Stories including Olmsted

A School with a View

First week of freshman year. I’m running late. But I’m also lost, so my hurried pace has stalled, and I stand near New England Building shifting my body weight north and south, trying to commit to a direction. Another student approaches, and she’s everything I’m not: stylish, assured, oriented. Definitely not a freshman. I don’t want to bother her, but she’s clearly seen my kind before. She smiles and asks if I need help.

Trying not to sound like I think she’s the Second Coming, I tell her that yes, I’m… looking for Skinner Hall?

She leads me over to Olmsted Hall. When we reach the top of the stairs, we stop simultaneously. Beyond and below us lie the Shakespeare Garden, the creek, and the castle that is Skinner. I want more than anything to not seem like the bumbling small-town girl that I am, but I’m awestruck. I stare. My mouth opens. Movie-score music swells in my ears. The girl, this epitome of collegiate sophistication, waits a beat. Then she gives a little laugh and gestures towards the expanse. “And that,” she says, “is basically why I came to Vassar.”

Taking an Unexpected Trail

Thinking back to when I arrived in August of 2006, I don’t think I ended up following the path that I had originally planned. Which is great: I am not the pre-med, cognitive science major that I imagined I would be at this point. Instead, I would say that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” has been very applicable to my Vassar experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a member of the rugby team, but I am also quite satisfied that this year instead I served as the president of the Black Students Union and secretary of the Council of Black Seniors.

On another note, I would like to encourage every student to visit the ALANA center for a Black Students Union meeting or any student of color organization’s weekly discussion meeting. (No, you do not have to be the ethnicity of the org in order to discuss or observe.) I think the majority of students on campus do not realize how alienated an individual can feel when they are the only or one of very few minorities in a classroom, at a party, or in the library. Our College claims to be diverse. Therefore, students on campus ought to acknowledge those differences if we are truly to call ourselves a tolerant institution. The many incidents on campus that occurred over the past four years related to cultural ignorance and/or intolerance should serve as a reminder that although the Vassar bubble is full of intelligent scholars, it is not immune to ineptitude in some sense.

Community forums can only go so far toward correcting cultural ignorance; I encourage all students, faculty and administrators to increase their awareness of their own subconscious racial and cultural biases. (Yes, we all have them.)

Taking humanities and social science courses outside of my major division was one of the most academically rewarding decisions I made. In addition to taking Spectrometric Identification of Organic Compounds and Protein Chemistry, I also took Introductory Sociology and Black Intellectual History. Looking back, I would encourage every scientist to venture outside of Mudd and Olmsted every once in a while to learn about the world outside of science. (What happens outside of science does indeed affect you regardless of your awareness of the fact.)

I think the breadth of courses and activities that I have engaged in is what was most satisfying about my Vassar experience. I am very appreciative that I have never felt locked into a specific path-not course-, major- nor extracurricular activity-wise.

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