Vassar Today

The Vassar First Year

By Micah Buis ’02

The Vassar class of 2010 began its time on campus a little differently than Vassar freshmen of recent years. Orientation, which typically spanned seven days before the start of classes and encompassed everything from move-in to course registration to the Before School Conference, this year took place over only four days. “Nothing has been lost,” said Dean of Freshmen Joanne Long, explaining that “some activities have been shifted to the end of the first week of classes, putting the focus on academic advising in the first few days.”

While orientation itself now follows a shorter schedule, acclimating to college life takes place over a longer period of time—and that will be reflected in the new structure. In reviewing the college’s traditional orientation schedule, “we talked about how little information students retain during that intense week,” said Dean of the College J.J. Jackson. “We discussed the best way to ensure that students could actually process information and reflect on and respond to the issues and social pressures of the first year.” It was agreed that a more effective approach would be to address such issues with students “over the course of months, rather than days crammed with so many other important activities,” Jackson said.

Called the Vassar First Year, this new program not only facilitates the transition to college over a full year, but also helps students understand the importance of community and diversity—and the responsibilities, privileges, and rights that come with membership in a community. “Our approach this year was to use orientation to begin discussions of critical issues of social challenges, behavior, and responsibility, and then continue these discussions at specific times during the rest of the semester and the year,” said Jackson. “This will create an ongoing opportunity for students to access and be mindful of important resources,” said Jackson.

To this end, freshmen read Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown over the summer and attended a September talk by Rushdie (pictured above) in the chapel. Afterward, freshmen were encouraged to attend a community conversation in their residence houses. “The conversations,” said Long, “were meant to serve as a link between the intellectual issues raised by a writer and how we talk about these same issues as a community.”