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Faculty Meeting Remarks (Excerpt)

August 31, 2016

I view this surprise interim year as something of a gift: a chance to take stock of where we are as a community during this time between presidents and to engage in new ways with the work of becoming more fully the diverse and inclusive community of our aspirations.

We have changed in many ways over the past decade—physically, of course, with the near-completion of one of the largest capital projects in the College’s history, the new, renovated, and outdoor spaces of the Integrated Science Commons, including the stunning Bridge for Laboratory Sciences. The change noted most frequently in the wider world, though, is Vassar’s transformation in areas of diversity, inclusion, and access. Our financial aid investments and innovations such as the Posse Veterans initiative have brought to campus a dramatically more diverse student body whether viewed by race, age, gender identity, socio-economic background, geographic origin, or many other factors.

To take just one measure—the race and ethnicity of our entering classes—we have moved from U.S. students of color constituting 1 out of 5 members of our entering class in 2006 to 1 out of 3 this year. Asian Americans have increased from 10% to almost 16% of the entering class. Latin Americans have increased from 6% to almost 11%. African American student numbers have risen from a little over 4% a decade ago to 7% today.

Graph 1. [View larger]

We now have a full complement of four classes of Posse veterans on campus. This means that 32 military veterans, the majority of whom have served tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, are pursuing degrees and bringing their distinctive experiences to bear on their studies at Vassar.

Then there are our Pell Grant numbers. Students receiving federal Pell Grants almost all come from families earning less than $40K per year. In 2006-07, 8% of our student body received Pell Grants. The proportion has nearly tripled over the past ten years, to 23% today.

Graph 2. [View larger]

These are dramatic changes, well beyond what most colleges have experienced over this period. Those on campus who have been around over this decade have experienced these changes directly. Our classrooms are different; our conversations are different; our challenges and needs and opportunities are different.

I very much look forward to working with the Vassar community this year on our shared challenges, needs, and opportunities. We have the exciting prospect before us of sustaining and intensifying the College’s progress toward a more diverse and inclusive community where all have a voice, all feel they belong, and all can practice the arts of effective and engaged citizenship for our turbulent and needy world.

—Jonathan Chenette, Interim President