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2019 The Year in ReviewVassar Breaks an Old Record and Some New Ground

The Vassar community witnessed some remarkable events and achievements in 2019. Here are some of the highlights:

Alumnae/i Spirit!

President Elizabeth Bradley reacts to the announcement of the Class of ‘69’s record class gift.Photo: Karl Rabe

Record turnout for the 2019 Reunion was punctuated by the news that the Class of ’69, Vassar’s last all-female class, had given Vassar its largest class gift in the college’s history: nearly $16.3 million. “We were absolutely determined that we would break the record,” said Class of 1969 Reunion Co-Chair Gig Babson. The class has thus set a high bar for 50th reunion classes to come.

Alumnae/i participation in events hosted by the Career Development Office and the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development was outstanding. Ninety alums spent a weekend advising more than 250 students on career paths during Sophomore Career Connections; alums returned to campus for two Major Palooza events. More than 150 came to campus in April, and another 130 in October to talk about how their liberal arts education had led them on exciting career paths. More than 300 students turned out for each event.

Vassar held two highly successful Major Paloozas in 2019.Photo: Karl Rabe

Vassar’s second Brewers Fund event easily eclipsed 2018’s inaugural event. A total of 5,960 donors raised $290,793 in 27 hours for our athletics programs. And Founder’s Giving Day netted a record $703,948 on May 2.

The family of the late Dan Mindich ’87 announced a $2.25-million donation that will sustain Vassar’s Urban Education Program for the next eight to 10 years.

All of this activity and success did not go unnoticed by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), an international organization that tracks the performance and effectiveness of college fundraising. The Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development received a 2019 Educational Fundraising Award in the Overall Performance category and a Circle of Excellence Award for its Sophomore Career Connections event.


Major energy upgrades to Chicago Hall are part of Vassar’s $13 million sustainability initiative.Photo: Bennett Fort ’23

The Board of Trustees agreed in principle to a decisive plan to move Vassar toward its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2030. The board declared its support for a $13-million package of major renovations and upgrades to the college’s heating system and other energy-saving projects. The improvements will be funded through bond financing, which is expected to be approved in February.

New Partnerships

Vassar and Columbia celebrated a groundbreaking partnership in 2019.Photo: Karl Rabe

Vassar and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health launched a partnership that will enable Vassar students to earn a master’s degree in public health at Columbia. It’s the first time in Vassar history that the college has collaborated with another institution in a program leading to a post-graduate degree.

Vassar and the Diligence and Delight Learning Center in Beijing forged a partnership that enables students in the Chinese secondary school to take summer classes in the liberal arts from members of the Vassar faculty. The initiative was spearheaded by Vassar alum and Trustee Huang Hung ’84.

Students at the Diligence and Delight Learning Center celebrate their partnership with Vassar.Photo: Dan Sandoval

In April, Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley and Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Rwanda, signed an agreement on the Vassar campus that creates a partnership with the innovative medical school. Three months later, three Vassar faculty members and a staff therapist co-taught three-week classes at UGHE in history, political science, and psychology.

President Bradley signs an agreement establishing a partnership with the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Rwanda as UGHE Vice Chancellor Dr. Agnes Binagwaho looks onPhoto: Karl Rabe

Scholarly Conferences and Events

Professor of Film Mia Mask (front, center) joins members of the African-American Alumnae/I of Vassar College (AAAVC) and other guests at a three-day conference on passing.Photo: Karl Rabe

A scandal involving Vassar’s first black student, Anita Hemmings, that drew nationwide headlines more than a century ago served as the backdrop for a three-day conference, “Quiet as It’s Kept: Passing Subjects, Contested Identities,” on the Vassar campus. The event drew scholars from across the country who examined the practice of passing and other aspects of racial, ethnic, and gender ambiguity from numerous perspectives.

Throughout the month of November, leaders of the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement and Education hosted a series of events focusing on physical and emotional barriers facing millions of displaced people across the globe, including the U.S.-Mexico border. The initiative culminated in an international two-day conference on “Global Displacement and Mental Health” that brought together scholars, physicians, clinicians, mental health providers, representatives from NGOs, and policy makers from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Canada, and the United States.

In the summer, the Consortium hosted 18 young men and women who had undergone forced migration and are now living in the United States. During their two-week stay, the students created a 90-foot mural on a barn at Vassar Farm depicting the struggles—and dreams—of displaced people everywhere.

