps a group could be organized (or already exists?)   That focused specifically on reaching out to different parts of the Poughkeepsie Community and invited them to join…

Thank you for this dinner - hopefully it will be just a beginning -Sascha


  • Walls/barriers
  • Security (our security program and broader issue)
  • Communication/publicity between Po-town and VC
  • Race, class
  • Po-town's resources (stores, restaurants, art, museum, waterfront, clubs/bars)
  • Transportation

These dinners are fabulous. They always give me a whole new awareness.

9. I think this is a good topic and, as we addressed what is a community, this event should, at some level, discuss this idea.  Representation at all levels, even the community of Vassar, should be present.  Furthermore, the idea of the limitations of this "community should be addressed.

10. I would hope that one day the college could really embrace the sense of community, inclusive of all sub-groups and that those who feel marginalized can speak without concerns of retaliation or repercussions – especially staff members!   Then we would be able to address town relations.

11. What problems do we see?   How do we define a community and the qualities of the Vassar community?   What is problematic with the Poughkeepsie community?   What/How can we change?

Future Conversation Dinner Topics:

Actual Activism on campus versus Liberalism?   How to generate more?

How racially integrated are we?

Politics on campus…?

*Thanks for including me in the conversation!

Conversation Dinner – Vassar and the Community
November 30, 2005
Cushing House Multipurpose Room

Note: We have tried to transcribe the conversation and comments as to close the original as possible.

The conversation opened with the following thought from the facilitator:

There seems to be a difference between perception and reality about both the Vassar and Poughkeepsie community. For example, an individual shared that the perception of Vassar students from a taxi driver is that the students are aloof. Others at the table found this representation surprising. Another theme that came up was that community is situational and dorm related. For students, community can be found on cyberspace. However, can you be part of a community that is anonymous? Community is a development process and requires a challenge to develop more cohesiveness. A community needs to go through something together in order to define ourselves.

The discussion opened to the whole group. Below are the thoughts that were shared. Each paragraph represents the thoughts of one individual.

We talked about the framework of the discussion that takes place at Vassar. We talked about what VC has to offer Poughkeepsie and not the other way around. To get a better big picture we should also look at the resources that Poughkeepsie can provide us.

Our sense of community may be very narrow. It is not just Vassar, but the larger Hudson Valley including Poughkeepsie. It's a sense of participating with the community.

There is little knowledge that Poughkeepsie has a lot to offer. People felt that because of the structure of the wall, there is no incentive to step outside of the wall and you assume that the city has nothing to offer.

It feels like Vassar is discouraging us to go into the city. We don't get a map of Poughkeepsie. We know the campus, but not what is outside and that stems from the view that Poughkeepsie has a lot of crime, which we weren't sure if that was true. We thought that at least the drug use would be lower in the city rather than at Vassar. There is a sense that we should stay within the gate to protect ourselves.

We also talked about that, but we also discussed that there is a mutual exchange where Poughkeepsie residents don't feel comfortable coming to campus. I live in the area and the community is safe, but I didn't know that and was worried that it was scary. There is a mutual hesitation.

Poughkeepsie residents are part of our community because so many people who work here are residents. We don't interact between students and people who work here who are from Poughkeepsie. We were tossing around ideas as to how to bridge the communities.

We were thinking that it would be good for students to get off campus and take advantage of the opportunities. However, we don't know what they are, but we thought the Misc could report on what is going on. If we could combine that with transportation being provided to the events.

We talked about including information about the community at orientation. The ideas about how scary Poughkeepsie is starts early in the Vassar experience.

A community fellow at our table mentioned how she organized a trip to the FDR estate, but no one wanted to go. Perhaps more communication is necessary to drum up enthusiasm. I think freshmen orientation is exactly the time to discuss the resources around the campus.

Transportation is one of the reasons why I don't go to Poughkeepsie. If we as a College encourage people to go to the community then we should provide the transportation. We take people to the mall and the train station, but not the city.

Connecting it to freshmen orientation – we build expectations during that time about the city. However, does the city have expectations of us that we are not living up to? We should be finding out what the city expects from us and what are we doing. We should share our expectations for new students and they should include engaging in activities off campus.

There is a sense that people from outside of the community are not welcome. They cannot come and they are not welcome. The library is very restrictive. Some of the policies may be newer, but there are ways of welcoming people. There are events that could be more open. How easy is it to use our resources?

When I read the Poughkeepsie Journal I see Vassar events publicized that say they are open to the public, but we may not be directly communicating with specific agencies that would be interested in our events.

We talked a lot about two-way conversations: letting people know about things going on here, but also making students here aware of what is happening in the city. Why is it such a problem? We discussed being so self-sufficient and not feeling a need for the community. We have everything here, so why do people need to go into the community? The idea is to get out of the area. Even within the dorms, you find yourself limited because you are living with the same people, more or less, for the four years. You need to go out to other dorms and connect with people and then go out and connect with the community.

You have to have a mutual exchange and there has to be outreach from both sides. A student just said we don't even have a map of Poughkeepsie and that is something we can provide.

Some of the issues are relative to being a small college. The issue of being insular and not going out to the community may be a part of just being a small college. I think that every college deals with being self-sufficient and students do what is convenient. We do need to find ways to integrate better. I don't think we do a good job of PR and people in the community don't know what we are doing.

We need to think about the approach we are taking to the problem. We are not looking at the historical context. We have all brought up the wall and it is actually a barrier to people coming into the college. If we want to help the people who are immediately outside we need a channel. We shouldn't set up an imperialist way of helping people.

One of the things that does not happen for a lot of college students is that students do not register to vote in the town. One of the expectations for students can be that students register here and become involved and knowledgeable about local politics. We could have an impact on this area.

It's interesting because in New Paltz Jason West was voted in because of the students from the University.

I think it's important that students vote here, but we need more informal ways of interacting with the community. It may create more animosity against the liberal student population.

It is a very controversial topic right now and could really back fire.

I think it would allow the conversations to develop on the campus.

There are approximately 250 students registered in Poughkeepsie and only 3 of them are Republicans. It is not just a perception that students are liberal. There is a great deal of controversy in this community about it and the local community does not like that Vassar students vote here.

The town does not consider you a resident because you still go “home”. You don't really live anywhere when you are in College.

I think there is something wrong when most of the city residents are registered Democrats but the city is run by Republicans. There is a problem in the city with representation and we have to question that. Maybe we should engage more people who are residents of the community and encourage them to vote or help provide them with access.

Perception and reality is resonating with this group. We have a lot of ideas and ways of changing the relationship.