The Pioneer Years: Uniquely Challenging

by John R. Stevenson, Class of ’75

As part of the second class of freshman men, entering Vassar in 1971, I had no idea what I was getting into or what lay ahead. Growing up with three other brothers in an all-boy family with a mother who related better to men than to most women, I was used to a male’s way of thinking, doing, and behaving in school and society back then.

Since my two older brothers attended Amherst and Johns Hopkins before I chose Vassar over Lafayette, I was the first son not to attend an all-male college. What I knew of college life from my brothers did not exist at Vassar, so my initial experiences of my freshman year were full of dissonance in light of my thinking, values, and my comfort zone.

As newly minted freshmen men on campus we were in a highly visible, cautiously regarded (sometimes resented) minority, and I often thought I didn’t belong at Vassar, that I didn’t fit in. The feelings of disconnect were so strong that by mid-October of ’71 I was ready to transfer out to a more male-centric college like my brothers had attended.

Only the sage advice from my parents (“Don’t try to fit Vassar, just make Vassar fit you”) kept me from abandoning the community I had just joined and provided me a mantra that got me through freshman year with more pleasant memories and experiences.

Among the freshmen men of ‘the pioneer classes’ of the early 70’s I’m sure I wasn’t alone in the struggle to make a place for myself at Vassar, a place where there were few male student role models and the struggle we faced was to create them, to help Vassar start down the road of achieving maturity as a coeducational institution. Only those classmates, male and female both, who attended Vassar during those years prior to 1976-77 share that bond of living through the challenges of those pioneer years. Having been a part of that period of the college’s history makes my memories of Vassar uniquely special. It wasn’t always comfortable or pretty, but it was a one-of-a-kind college education for me.