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What’s a Student Fellow?

All Vassar students know the college’s sports teams are the Brewers and the school colors are burgundy and gray. But depending on where they live on campus, many of them also proudly wear pink or gold or purple,  and they’ve gained a special allegiance to owls or elephants or honey badgers.

Dorm colors and mascots are a part of Vassar’s “house system.” Overseen by “house teams” consisting of students, faculty and staff, Vassar’s nine residential houses play an important role in academic and social life at Vassar, providing students with a regular schedule of dorm activities, as well as support and links to resources available on the rest of the campus.

House teams include house officers – a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer and class representatives elected by the students -- as well as a house advisor, faculty house fellow, and student fellows and interns selected by the Office of Residential Life.

Meet Mariah Ghant ’17, a drama and English double major from Schaumburg, IL, a student fellow in Jewett House.

Mariah Ghant ’17 (center) with fellow Jewett House residents. From the left: Jacob Dompier ’18, Yvonne Yu ’18, Maria Ghant ‘17, Joseph Szymansky ’17, and Daniel Espino ’18 / Photo by Carlisle Stockton

On Move-In Day last fall at Jewett, I saw a girl who was obviously having some trouble adjusting. I could see it on her face that she didn’t feel comfortable. The next day, I knocked on her door and asked her how things were going. She was still upset and told me she didn’t feel like she belonged. I sat down and talked to her and told her no one had the right to take her college experience away from her. I’m involved in some drama clubs on campus and we talked for a little while about things she might like to do. It wasn’t long after we spoke that she auditioned for a comedy group on campus. She came out of her shell pretty quickly.

It’s experiences like this that make my job as a student fellow rewarding. It’s our goal on the house team to help everyone in the dorm feel comfortable and a part of the community. I know this can be a challenge, because I didn’t feel comfortable when I first came to Vassar. I was from a small town and didn’t know anybody, and the house team helped me adjust. So an important part of my job now that I’m part of that team is to help build a sense of community, and there are times when I see the work paying off. When I get back to the dorm on a Friday night after a long week of classes and activities and see everyone on my floor sitting around sharing stories or playing video games or dancing, seeing that bonding makes me feel great.

Of course, there are times when there are conflicts, but a lot of my job is empowering the students to handle these issues themselves. And all of us on the house team work hard to plan events at least once a week that bring us all together. It doesn’t have to be a big thing – sometimes it’s just having tea and snacks in the parlor. But the longer you’re in the same dorm, the more people you get to know and that feeling of bonding keeps growing.

Other colleges have the Resident Advisor system in the dorms where authority is more concentrated. The house team system is something that sets Vassar apart from a lot of other places. It’s very different from the RA system. It’s more about building community.

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, February 25, 2015