Radical Change

I arrived at Vassar from Oklahoma in 1965 and found the college’s “in loco parentis” role not only expected but comforting. It included the staffing of each dorm with a “White Angel” – a kindly woman dressed in a white uniform who occupied a desk in the lobby. She monitored our comings and goings, and called up to our rooms to announce the arrival of a male guest. Men were not allowed to visit our rooms except on Sundays for a few hours, with the door open and “all four feet on the floor.”

The White Angel also locked the doors of the dorm at the appointed hour at night and woe be unto the girl who missed the curfew.

Fast forward four years.

As seniors, my class of ’69 had moved into Main. The sexual revolution had begun and Vassar had turned down Yale’s invitation to merge. The first male students would be admitted the following year. There were no more White Angels. The college announced that as of a certain date, men would be allowed in the dorms 24/7. Some of my creative friends sent announcements to men’s colleges promoting a mass slumber party for that first weekend. A few Dartmouth guys actually turned up as I recall.

But on the last weekend before the new rules (or lack thereof) went into effect, on Sunday morning, at an hour when the campus was quietly sleeping, the fire alarms in Main were activated. Girls streamed sleepily out of the building and lined up on the front lawn. The alarm continued to ring, suggesting it wasn’t false. Just as it appeared that everyone was out of the building, a side door opened and two men, carrying their shoes, ran out the door and hightailed it as fast as they could into the woods behind the chapel.

There were loud cheers from the Class of ‘69. It seemed symbolic somehow. We had experienced an amazing amount of cultural change during those four years.

Looking back on it, I am in awe of how Vassar, as an institution, adapted and evolved to meet those forces. It neither rushed headlong into rash responses, nor refused to recognize what was going on. Instead, in a spirit of enlightenment and intentionality, it addressed the needs of the time. What an example for those of us who were there.

The Promise

“You have to talk to the Dru (Dean Drouilhet), if you want to run, your grades are too low.”

I knew I was in trouble…I had had a rough entry into Vassar. My older sister E.D. was a junior and had a fun group of friends. I tried to keep up with them, but let my grades suffer. I wasn’t connecting to the substance of Vassar. I knew that I was my best when I was signed up to do more than I could handle—I needed to plug into something positive where I could make a contribution in order to get myself back on track.

I made my appointment and I must say at the appointed time… I was skinny enough then that my knees actually knocked in her waiting area. She looked at me in that way she mastered—with those eyes that said “this is going to be a good one.” I presented my case.

“I need to do this to get myself back to the person I know I am. When I am busy, I am happy and I perform. If you let me run, I promise I’ll get my grades up.” (I might have said straight A’s.) I ran, I won, I got connected to my college, my courses, my teachers, my dorm, my grades. Eventually I graduated magna.

But here is the interesting part. I made a promise that I kept and the Dru noticed. She kept track of me. And when there was an opportunity in my senior year to appoint a student representative to the Master Planning committee that worked on the transformation of Vassar to a coed institution, she picked me.

I chaired the Student Center sub-committee and the Dru sat on the committee along with architects, teachers and another student. That was heady for me and taught me that I wanted to lead and that I could corral a group of diverse people. I call it my business school education.

I am grateful for my Vassar education everyday: it taught me how to question everything, to have my own ideas, to stay engaged and to be collaborative with purpose.

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