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Comments from the November 30, 2005 Conversation Dinner

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.  Other 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 talk 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.