The January issue of Black Enterprise magazine listed Vassar as the third-best national liberal arts college in the country for African-American students, behind Oberlin and Swarthmore.

New York State Senator Olga Mendez lectured on "Legislative Realities for Farmworkers in New York State" in the Villard Room as a part of the Spirituality, Culture, and Justice Series.  Senator Mendez was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to a state legislature in the continental United States.

The Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) (formerly Vassar Socialists) organized a rally in the College Center to protest the shooting by New York City policemen of Amadou Diallo, a 22 year-old, unarmed Guinean immigrant, in the Bronx on February 4.  RSM member Terry Park '01 told The Miscellany News that the intent of the rally was to "explore the larger issues at hand" and to "show that students have a very important role to play in the building of a revolution in the U.S. and the world."  The group protested the killing at the Dutchess County Jail on February 13.

Forty-one shots were fired, of which 19 struck Diallo, who was mistaken for a possible rape suspect.  The incident was widely denounced as gross police brutality, and, indicted by a grand jury, the police officers were acquitted on February 25, 2000.  Kadiatou Daillo, the victim's mother, spoke at Vassar on April 8, 2000.

Robert Pinsky, Poet Laureate of the United States from 1997 until 2000, read in the Villard Room. “Pinsky’s face and gestures expressed sincere gratitude for being here,” wrote Kevin Aldridge ’99 for The Miscellany News. “He had something to say and made you want to listen. He paid attention to his audience as much as it did to him…it felt as if he met each gaze, spoke to each individual. His presentation had the engagement and tantalization of a storyteller’s, for he told great stories with his lively and expressive demeanor.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein delivered the Alex Krieger '95 Memorial Lecture in Skinner Hall.  “In her lecture, as in her writing, Wasserstein demonstrated her ability to speak to many people and touch them with her understanding of the human condition.” The Miscellany News

In addition to the 1989 Pulitzer, Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles (1988) won the Tony Award for Best Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

The Alex Krieger Memorial Fund was started by his parents in memory of Alex Krieger ’95 who died in his freshman year in an automobile accident while driving to Pennsylvania for an ultimate Frisbee match.  The annual lectures brought eminent American humorists and cultural critics to Vassar in recognition of Krieger’s keen appreciation of the genres.

Dr. James G. Blight, professor of international relations at Brown, presented "The Door We Never Opened: How the Vietnam War Could Have Been Avoided, 1962-1963" in Sanders Auditorium.  Along with Vassar Professor of History Robert K. Brigham, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, Vietnamese scholars and former military and civilian officials, Professor Blight participated in six extended discussions between November 1995 and February 1998 on the Vietnam War. Brigham, Blight and McNamara published Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy in 1999.

Professor Blight spoke at Vassar on this topic in 1998, when he gave the Charles Griffin Memorial Lecture.

Erik Parens, adjunct assistant professor in Vassar’s multidisciplinary Science, Technology and Society program, spoke in Sanders Auditorium on "Testifying before the National Bioethics Commission on the Creation of Hybrid Embryos and Research on Embryonic Stem Cells."  An associate for philosophical studies at the Hastings Center, a pioneer bioethics research institute in Hastings-on-Hudson, Dr. Parens was commissioned in January 1999 by President Clinton’s National Bioethics Commission to research the implications of the recently-isolated embryonic stem-cells.  “I am interested,” he told The New York Times, "in promoting a clearer conversation for people from high school students to reporters to Congress to the National Institutes of Health and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission.”

Alternative rock band They Might Be Giants performed in the Students’ Building.

Pop-folk singer and songwriter Dar Williams performed in the Chapel as a part of the Vassar Greens’ Earth Day celebration. The concert was one in a series given to benefit Clearwater, a prominent environmental group focused on cleaning the Hudson River. “The Dar Williams concert is a great opportunity to educate ourselves about the Hudson River while also giving money to other organizations to protect it,” explained Greens chair Michelle Sargent ‘01. The concert was part of a series Williams was giviing in the Hudson River area in conjunction with folk legend Pete Seeger.     The Miscellany News

British historian James Walvin from the University of York delivered the Matthew Vassar Lecture, "Equiano or Gustavus Vassa? Who was the real Equiano?" in Sanders Auditorium.  A student of modern British social history and the history of black slavery, Professor Walvin won the 1975 Martin Luther King Prize for his Black and White: The Negro and English Society (1973), and he published the definitive study of the 18th century slave and autobiographer Olaudah Equiano, An African’s Life: The Life and Times of Olaudah Equiano in 1998.  Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, Written by Himself (1789) was a milestone in anti-slavery literature.

