Today Vassar College was picketed by Westboro Baptist Church. A few weeks ago, someone in the extended Vassar community found out that WBC was planning this protest, and wheels went into motion.
I graduated from Vassar in 1996 and I have to say that I am really proud to be a part of the Vassar community today.
Instead of confronting WBC, Vassar decided to work even harder at being a place where everyone feels included. Instead of denouncing WBC, Vassar decided to work even harder at being a place that WBC would hate. Instead of fighting against hate disguised as religion, Vassar embraced inclusiveness and rationality.
You may not know that when Vassar was founded in 1861, it was not widely believed that women could handle a regimen of physical exercise combined with intellectual learning, or even that women should have higher education at all. Matthew Vassar created a women's college that became an elite institution, respected for educational rigor throughout the country and around the world. Although he was criticized (if women studied and exercised at the same time, their ovaries would shrivel) Matthew Vassar enabled generations of women to receive a higher education.
In the 1960's, Vassar became known as a liberal institution. In the 70's and 80's after going co-ed, Vassar became a haven for gays and lesbians and a place known for embracing the individuality of students who might not fit into the mainstream. When I took a tour of Vassar, I was told that Vassar students' unofficial motto was, "We will not tolerate intolerance." When I was there, it was more like, "Everyone at Vassar is a freak."
And that made it an amazing place to live. In high school I got away with being different by becoming a Drama Freak. So when I wore purple overalls and was too dramatic and carried a moose hat hanging from my purse, it was just part of my persona. But at Vassar, I could wear a coat made from fake fur with a panda print on it and just be me. And most importantly, I could be smart. At Vassar, being smart isn't weird. Wanting to do your homework doesn't make you a dork. And you can always find people who want to discuss the book you're reading, or the paper you're writing, or the news, or whether or not money should exist.
So I owe a great deal of who I am to the time I spent at Vassar, and the friends I met there. And I am really proud to be a part of the Vassar community, today and every day.