ALL IN A DAY’S WORK: Her alarm goes off at 9 a.m., and by 10, she’s involved in meetings that will take up most of the morning. Her afternoon is packed with classes, then dinner with friends, a quick workout, a few more meetings, and some homework before bed. For Tanay Tatum, class of 2012, that’s the daily routine.
“When I came to Vassar I jumped straight into student government. It’s been a great way to meet people, and I’ve had a lot of really fun experiences,” says Tatum, vice president for activities of the Vassar Student Association (VSA). “It’s a lot different than high school! Students have a real say in what happens on campus, which I think is unique to this school. The administrators value our opinions. They work with us and help make the changes that we want to see.”
Being a member of the VSA’s executive board is a big job. It takes up to 30 or 40 hours per week, with responsibility for major events and initiatives. Tanay has coordinated several large events for the student body. She’s most proud of her work on “Meet Me In Poughkeepsie,” an annual event created by the VSA to get students off campus and exploring the local community. This year’s event was attended by more than 1,200 students (that’s about half the student body!) and included everything from apple picking, art tours, and “cosmic” bowling to learning about local foods and visiting a farm animal sanctuary. “Even my parents keep telling me that events this size aren’t usually planned by people my age,” she says.
There’s not much room for downtime in her schedule, or sleep for that matter, but after some trial and error, she has learned to manage her many activities and avoid burn-out. From her involvement with the ALANA Center (a resource for Vassar’s African American/Black, Latino, Asian/Asian American and Native American students) to her role as an African Violet (a group of first- and second-year students active in supporting Commencement activities), there’s nothing she would consider giving up. On Friday afternoons, for instance, she works with elementary school kids at the Family Partnership Center in downtown Poughkeepsie as part of Vassar’s acclaimed field work program. “Even though it’s technically for a class, it’s a highlight of my week.”
According to Tatum, the key to her academic success is pursuing what interests her the most. She came to Vassar planning to be an economics major with a French correlate, but realized after her first year that her schedule was filling up with sociology and Africana studies courses. “I took a course called Hip Hop and Critical Citizenship with Professor Laymon. It was a new way of learning for me. It drastically shaped my entire experience at Vassar.” Now a sociology and Africana studies double major, Tatum says, “When you’re doing what you’re truly interested in, it doesn’t feel burdensome.”
Since declaring a major in one of Vassar’s 13 multidisciplinary programs, Tatum says, “I take a lot of classes that cross disciplines, which makes it a lot more interesting for me.” She’s also taken courses in English and music and is currently enjoying a class that focuses on developing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. She’s thankful that these classes helped improve her writing skills, but even more, that they taught her to think critically. “The classes are mostly conversation based, with every student participating. You have to explain the statements you make. It’s a great environment to talk about things and not worry about being judged. The support you get from teachers is amazing. They really push you, but they also go out of their way to help you.”
With one year remaining, Tatum is beginning to look ahead to a career with a nonprofit organization. Unsure of what specific area she’d like to work in, she feels her Vassar experience has helped prepare her for whatever choices lie ahead. “It’s been pretty amazing so far. It’s hard work, but also a ton of fun. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the world and also about myself.”