A Message From the President Regarding Juneteenth

Dear all,

Today, June 19, marks a significant moment in history. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in our country 155 years ago, with a reaffirmation of our commitment to our African American community. Particularly during this time, when we are redoubling efforts to tackle racial injustice and ushering in what we hope will become an opportunity for real change, marking Juneteenth is especially important. The fact that we have not commemorated Juneteenth at Vassar in previous years is indicative of our institutional and societal blind spots related to blackness. Now and in the future, we will seek to underscore the significance of Juneteenth. This is especially important this year in the context of nationwide protests over police brutality, racism, and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and many more.

Many of us have asked ourselves what we can do to help effect change. In my role as president of Vassar and in discussions with many people in our community, I have come away with many ideas about what we can do to better promote racial justice and equity, at Vassar and beyond. Although I shared some of these ideas in the recent College Forum, I repeat them here as we reflect on Juneteenth, a day I hope we will all come to mark with increased awareness and action.

  • Faculty: Continue to recruit and retain faculty of color and provide support for all faculty as they work toward creating a more inclusive classroom experience;
  • Internship in Civil Rights: We are seeking to establish a new civil rights internship program, in which students could work alongside some of our alumnae/i working toward racial justice and other civil rights issues;
  • Charitable Donations: Through efforts like our Community Works program, we will work to direct more of our charitable donations to organizations that are working to reduce racial injustice and police brutality;
  • Community and Curricular Innovations: We continue to support the Engaged Pluralism Initiative, which has done so much to build a sense of belonging, not only for our students, but also for our faculty and employees, as well as the important work of the ALANA Center, the Student Growth and Engagement area, and the Grand Challenges program to foster an inclusive community within the sciences and between disciplines;
  • Community-based Safety and Security: We will continue to demonstrate excellence in safety and security and look to our safety and security staff to be a model of humane and community-based service;
  • The Vassar Institute for the Liberal Arts: This Institute will allow us to create transformative programming in economic development, equity, and education, emboldening us to reach beyond our boundaries;
  • Financial Need: We have established the Beatrix McCleary Hamburg ’44 Memorial Scholarship for low-income and first-generation students primarily from historically underrepresented populations, and we remain committed to a policy that meets full demonstrated financial need for our students and our continuing efforts to recruit a student body with racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.
  • Board of Trustees: This commitment extends to sustaining the membership and engagement of people of color on our Board and having the Board support the College’s work to address racial injustice in the coming years.

I take seriously our responsibility as an institution to be always examining our own biases and structures that may perpetrate racism, and we are always looking for ways to do more. Let us all reflect on the meaning of Juneteenth, as we honor the tradition of Juneteenth as a celebration of freedom, but, importantly, also view it as a time to consider what actions we must take to ensure the promise of that freedom is fulfilled in its entirety.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604