Members of Vassar’s first New Americans cohort painted a 90-foot mural on a barn at Vassar Farm.Photo: Karl Rabe


Field Hockey All-American Monica Feeley ’18 was a finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award.Photo: Stockton Photo, Inc.

In Vassar Athletics, two Vassar student athletes, swimmer Jesse Ecklund ’22 and field hockey player Cristina Lopez ’20, earned All-American recognition. In addition, Monica Feeley ’19, who had been named an All-American in the fall of 2018, was named one of nine finalists for the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year Award for her achievements on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. In addition, the women’s cross country team qualified for the NCAA Division III National Championships for the first time in Vassar history, and the women’s rugby team qualified for the USA Rugby Fall Championships Final Four for the fifth straight season.

Notable Achievements

Digital imaging techniques pioneered by the late Associate Professor of Art Andrew Tallon will be a key to the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral, which was ravaged by fire on April 15.Photo: © Washington National Cathedral 2014/Craig W. Stapert

In the aftermath of the fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris April 15, Catholic clergy and French officials turned their attention to the massive rebuilding project. And many experts in the field noted the key role that the work of a renowned architectural historian, the late Vassar Associate Professor of Art Andrew Tallon, may play in the restoration. Tallon, who died of cancer on November 16, 2018, pioneered the use of laser technology and advanced imaging techniques and built a digital model of Notre Dame. His work with images captured by the drone-borne, 360-degree spherical cameras he deployed at the 800-year-old cathedral continued until his death.

Sherrilyn Ifill ’84 (left) and Professor of Astronomy Debra ElmegreenPhoto: Courtesy of NAACP-LDF; Walter Garschagen

Vassar alum Sherrilyn Ifill ’84, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Debra Elmegreen, Professor of Astronomy on the Maria Mitchell Chair, were inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. They join such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Paul McCartney, Michelle Obama, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton in the organization, which was founded in 1780.

Special Olympics

Competition was fierce—and friendly—at the New York Special Olympics Summer Games.Photo: Karl Rabe

More than 1,500 athletes and coaches, 1,200 volunteers, and numerous spectators took part in the New York Special Olympics Summer Games on the Vassar campus. Hosting the Special Olympics was a first for Vassar, and the college will do so again in 2020.

Vassar’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative

Vassar’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI), co-sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, urges us to consider how we listen, learn, and provide proactive support for members of our community—especially for those who are most vulnerable or who come from historically underserved groups. This past summer, EPI sponsored the inaugural Summer Immersion in the Liberal Arts program, which brought 12 incoming first-year students to Vassar to get a jump on their college careers. These students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, spent four weeks on campus taking specially designed, credit-bearing courses, learning about college resources, and taking part in service-based, off-campus learning experiences.


50 Years of Coeducation: Vassar is recognizing this milestone with a special issue of VQ, guest-edited by Trustees Gerry Laybourne ’69 and Brian Farkas ’10. While a student at Vassar, Laybourne served on the Master Planning Committee charged with implementing coeducation right in Poughkeepsie after the college’s momentous decision to reject Yale’s offer to merge. She and Farkas, Vassar’s youngest trustee, are also holding a series of talks between trustees and students that explore the decision to go coed as well as the implications it has for today’s Vassar.

Mifred Fierce, first Director of Vassar’s Black Studies (now Africana Studies) Program returned for the 50th anniversary celebration.Photo: Karl Rabe

50 Years of Africana Studies: Throughout the weekend of November 1-3, alumnae/i, students, faculty, staff, and community members took part in the Larry H. Mamiya Memorial Conference Celebrating 50 Years of Africana Studies at Vassar College. The event was named in Professor Mamiya’s honor for nearly four decades of service at Vassar, particularly in Africana Studies. The conference focused on the black experience from numerous perspectives and included many of the women who had taken part in the takeover of Main Building exactly 50 years earlier. The protest had ended when Vassar officials agreed to enhance funding and administrative support for the new Black Studies program.

25th Anniversary of the LGBTQ Center: The Vassar College LGBTQ Center marked its 25th Anniversary in 2019. Since 1994, the center has worked to enhance the on-campus experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students and their allies and to serve as a bridge between current students and alumni. In celebration of the milestone, Danushi Fernando, Director of LGBTQ and Gender Resources, plans to host a conference, geared towards the queer community in Dutchess County, with the Dutchess County Pride Center and local colleges in the fall of 2020.