Faculty Members

My most vivid and treasured memories of Vassar all revolve around faculty members:

1. Christine Havelock taking the stage for the first session of Art 105:  the only word to describe her bearing is regal, with her perfect posture and her professorial hairdo (swept up in a bun). And then the lights went down and the magic began. I came to Vassar intending to major in English, and I took Art 105/106 because everyone I spoke to told me that I shouldn’t graduate from Vassar without taking it. So I registered for it as a freshman, and by the end of the year I had decided to major in Art History. Mrs. Havelock (we called all the professors “Mr. ” and “Mrs./Miss” in those days—when did that practice end? My daughter, class of 2012, calls them all “Professor”), followed by Mr. Huenik, Mr. Carroll, Miss Askew, Mr. Palmer, Ms. Nochlin—the lectures were mesmerizing, and brilliant, the images (some of which were on glass slides!!) were a revelation, and I was hooked.

2. Benjamin Kohl, who made Renaissance and medieval history come alive, who told us that his children played “Guelphs and Ghibellines” instead of “cowboys and indians”, and who responded to spontaneous applause after one of his lectures with the most acute embarrassment. Speaking of which, I remember many times when such applause erupted in a classroom after a lecture, particularly in Art 105/106. I wonder how often that happens at other colleges and universities—my guess is rarely.

3.  John Glasse in the Religion Department—a class with a total enrollment of four students, meeting in his office in Blodgett, discussing St. Augustine as the sunlight streamed through the leaded glass windows and warmed the room—a quintessential Vassar experience.

What a life-changing, mind-opening privilege it was to spend four years exploring questions large and small in such a vibrant and warm intellectual community.

A Trio of Memories

I remember working on programming projects in the Computer Center into the early morning hours. The punch cards had been submitted hours ago and the run was finally complete. But it could not be! A typo! A comma instead of a period! Make a new punch card; re-submit; and wait another few hours for the deck to compile and run again!

I loved the architecture classes with Jeh Johnson. His sense of humor, encouragement, and excellent teaching live on!

I remember struggling as a Math major. Talking with my advisor, Professor John Feroe, I was seriously considering changing my major. He simply told me that the math program at Vassar was theoretical math. He suggested that I might be more interested in applied math. That conversation changed my life.  I continued as a theoretical math major, but went on to complete a MS and Doctor of Science in Operations Research (applied math and statistics). This has become my profession and I truly enjoy it.

Vassar: My First Love

We are supposed to be writing about our memories. I don’t know where to start (or end).

I became smitten with Vassar when I looked at the college catalog (remember, this was years before the Internet, e-mail, blogs, digital photos, and cell phones). I lived in Guam so there was no opportunity to visit Vassar before actually becoming a student.

Something caught my eye – maybe the pictures of the gorgeous campus or the detailed description of the college courses. Maybe I chose Vassar in part because it was located less than 100 miles from my oldest sister’s home (when the rest of my family would be 10,000 miles away).

I fell in love with Vassar from the moment we drove through Main Gate and a Vassar Greetle said, “Welcome to Vassar!”

I am taking advantage of this website’s suggested questions. Here are my answers:

  • Who are the people you most remember? My freshman year roommate (especially when I woke her (a Brooklyn native) up early one Saturday morning because I saw my first snowfall). My student fellow. My freshman English professor. Professors M. Glen Johnson (also my faculty advisor), Wilfred Rumble, Molly Shanley. My fellow dorm mates.
  • Memorable quotes from your time here: does anything come to mind? “What’s a co-ed to do?” and “Two linus.”
  • What dorm did you live in? Raymond. Anything interesting about it? Freshman year, I lived in the only double on the 5th floor.
  • What’s the wildest thing you ever did at Vassar? Actually, the wildest thing I ever did at Vassar happened years after graduating…
  • What was your favorite spot (or spots) on campus? Raymond’s TV Room, the Mug, the Library (24 hour room), the Quad.
  • What organizations did you belong to, and what was your position? Yearbook Committee, Student Fellow .
  • What were some of your favorite classes? My PoliSci classes, Comparative World Views, French, Freshman English. (I do regret never taking Art History.)
  • What were some of your favorite local places? Napoli’s Pizza
  • What do you think the most important thing you learned/did at Vassar was? I learned to never stop learning.
  • Was there any experience at Vassar that changed your world? Making lifelong friends.

No Longer That Far Away

Vassar was a far away place when I was growing on South Perry St. in downtown Poughkeepsie. It was a world not likely to touch my or my friends’ lives. Several critical interventions changed this scenario. As a fourth grader at Clinton Elementary school I attended an afternoon school program sponsored by Vassar students with the lure of a campus visit one day a week and sometimes on Saturday. The evening dinners in the residence dorms and bike rides out to the Vassar farm remain etched in my mind. This was in 1969—a year after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated and two years after the urban riots that also touched upon lower Main Street.

A year later my family moved uptown to Winnikee Avenue and one day, venturing down the block toward Cottage Street, I came across a two-story storefront building with the words Urban Center for Black Studies blazoned above glass windows in large black letters. My curiosity led me inside where I discovered wall after wall of books, African masks, and maps. In the afternoon a mini-bus dropped off black students from Vassar who made their presence felt in so many ways. The magnitude of this building didn’t hit me until I was a teenager; suddenly its contents meant everything in my search to understand black history and culture. Vassar’s Urban Center stuck with me as I went through high school and Dutchess Community College.

The third critical Vassar moment came when my high school classmate and good friend, Michelle Lanchester ’81, told me that I should transfer to Vassar. Going to Vassar had never been in my vision, but I had done very well in my first year at Dutchess and I trusted Michelle. By the time I stepped onto campus in the fall of 1980, I knew Vassar was the right place. Yes, it was a world different than what I’d known but the intellectual challenge met my needs. My courses in sociology, political science, and the general edginess and politics of the Vassar of then are memorable. We saw divestment in South Africa and Reagan come into office. It was the time of disco and punk rock and designer jeans and big hair too.

With a Vassar degree I headed back to Poughkeepsie and eventually a career in higher education at Dutchess. Still, I had not imagined the long-term role Vassar would play in my life, but in the spring of 1990 I applied for a student life position. This was following the tumultuous student takeover of Main Building and Vassar’s call to meet the challenges of diversity. I see this as the last critical moment that made Vassar closer than I’d ever imagined while growing up on South Perry Street. So, for twenty years I have worked closely with students, faculty, administrators, and staff in trying to shape the Vassar community. I value what students have taught me about being responsive and take this to reflect their commitment, love and care for Vassar as well.

When I drive through my old South Perry Street neighborhood Vassar is no longer that far away.

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