Vassar College is a private, liberal-arts college in Poughkeepsie, NY. Founded by Matthew Vassar in 1861, it claims to have been the first all-women’s college in the country. Formerly one of the Seven Sisters, Vassar College went coed in 1969, after turning down an offer to merge with Yale University. Since Matthew Vassar started his career as a brewer, this became the college’s mascot, and Vassar houses the Mug, a pub and “nightclub” right on campus. A lot of the college’s Gothic architecture is original, and some of the buildings are believed to be haunted.
In the college’s early days, Vassar students were thought of as elite and very wealthy, an image that is still fairly prevalent. However, the administration is actively battling this stereotype, and it is trying to attract students of all economic levels. Starting in fall 2008, Vassar will eliminate student loans from its financial-aid package for students whose total family income is under $60,000. They are allocating $1 million a year from their budget to provide grants for low-income students, both current and perspective.
Currently, the college offers over 50 majors, with the most popular being English, Sociology, Political Science, and Psychology. Students tend to come to Vassar for liberal arts degrees, but the Psychology and Biology departments are very strong as well. Vassar boasts a higher percentage of theater majors than most other colleges, even if Theater is not the most popular major statistically. New programs like Media Studies and Neuroscience are growing rapidly and will likely expand over the next few years. While there’s no core curriculum at Vassar, there are a few core requirements that are very easy to fulfill. Academics at Vassar are generally very competitive, and each department has its own system of grading.
Vassar’s campus is a protected arboretum and looks like a botanical garden. The Main Building, which was the college’s only structure at its inception, is now a national historic landmark. It houses a number of parlors, the most popular one being the Rose Parlour, where tea is served at 3 p.m. All the administrative, academic, and dorm buildings are built in the beautiful Gothic style, except the new, “modern” Noyes hall.
During the week, students tend to congregate in places that offer coffee and a quiet place to read and work. UpCDC is a coffee and snack shop located on the top floor of the dining hall. You can order coffee, espresso beverages, smoothies, and yummy snacks and curl up in one of the comfortable chairs or couches with your work. On Thursday nights, UpCDC turns into After Hours, a low-key cabaret of student musicians (typically acoustic guitar-playing folk singers) that usually attracts a significant turnout.
The Mug (Matthew’s Mug) is the on-campus dance club and bar. The atmosphere varies greatly depending on the night of the week. Monday night is Trivia Night, Tuesday is Jazz Night (most popular night of the week), Wednesday is 80s Night, and Thursday-Saturday are themed dance parties sponsored by various campus organizations. The Mug from Thursday to Saturday is usually packed with sweaty, intoxicated students dancing to the latest hip-hop music. On those nights, you have to wait in a long line and present your ID to Betty, the well-known security guard who mans the door.
Other popular hangouts are The Retreat (especially since it is open until 11 PM), the art museum on Thursday night (they have food and entertainment), Pub Night at the Alumni House, and any of the myriad theater or music performances that are constantly happening around campus.
The “Vassar bubble”, as students call the college, is located in Poughkeepsie, New York, 75 miles from NYC. The Metro North railroad, which takes students into the city, is a ten-minute drive from campus. While Poughkeepsie has a number of quaint restaurants near campus, there is little to do off-campus otherwise.
Because Vassar is located in the town of Poughkeepsie--where there is terrible public transportation and not too much going on--most of Vassar life happens on campus, which is wonderful or annoying, depending on how you look at it. There is little-to-no bar scene, and clubbing is not an option. However, there are a number of great restaurants, thanks to Vassar's proximity to the Culinary Institute of America.
The most popular students restaurant is the Acropolis Diner, affectionately called “Acrop.” It's nothing special, just a Greek diner like you might find anywhere. It's open 24 hours, and the price is right. Usually students go there at 3 a.m. when they're intoxicated and want greasy, cheap comfort food.
For a good meal, students flock to Baby Cakes, which is a short walk from campus. Baby Cakes used to be mainly a breakfast and coffee place but has recently expanded and started to open for dinner. The food is amazing. They have the best crepes, waffles, and pastries, as well as great sandwiches and salads. It's difficult to find a table there for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The service can be a little slow and snippy, but that's never stopped large groups of students from going there several times a week.
Some students prefer to hang out at the “Cubby Hole,” a coffee place on Raymond Avenue. They have live entertainment on weekend nights, and many Vassar bands and artists play there. There are also two sushi restaurants on Raymond, both of which are quite popular and not half bad. But they're not “hang out” places, they're just places students like to eat.
