Campus Update

May 2, 2024

Dear all,

I am writing to update the community concerning the demonstration on Library Lawn and related issues. This Tuesday, when the tents were set up, I wrote to the campus that as long as the demonstration remained peaceful and did not disrupt the educational activities of the college, we would not intervene. I was heartened that day when the student organizers in their meeting with administrators said they intended to be peaceful and non-disruptive of educational activities. The organizers also said they understood the college assembly policy, which includes specific parameters about where protests can occur. We understood that they did not want people who were unaffiliated withVassar to join the demonstration, which was meant for the Vassar community at that time.

On Wednesday, several actions altered the situation. Students used social media to invite people unaffiliated with Vassar to campus to support the demonstrators. Although for much of the day the students engaged in discussion and peaceful protest within the perimeter of the tented area, in the afternoon a substantial group, including people who we believe are not members of the Vassar community, protested for about ninety minutes. These protests disrupted educational activities and violated the assembly policy of the college. During that time, protesters amplified their sound and followed college administrators as they walked; the proximity of the demonstration to the library disturbed students who were trying to study. Additionally, the demonstration included chants and signage that, regardless of the speakers’ intent, have antisemitic connotations. Some students, faculty, and employees reported being intimidated by these actions and have reported their experiences to the BIRT (Bias Incident Reporting Team) system.

While I appreciate students’ freedom of expression, we also have the obligation to ensure the campus is safe and conducive for all students to study and pursue their educational activities. The demonstrators have expressed their intent to pursue peaceful protest. Nevertheless, at this time, I am concerned about the ongoing safety of the campus given the potential for people beyond our campus to intervene in dangerous ways. Today, we received threatening social media posts from extremists remarking on the demonstrators’ protests.

Between yesterday and today, Dean Alamo, Dean Begemann, Dean Inoa, Dean Maragh Taylor, and Wesley Dixon from the President’s Office have together met four times with the demonstration organizers to consider their requests carefully and to collaborate on possible paths forward. These conversations have been substantial and meaningful. The college has considered the issues raised by the demonstrators seriously.

I have invited the demonstration organizers to meet tomorrow to be clear about the next steps for the encampment. I want to underscore that I remain concerned for the safety of the demonstrators as well as the campus community as our encampment may attract protestors of all kinds from around the region, and our campus boundaries are porous for pedestrian traffic. As the encampment has grown, it is also impinging on the Library Lawn, a public space that is to be reserved for use by the entire college in diverse ways, not to be reserved for any single set of students. For both these reasons, I will ask the demonstrators to voluntarily remove the encampment promptly, before large groups of external parties may come to our campus. I look forward to discussing and assisting in these next steps.  

Recent heartbreaking headlines from campuses across the country exemplify the tragic consequences when college campuses cease to have dialogue and fail to imagine creative ways forward. I, along with the senior leadership team, am committed to resolving these issues in ways that allow our relationships across the college community to endure and even flourish. I ask every student, faculty member, and employee to help us avoid the divisiveness that has beset many campuses. We have had too much tragedy already this year. Let us be creative and wise enough to bridge our differences.

I appreciate the students’ efforts to raise concern for the ongoing violence and suffering in Gaza, and I believe that the campus is unified in the desire for a prompt and lasting end to this conflict. I am also committed to ensuring that all students on our campus feel safe, and are free of harassment or intimidation. This is a communal responsibility and requires all of us to negotiate and compromise. Let us remember that Vassar is a community that can fundamentally disagree and still work together–avoiding the violence and vitriol embedded in the world’s conflicts. Instead, let us on our campus work toward modeling what we want the world to be.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604