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Students Help Make First Virtual Families Weekend a Flaming Success

Families Weekend is traditionally a time for students’ relatives to tour the campus, meet the president—and even enjoy some fire juggling! All that and more took place during the College’s first-ever virtual Families Weekend October 2-4, held online this year to keep the extended community safe during the pandemic.

“People seemed very engaged with it and appreciative,” said organizer Edward Cheetham, who noted that a virtual “walking tour” of the campus narrated by Vassar Historian Colton Johnson had 1,700 views. One benefit of this year’s online format, he said, was that it allowed far-flung families to attend. “We had people dialed in from Hawaii,” he said. The specially created Families Weekend content and recordings of live events will remain online for anyone who missed it.

Some of the events could be accessed at any time, including virtual tours of the campus, the arboretum, and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center—and a performance by Vassar’s circus-themed performance troupe, the Barefoot Monkeys.

Other events took place live. For students, there was a dinnertime concert on Noyes Circle and a roller-disco night sponsored by Vassar College Sound System at Walker Field House. Virtual events open to families included three panel discussions with the president and deans, faculty, and students; a virtual reunion for the men’s and women's swimming & diving teams; and a special concert and interview with singer/songwriter Naïka as part of the Vassar Haiti Project’s annual benefit art sale.

President Elizabeth Bradley hosted a panel discussion with Deans William Hoynes, Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, and Marianne Begemann.

In her opening remarks at the first panel discussion, “A Conversation with the President and Deans,” President Elizabeth Bradley noted that any one of the trials of 2020—a pandemic, climate change, racial injustice, and a presidential election, would have been a lot to deal with. “To put them all together—it’s really pushed us, there’s no question it’s pushed us, but I am just so delighted with the commitment and humanity that our team and institution and your students have really shown through all of this,” she said. “Parents—you did a lot right on the way up because your students are really under pressure, showing tremendous grace and tremendous gratitude.”

Bradley was joined by William Hoynes, Dean of Faculty; Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, Dean of the College; and Marianne Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources. 

The panelists answered more than 20 questions from parents about topics ranging from Spring Semester logistics, to study abroad, to COVID-19 testing and reporting. “We have had no student who has tested positive based on an exposure on campus,” Bradley noted.

The second panel, “Academic Life: A Faculty Panel for Families of First Year Students,” was hosted by Jennifer Herrera, Dean of First Year Students. She was joined by Jaime Liborio Del Razo, Assistant Professor of Education; Rachel D. Friedman, Professor and Chair of Greek and Roman Studies; and Christopher C. Raymond, Associate Professor of Philosophy. All three teach first-year writing seminars and have also served as house fellows, living in residence halls with students. The panelists emphasized how important it is for students to talk to their professors regularly and not to let concern over grades be the focus that drives their academic work.

One parent asked whether the professors had noticed any difference in the work produced by this year’s incoming students compared with past years, given the extraordinary circumstances of 2020.

“I think the only thing that might be different is that things are a little bit more anxious these days because of the pandemic,” said Del Razo. “I think that’s across the board—not just with students, but with faculty as well.”

Friedman agreed. “I don’t think I would say there’s a difference in the quality of the writing, I think students feel more vulnerable and more anxious,” she said. “The emotional energy that they’re bringing to the work feels different, but I wouldn’t say that the work itself does.” 

Students got to offer their own perspectives in the final panel of the day: “Oh, The Places They Went: A Very Vassar Summer.” Stacy Bingham, Associate Dean of the College for Career Development, hosted a discussion among five students who described a highly unusual yet ultimately productive summer. They each described the ways in which Vassar had helped them find rewarding internships—which, in turn, allowed them to come to important realizations about the kind of work they want to be doing, and about themselves. Bingham noted that the College had provided a total of $800,000 to support summer experiences for students, including $300,000 in summer internship support from the Career Development Office (CDO).

Students discussed how they went about finding meaningful internships during the highly unusual summer of 2020.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the CDO,” said Michael Fedorko ’21, an economics major who interned for Plaeris LLC (founded by a Vassar alum) and S&P Global Ratings over the summer. 

At the end of the discussion, Bingham asked the panelists what advice they had for first-year students. All urged them not to stress if they don’t have everything figured out just yet.

“The whole idea of Vassar is very much centered around exploration,” said Frankie Knuckles ’21, an English and philosophy major who is weighing careers in publishing or academia.

One grandparent who tuned in to the day’s events commented, “I want to thank Vassar for providing the opportunity and avenue for families to be well informed and participate. I’m a grandparent of a first-year student, and I appreciate being able to understand some of the things my grandson is experiencing, especially his first time away from home.” 

It’s not too late to experience Families Weekend online, so tune in for any programs you may have missed!