There is a bar or two within walking distance from campus, and students go there sometimes (and often run into their professors there, which is always amusing). Most drinking and partying happens on campus, where people don't have to worry about paying for drinks or getting carded.
There is a big disconnect between the Vassar campus and the surrounding community of Poughkeepsie. That being said, there are restaurants, shopping, and movies in the surrounding areas. If you have a car, the small, artsy towns of Rhinebeck and Hyde Park have boutique shopping, restaurants, independent films, and pleasant areas to walk around. The Westchester Center in White Plains is a huge mall with more upscale stores than the local Galleria. Students also go to movies at the cinema at the Galleria and the neighboring South Hills bargain theater.
There are many popular restaurants within walking distance. Zorona’s is a Middle Eastern restaurant that lets you bring your own alcohol and sells hookahs and tobacco. Tokyo Express is the favorite sushi restaurant and is located across the street from Miss Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant with unbelievable pad thai. Baby Cakes is a restaurant and pastry café that is the default Saturday morning hangover haunt for Vassar students. The Beech Tree is a slightly fancier establishment, where more professors tend to hang out.
There are a few bars in the area immediate surrounding campus where over-21 students hang out. The most popular is the Dutch Cabin (the Dutch), which is relatively small and usually packed with students and local residents. The Dubliner is an Irish pub within walking distance that has karaoke on Wednesday night and a wide selection of beers on tap. There are also some nicer bars and breweries in New Paltz, in the area surrounding Marist College.
There are a slew of unofficial traditions at Vassar, ranging from freshmen covered in condiments to an upgrade from your average make-out closet:
Traying' is a winter tradition during which students take trays from the dining center and sled down the hill by Sunset Lake. This can be somewhat dangerous because it’s a steep hill that leads directly to the lake, but so far no one has been seriously injured.
It’s also considered necessary to do something rebellious involving the statue of Matthew Vassar outside of Main Building: Take a picture of yourself sitting on it, pee on it, dress it up, etc.
Most students will tell you that at one point or another they have made out (or more) in the basement of the library. The library is huge with many infrequently-used rooms, so this is usually not much of a challenge.”
As reported by Rebecca Berkowitz ’10:
At the beginning of every year, all the dorms and the seniors participate in the 'Serenading' tradition. Each dorm is supposed to compose a song for the seniors saying how great the seniors are. Then, the senior go around to each dorm, listen to the songs, and pelt the underclassmen with water balloons, ketchup, chocolate sauce, and other non-dangerous items. It can be quite violent. The underclassmen are expected to just take it or even to say they're thankful for it, and at the end of the day, one of the songs will “win,” according to the seniors. One dorm, Joss, chooses to fight back and doesn't write a song or allow the seniors to throw things at them without throwing things back. The day after serenading this year, I met a cute old woman walking on campus and she said, looking around at the ketchup-soaked pavement, “It looks like there's been a massacre here!” I explained the tradition to her and she said that, when she attended Vassar, the seniors would walk around and listen to the songs and then give the underclassmen flowers. How things change.
Lisa Kudrow (1985) is an actress and star of Friends (she often visits campus).
Meryl Streep (1983) is a two-time Academy Award-winning actress.
Mary McCarthy (1933) was an American literary critic and author who wrote The Company She Keeps.
Justin Long (2000)is a film and television star.
Noah Baumbach (1991) is an American writer and director.
Hope Davis (1986) is an actress who starred in Arlington Road and About Schmidt.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1917) was a noted poet and playwright.
Few sports teams have large turnouts at their games, but women’s rugby is one of the most respected teams at Vassar. The teams compete in the Division III category. Participation in intramural and club sports is popular here, and the college even has a gender-neutral baseball team. The state-of-the-art gym by the Terrace Apartments is always a popular place to be, even on a Friday before the official start of the weekend.
Vassar is not known for its athletics, but we do have sports teams that compete regularly. Our most popular (and successful) teams are our Women's Rugby, Ultimate Frisbee, and Swim teams. While Vassar doesn’t have many sports rivals, I would say that it is in constant competition with other small, academically rigorous liberal arts colleges in the New England and New York areas: Wesleyan, Skidmore, Sarah Lawrence, Mount Holyoke, Colby, etc. There is also an unacknowledged animosity towards Ivy League schools, which many Vassar students are still upset at being rejected from--mainly Columbia and Brown. More conservative schools like Yale and Harvard are mocked for their snobbishness.”
