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All College Day 2018The Practice of Community

Over the past 18 years, Vassar students, faculty and administrators have taken a day in February to reflect on ways to improve and enhance the campus community. The goals for this year’s All College Day, held Feb. 28, embraced that theme, but this time members of the Vassar staff joined in, and the serious work was interrupted occasionally by some outright silliness.

For the first time, All College Day kicked off with the President’s Staff Brunch, an hour-long event in the Villard Room, where more than 250 employees from throughout the campus shared food and fellowship.

President Elizabeth Bradley said she hatched the idea for the brunch because she wanted to underscore the importance of building community through participation by everyone in the community. “I thought we should have a time to hang out together because building a community is some of the most important work we do,” Bradley said in brief remarks during the brunch. “I want to express my gratitude to you, to thank you for all the work you do, often with not enough resources.”

Melissa Brown, a kitchen worker, said she was pleased to have been invited to the event. “I love what I do, serving the students and everyone else here on campus,” Brown sad, “but this is a nice gesture that recognizes our hard work.”

As the brunch concluded, Bradley joined fellow faculty members and administrators and staff at a “Laughter Break” in the Multi-Purpose Room. Led by Wayne Assing, Assistant Director of the Counseling Services, and Samuel Speers, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, the group paid homage to Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks by tromping and staggering around the room while engaging in spontaneous chortling and guffawing.

Meanwhile, on the first floor of the Campus Center, student organizations and Vassar staff distributed information on what they do and solicited input on how to act on the theme of the day, “The Practice of Community.” Charlotte Meng ’20, who works in the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, handed out cards asking participants to complete the sentence: “How I would like to practice community is…” Some of the completed sentences were later posted in the College Center.

Meng said she enjoyed taking part in the event. “There’s always a lot of positive energy around All College Day,” she said. “It’s a day for active engagement, and it’s in its 18th year, so it’s a lasting Vassar tradition.”

Some of the more serious work took place during three workshops in the afternoon, and the day concluded with a lecture on implicit bias by Lena Tenney, Director of the Kirwan Institute’s Race and Cognition Program at Ohio State University. But even these panels were often punctuated with humor. One of the workshops was run by Dallas Goldtooth, leader of a Native American comedy troupe, “The 1491s.” The group spent three days on campus spreading their message of using humor to engage in social activism. Goldtooth told those attending his workshop that the comedy troupe grew out of his love of filmmaking. “We loved crappy 80s movies and we wanted to make our own crappy 80s movies,” he said.

Tenney peppered their lecture with jokes and humorous anecdotes to help those attending understand the origins of implicit bias and to provide insights on how to combat it.

Keynote speaker Lena Tenney, Director of the Kirwan Institute’s Race and Cognition Program at Ohio State University

The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Campus Life and Diversity, the Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI) and the Vassar Student Association. And as the day concluded, leaders of those organizations pronounced it a success. “A major highlight for me was the staff brunch,” said Wendy Maragh Taylor, Director of the ALANA Center. “And I’m glad we took time to laugh. All of this, together, truly helped to build community.”

Associate Anthropology Prof. Candice Lowe Swift, a co-founder of EPI along with Dean of the Faculty Jonathan Chenette, agreed with Taylor that “laughing with staff, my colleagues from Counseling Services and Religious and Spiritual Life and the president” was one of her favorite experiences on All College Day. “We all made a circle and held hands and ran together and laughed!” Lowe Swift said. “It felt like we were a real community of people -- separate, for sure, but not divided in a hierarchical way by our roles. Much later in the day, I saw people I had laughed with, and we spoke to each other and smiled. I am sure that I must have seen the same people before yesterday, but this time, I recognized them, and we acknowledged each other. I hope that the president's staff appreciation brunch, the laughter breakout, and other things on All College Day were just the beginning of ways to re-imagine how connected we are to each other on campus. Everyone deserves to be recognized and respected.”

Edward Pittman ’82, Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity and principal organizer of the event, agreed. “My take-away is the community spirit,” Pittman said. “I was especially pleased by the engagement of the staff, and President Bradley made that possible.

“All of the key administrators took part in the workshop with Lena Tenney, and that will carry over in the work we do going forward,” Pittman added. “I think that’s what made this All College Day special this year, that the work we did will continue in our future decision making.”