In her introduction, Gretchen Gerzina, professor of English and Africana Studies and herself a scholar in the field, hailed Professor Walvin as the "premier authority in the field of Black British Studies, having written dozens of books on British slavery."  In his remarks, Walvin asserted that Equiano's account—the first of its kind—exemplified the magnitude of the British slave trade in the 18th century.  "In fact," Dara Kammerman '03 wrote in The Miscellany News, "at this time England conducted the greatest slave trade in the world.... For example, of the roughly 37,000 slave trips made, 12,000 of those were British....  Walvin pointed out that 80 percent of the women who crossed the Atlantic were African, as were 90 percent of the children.  After offering these statistics, Walvin dramatically posed...the question, "Who is the pioneer of the Americas?'"    The Miscellany News

President Fergusson conferred bachelor’s degrees to 600 members of the Class of 1999 in the Outdoor Theater.  In his commencement address, veteran actor and Hudson Valley neighbor James Earl Jones urged the graduates to recognize their responsibilities, not only to themselves and those around them, but to “we the people” as well.  In conclusion, Jones—the voice Darth Vader in the three original “Star Wars” movies (1977, 1980, 1983)—told the class, “I don’t care if you are sick of hearing it.  I offer you one piece of advice on this most auspicious and joyful occasion: may the force be with you.”     The New York Times

Latin American historian Gilbert M. Joseph from Yale University delivered the Charles Griffin Memorial Lecture, speaking in Sanders Auditorium on "Rethinking Mexican Revolutionary Mobilization: Banditry and Peasant Political Consciousness in Yucatan. 1909-1915.”

The Charles Griffin Memorial Lecture honored the former dean of the faculty and professor of history Charles Caroll Griffin, a distinguished Latin Americanist, who taught at Vassar from 1934 until his retirement in 1967.  Professor Griffin died in 1976.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara lectured in the Chapel. Vassar Professor of History Robert K. Brigham, historian James G. Blight of Brown University, Vietnamese scholars and former military and civilian officials participated in six extended discussions on the Vietnam War with McNamara between November 1995 and February 1998.  Brigham, Blight and McNamara published Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy in 1999. In an interview with The Miscellany News, Jim Bright explained, “All of us feel a sense really as we’re passing into the next century that it won’t be long before the people in your generation come to power and have positions of responsibility, but have no first-hand sense of how close one can really come to a nuclear war, how you can stumble into things, putting one foot after the other to come out with three or four million people dead and countries destroyed.” 

Sierra Leonean journalist Ritchie Olu Awoonor-Gordon, editor of the For Di People newspaper, lectured in New England Building on "Ending Coups and Wars in Africa: A Journalist's Experience and Reflections of the Sierra Leone Civil War."

Yona Zeldis McDonough '79 held a signing of her book, The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns 40 in the College Store.  In a 1998 essay in The New York Times Magazine, “What Barbie Really Taught Me: Lessons from the Playroom, Both Naughty and Nice,” Zeldis recalled the plastic bombshell’s influence on her as a child and the doll’s coincident power over her with that of her mother.  “My mother,” she wrote, “not an 11½ -inch doll, was the most powerful female role model in my life.  What she thought of Barbie I really don’t know, but she had the good sense to back off and let me use the doll my own way.”  Reflecting on Barbie’s current “‘serious’ incarnations: teacher, Olympic athlete, dentist” and “later this year…a doll whose breasts and hips will be smaller and whose waist will be thicker, thus reflecting a more real…female body,” McDonough concluded, “Girls will still know the reason they love her, a reason that has nothing to do with new professions or a subtly amended figure.”

