A Look Back at 2021
Vassar completed its fourth semester since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but the campus began to return to something resembling normal by the end of 2021. In fact, the College marked some significant achievements this year. Join us as we look back on a year of challenges and triumphs.
Traditional On-Campus Events
Important traditions returned to campus, albeit in modified form. The Class of 2021 was able to celebrate Commencement on campus, but concerns about social distancing meant that friends and family could not attend in person. Fall Convocation also returned to campus as a live event, but ongoing COVID concerns necessitated an outdoor event on Commencement Hill rather than in the Chapel. Campus tours resumed, as well.
Major Building Projects
Vassar’s Inn and Institute for the Liberal Arts received final approval from the Town of Poughkeepsie, paving the way for an expected opening in the Fall of 2023. The Institute and Inn will include 50 guest rooms, a restaurant, and convening space. Programming at the facility will allow Vassar to play an important role in fostering dialogue about higher education and contemporary challenges in the U.S. and globally.
Thanks to a $10-million gift from alumna Dede Thompson Bartlett ’65, Vassar College recently unveiled plans for a new building that will house the offices of Admission and Career Education. Construction of the Dede Thompson Bartlett Center, to be located on the north end of the campus, is expected to begin in the spring of 2023.
Vassar’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new investment policy aimed at combating climate change. While Vassar does not have any direct investments in fossil fuels, and does not plan to make any in the future, the policy explicitly directs the College’s financial managers to evaluate environmental, social, and governance considerations in the selection of underlying managers. The Trustees further expressed their commitment to consider investments that support a transition to a green economy.
Major gifts from Mary Price and Jill Werner, members of the Class of 1971, will support research and teaching on climate change at the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve. Inspired by their classmates’ generosity and in honor of its 50th Reunion, the class has established a special fundraising initiative, the Class of 1971 Gateway to The Old Vassar Farm, which will support improved pathways; new pedestrian-safe paths to the Barns; modifications to vehicle traffic routes; and parking and signage to create a more welcoming entrance to the Farm and Ecological Preserve.
Throughout the pandemic, the College has sought to provide the mental health support students needed to navigate the stress of the pandemic. In order to decrease feelings of social isolation, the College installed a synthetic skating rink next to Walker Field House and sprinkled fire pits and Adirondack chairs around campus so students could socialize outdoors. Vassar also expanded the health-promotion and educational offerings to help prevent the loneliness and mental health challenges arising from more limited human contact. And the podcast Mindful and Reflective Moments, created jointly by several departments at Vassar, offered a series of guided meditations.
Of course, the health and safety of the campus community was also paramount. As vaccines became more widely available, the College began to require vaccination and held pop-up vaccination clinics, such as the one pictured left. As the Fall Semester ended, almost 100 percent of students and 99 percent of Vassar employees had been vaccinated. The administration continues to monitor pandemic-related transmission data and follow the recommendations of the CDC and state and local officials for reducing the spread of the coronavirus.
During the height of the pandemic when many students were studying remotely, the Miscellany News seized the opportunity to chronicle the lives of students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alums in a digital newsletter. The effort was rewarded by the Society of Professional Journalists, which named the publication the best small college student newspaper in the country.
While some Vassar athletic teams returned to limited competition in the spring, Vassar’s fall teams played a full schedule for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic. As teams resumed practice and took the field or the court this fall, players and coaches shared what it was like to be back competing in games they love. Success was in the making for the field hockey team, which picked up where it had left off before the pandemic, winning the Liberty League championship. And the women’s rugby team capped the fall season in style, winning a national championship for the second time in four years.
Legendary women’s tennis coach Kathy Campbell announced her retirement in June following 42 remarkable seasons. She departs as not only one of the all-time winningest coaches in NCAA women’s tennis history, but also as the all-time winningest coach in any sport at Vassar.
Thirty new faculty members—six of whom are on tenure track appointments—joined the staff at the start of the Fall Semester. These scholars bring a variety of talents and perspectives to the learning community. We recently profiled several among the latest crop of Vassar scholars.
Four longtime faculty members were appointed to endowed chairs this fall. Professor of English Eve Dunbar is the recipient of the Jean Webster Chair; Professor and Chair of Drama Shona Tucker was awarded the Mary Riepma Ross ’32 Chair; Assistant Professor of Biology Myra Hughey was appointed to the Mary Clark Rockefeller Chair; and Professor of Psychological Science Michele Tugade ’95 was named the recipient of the William R. Kenan Jr. Chair.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, members of the Associated Emeritae/i of Vassar College (AEVC) renewed their activities on campus—the pandemic had forced the organization to suspend most of its events. The group affords retired Vassar faculty the opportunity to keep in touch with old friends, colleagues—and former students—while maintaining a formal relationship with the College.
The Board of Trustees honored the memory of beloved architecture instructor Jeh Johnson by agreeing to rename the ALANA Cultural Center, a building Johnson had designed, the Jeh Vincent Johnson ALANA Cultural Center. Johnson had taught in the Art Department from 1964 to 2001 and worked tirelessly to diversify the architectural field. Thanks to generous donors and matching gifts, the building will undergo a transformation over the next year with renovations to the entrance, new furniture, and other improvements.
The Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC) announced five 2021 awardees—four alums and a faculty member who have had a lasting impact on the College and beyond. Dr. Patricia James Jordan ’72, P’17 received the AAVC Outstanding Service Award. Marie (Dugo) Dilemani ’11 received the Young Alumnae/i Service Award. Professor Emerita of Greek and Roman Studies Rachel Kitzinger received the Outstanding Faculty Award and retired Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange ’74 received the Spirit of Vassar Award. The renowned actor Meryl Streep ’71, P’08, ’13, a former College trustee, will receive the Distinguished Achievement Award this coming spring.
AAVC celebrated its 150th anniversary this year with a special issue of VQ, a rousing tribute during Reunion, a series of alum spotlights, and the #AAVC150 social media campaign, created to highlight the impact and influence of alums in areas ranging from access to careers.
Racial and Social Justice
Vassar has long appreciated the richness that diversity engenders, and has often had deep involvement in movements for social change. Over the years, often due to activism by students and alumnae/i, Vassar has made efforts to increase racial diversity and equity in numerous ways. Take a look at a few of the things the Vassar community is currently doing to address issues of racial inequality and social injustice.
Vassar’s ongoing Hidden History video series kicked off this year by highlighting the efforts of Celebrating the African Spirit, a Poughkeepsie-based community organization with a mission to commemorate the African and African American men, women, and children who were enslaved in the Hudson Valley in the 18th and 19th centuries.