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Today, Tomorrow & Beyond

Dear Colleagues, Students, Alumnae/i, Friends,

First and foremost, I want to thank all members of our extended community for every idea and perspective that has been shared over the last two weeks, since the Westboro Baptist Church announced its intention to picket Vassar. In addition to the many campus discussions and meetings that have been held, our coordinating group has received nearly 300 messages of support and guidance at vctogether@vassar.edu.

Westboro has said they will picket Vassar College tomorrow from 1:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.  As a college community we have agreed to use this day to focus on our own guiding principles, and to examine how Vassar is living up to these principles. Related events have already been held, with several still to come.  These have been organized in collaboration with students, and with guidance from local law enforcement and the United States Department of Justice. I want to not only highlight these upcoming activities, but also provide some guidance on what will potentially be provocative circumstances for all of us.

Thinking ahead to the next two days, and beyond, these are important thoughts and recommendations to keep in mind:

On the advice of people whose work addresses Westboro’s actions, we urge you to avoid confrontation with the protesters.  Westboro Baptist Church intends to incite us. They will express very hurtful messages to accomplish this.

Westboro has already stirred very strong reactions among us, and this will continue. Please continue to respect the range of perspectives expressed on campus, including those you don’t agree with.

Recognize that the actions and messages of Westboro Baptist Church affect people in many different ways. Please respect how people choose to participate or not in the activities we’ve planned.

This evening from 5:00-7:00 a town hall meeting will be held in UpCDC with two key goals in mind. To begin, the meeting will elaborate on tomorrow’s campus activities, and the Town of Poughkeepsie police department will provide some related advice. Then a panel discussion will take up broader and longer-term issues of campus climate, with facilitators leading an interactive discussion. Light refreshments will be provided.

On Thursday afternoon from 12:45-2:45, the college will hold a series of peaceful, inclusive activities, building from a rally held on Main Drive. These activities are planned for outdoors rain or shine, and should we have severe weather a campus email will be sent 10:00am about a change of location. Light refreshments will be provided, and the estimated time schedule is as follows:

12:45 Gathering on Main Drive
1:00 Introduction by DoSomethingVC, about Vassar’s peaceful and inclusive response to the Westboro Baptist Church
1:05 Musical performance and introduction of keynote speaker
1:15 Keynote remarks by Joseph Tolton ’89, National Minister of Social Justice from the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries in New York City
1:30 Musical performance
1:35 Discussion of campus climate: student speakers
1:55 Community sing-along
2:15 Showing signs of peace
2:25 Forming a silent human chain around Main Building
2:35 Symbolic ringing of Main Building bell and joyful scream

Alternative spaces will be available for people who wish to join others in community or contemplation during the afternoon. Those staffed spaces will include the ALANA Center, the Bayit, the LGBTQ Center, the Women’s Center, and the Villard Room.

Friends from our local community who wish to lend their support to this effort are welcome to the campus to assist us in reaffirming our values and our collective commitment to diversity and inclusion.  Parking will be extremely limited and will be confined to the North and South lots.

Again, we urge our students, employees and visitors not to engage the Westboro picketers, who will be at a location outside of campus through arrangements with the Town of Poughkeepsie Police Department. We have been advised by the Department of Justice that while the Westboro group is non-violent and law-abiding in its actions, they will hope to elicit reactions. The Westboro protesters will not be permitted onto our campus.  All of our best advice tells us that we will respond most effectively if we do not confront the picketers. We also want to ensure everyone’s safety, which we cannot do off campus. The Town of Poughkeepsie police will be responsible for monitoring and addressing events outside our boundaries.

Our collective hope is that this will be a galvanizing moment for Vassar College and our broader community -- a moment that will sustain important dialogue and action for promoting a more just, egalitarian, and equitable society.

Should you have any questions, concerns or additional suggestions moving forward, please send them to vctogether@vassar.edu.

Please be safe and highly respectful of the divergent views and ideas that have emerged in our current context.


Chris Roellke
Dean of the College
Professor of Education
Vassar College

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, February 27, 2013