Rugby is by far and away the largest sports team on campus. It's also one of the best. Women’s rugby is going to the championship this year and has won numerous championships in the past. Vassar doesn't exactly have a “rival” school, especially when it comes to sports. There's no equivalent to the big Harvard/Yale game, or anything like that (although there was the big “Middlebury/Vassar Quidditch game a few weeks ago, but that hardly counts).
Vassar heavily emphasizes the creative “free space” section of the college application.
Vassar is mentioned at least four times on the Simpsons (Lisa says “there goes my young girlish dreams of Vassar”.)
Everyone agrees that The Retreat has much better food than the ACDC.
You can buy an $15 empty mug at Founder’s Day and get unlimited beer all day (there is always a long line, of course).
It’s virtually impossible to double major in two subjects that are in the same division (such as English and Theater or Sociology and Political Science), because a quarter of academic credits must come from outside your "major division."
During study breaks every Wednesdays at 10 a.m., there's free food in dorm lounges.
Mary McCarthy's book The Group is about women who go to Vassar.
The beginning of the Mupets Take Manhattan was filmed at Vassar. It begins with a very clear shot of the campus and of ACDC.
Vassar allows students to design their own major if they can successfully plan a program that does not exist and is up to the school’s academic standards. Some students majored in ethnobotany or “creativity.” Similarly, Vassar has a Self Instructional Language program, where the college will provide an appropriate instructor if a student wants to take a language that isn’t offered.
- Elizabeth Leeber ’08 and Rebecca Berkowitz ’10
Vassar grads fondly look back at dorming, even though some didn’t have air conditioning. Almost all Vassar students live on campus, with freshman and sophomores in traditional dorms and upperclassmen sharing apartments and suites.
At Vassar, there is fierce dorm loyalty. Student's are assigned to dorms as freshmen and they automatically stay in that dorm for three years, unless they request a switch (there's an annoying and uncertain process for switching dorms). Some dorms have strong personalities, though they changes slightly from year to year.
There are nine major dorms on campus, plus one vegan co-op and various forms of senior housing (which are more like apartments). The main dorms are Main, Jewitt, Josselyn (Joss), Cushing, Noyes, Raymond, Davison, Strong, and Lathrop. Davison, Raymond, Strong, and Lathrop are “Quad dorms.” They're identical and, obviously, are located on the quad. The rooms in the quad dorms are some of the smallest.
Main is the largest dorm by far. It's also the center of campus and is home to a dining facility, many offices (including the President and Dean of Student's offices) and numerous parlors, meeting places, and random rooms. It was Vassar College's first building.
Josselyn and Main have larger rooms and, along with Cushing, are the most beautiful dorms architecturally.
Raymond offers a low-key environment perfect for those who actually want to study in their room.
Davison houses a wide mix of people, from straitlaced economic students to very liberal “artsy” types.
Noyes is very modern-looking. Its doors are shaped like mushrooms, and many people say it's the ugliest building on campus. It is considered the international dorm (though many international students live elsewhere). The lounge in Noyes Hall is referred to as the “Jetson lounge” because it has white furniture and colorful, ultra-modern lamps reminiscent of the 60s.
With nine floors and an elevator, Jewitt is the newest and tallest dorm. It has an eight-story tower and is also located on the quad. Recently, it underwent a renovation. Students call it “Hotel Jewitt.” The bathrooms in Joss also underwent a reservation, and now they look like the bathrooms in a movie theater, only with showers.
Lathrop is widely considered a “druggy” or “party” dorm. If you have a pot dealer, he or she probably lives in Lathrop.
Cushing is sometimes called a frat this year, because of an unequal distribution of the genders. It’s farthest from the quad but has the biggest rooms by far.
Strong is the only all-female space on campus. Because of that, it is the cleanest dorm (residents are always bragging about their bathrooms). Also, many substance-free women choose to live in Strong.
Four to five upperclassmen live in the Terrace Apartments (a short walk across a pretty bridge to the center of campus), the Town Houses (which are located across the street from the main campus), and the South Commons (which border the campus). These students share one nice-sized bathroom and have to buy their own furniture.
Those who crave a radically different college living experience can apply to the modern-looking Ferry House. Twenty students live in this self-governed co-op and don’t have to pay board fees. They buy their own food, shop together, and rotate chores. Most students who choose this community are vegans and very politically radical.