Readers’ and friends’ response to the essay prompted McDonough’s book, a collection of essays and poems about the toy from nearly two dozen authors—men and women.  Historian and activist Stephanie Coontz contributed “Golden Oldie,” a comprehensive history of Barbie. In “Barbie at 35,” novelist and essayist Anna Quindlen conceded that although she refused to let her daughter have the doll, “Barbie—the issue, not the doll—simply will not be put to rest.”  “My theory,” Quindlen declared, “is that to get rid of Barbie you’d have to drive a silver stake though her plastic heart.  Or a silver lamé stake, the sort of thing that might accompany Barbie’s Dream Tent.” 

Williams College art historian Carol Ockman contributed “Barbie Meets Bouguereau,” social commentator and chronicler of the “culture wars” Steven C. Dubin inquired “Who’s That Girl,” novelist Jane Smiley ’71 wrote “You Can Never Have Too Many” and McDonough examined “Sex and the Single Doll.”

Biographer and novelist Francine du Plessix Gray, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Distinguished Visiting Scholar, lectured in Sanders Auditorium on "What Shall We Do with the Marquis de Sade?"  In her biography of de Sade, At Home With the Marquis de Sade: A Life (1998), Gray advanced, through a close study of the man and the two women who were closest to him—his wife and mother—a thesis that de Sade’s “crude insistence on expressing humankind's most bestial urges, on speaking out what most of us barely dare to admit--on mirroring the primal impulse we've all had, at some point, to claw at the taboos of our own caged lives—…makes him an occasionally fascinating and very modern writer."

The United States signed an historic trade agreement with the Peoples Republic of China. President Clinton called the deal "a profoundly important step in the relationship between the United States and China” and asserted that "the agreement will create unprecedented opportunities for American farmers, workers and companies to compete successfully in China's market, while bringing increased prosperity to the people of China."

Schubert scholar Brian Newbould from the University of Hull, England, lectured on "Schubert and the Dance" in Skinner Hall.  The chairman of The Schubert Institute (UK), Professor Newbould was a pioneer in the reconstruction of the full scores of Franz Schubert’s unfinished symphonies, symphonic fragments and other works.  His Schubert and the Symphony: A New Perspective was published in 1992, and Schubert, the Music and the Man appeared in 1997.

African-American historian Waldo E. Martin from the University of California at Berkeley gave an “Issues of the 90s” lecture on "I, Too, Sing America: The Black Freedom Struggle and the Transformation of American Culture, 1945-1975" in Sanders Auditorium.  Professor Martin’s acclaimed intellectual biography, The Mind of Frederick Douglass was published in 1992, and his Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief History with Documents appeared in 1998.

Saskia Webber, member of the 1999 Women's World Cup soccer team, lectured on "Ode to Title IX: A Lesson from a World Champion" in the Villard Room.  Webber was the back-up goalkeeper for the United States women’s team that defeated China in the June 10, 1999 World Cup final held in Pasadena, California before a crowd of over 90,000 people.

In light of unease world-wide about computer systems' transition into the 21st century and despite extensive preparations at Vassar for "Y2K," students were not permitted to reside on campus between December 22 and January 4.  The main concern was the possibility that one or more "Y2K bugs"—unknown errors or omissions in computer coding—would render systems incapable of recognizing times and dates beyond 12PM on December 31, 1999.  "The range of possibilities," explained Diane Balestri, the director of computing and information systems (CIS), "[is from] essentially nothing to catastrophic....  We have to decide if we should have a New Year's party on campus or close everything down and have a SWAT team investigate."

In the end, Balestri and her colleagues were quite certain that the college's computer systems could manage the date change, but she was not as confident in the power company or other off-campus resources on which the campus system depended.  Thus, CIS requested that the campus close and that everyone unplug everything before leaving.  "But the college sailed into the new century without a hitch. Was it because of all the preparations?  According to Maureen Romey, associate director for administrative systems, 'Definitely.'"     The Miscellany News, Vassar:The Alumnae/i Quarterly.