Vassar Stories

Meet Vassar’s New Dean of Students, Adriana di Bartolo

Adriana di Bartolo, Dean of Students / Photo: Buck Lewis

Until she was named Vassar’s Dean of Students this summer, Adriana di Bartolo spent almost her whole life in southern California. “I’m a Valley Girl and I own it,” she quips. di Bartolo earned a BA degree in hotel and restaurant management from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in 2000, then moved on to Claremont (CA) Graduate University, earning a master’s in applied women’s studies in 2008 and a PhD in higher education studies and student affairs in 2013. In 2011, di Bartolo became the founding director of the Queer Resource Center of the Claremont Colleges. She was subsequently promoted to Acting Associate Dean of Students for Personal Success and Wellness. Music has always been one of di Bartolo’s passions, and she comes by it honestly. Her father was a bass player in Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Band from 1973 to 1993. Less than two weeks into the fall semester, she talked about becoming the college’s newest dean.

Q.  You grew up in California, went to college in Arizona and earned your graduate degrees and held your first two jobs in sunny southern California. What prompted you to seek this job at Vassar in the wintry Northeast? What had you heard about Vassar that made the job attractive to you?
A.  Vassar has a reputation as an extremely progressive institution, and it was important to me to be at a place where I could be out. In addition, I appreciate the value of a liberal arts education. I went to a big university (Northern Arizona), and I didn’t have the support there that I needed to truly succeed and thrive. Vassar has a rich tradition as a small, caring institution. I want to be the person for our students here at Vassar that I didn’t have at NAU.

Q.  What’s it been like getting to know Vassar students and others in the community? What has surprised or impressed you the most?

A.  I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of everyone on the staff and by the excitement and enthusiasm of the students. I visited every dorm on Move-in Day; it was wild, and I have the selfies to prove it!

Q.  You have an extensive background in addressing LGBTQ issues. What challenges do LGBTQ students still face here, and how will you address them?
A.  Well, first of all, I intend to be quite visible when it comes to being out as well as addressing and confronting issues that LGBTQ communities face. We have a great LGBTQ director, Jodie Castanza, and I plan to work closely with her and others involved in addressing issues of inclusion and diversity. But the fact that Vassar and many colleges across the country need identity-based offices on campuses tells us we still have a long way to go with respect to issues of race, class, sexual and gender identity.

Q. College campuses across the country are facing challenges balancing free speech with the rights of students to live in an environment where they don’t feel threatened. What’s the proper balance here and how will you communicate your ideas to the student body?
A. We all have a responsibility to create an environment in which students, faculty, staff, and administrators can engage in challenging conversations and difficult dialogues. As an institution, we have the responsibility to help students not only build resiliency to engage in these conversations but also to build the emotional awareness to know when it’s time to step back and reflect. There’s a world outside Vassar that is discriminatory and disheartening. We have the responsibility to our students to help them build a toolbox of resiliency to navigate these issues after they leave Vassar – and while they are here!

Q.  Tell us a little about Adriana di Bartolo out of the office. What do you do to relax? Have you had a chance to explore the Hudson Valley?
A. Some of my passions are yoga, meditation, and spinning. Those are the ways I rejuvenate. I enjoy discovering new restaurants, although finding a good sushi bar here has been a challenge. I am a huge fan of live music, and I thrive when I am around water. I have yet to make it to an East Coast beach but I love the Hudson! I have friends in New York City, and I try to go twice a month. I’m a total dog person! I love that there are so many dogs on campus.

--Larry Hertz

Posted Wednesday, September 28, 2016