Rhea Chandran (she/her): It’s July 8, 2021, and my name is Rhea Chandran in the class of 2023 conducting an interview as a part of the Documenting Student Life Strike Oral History project, could you begin by shooting your name and your class here.
Alissa Vandenbark: My name is Alissa Vandenbark and I’m from the class year of 2022.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And where are you from?
Alissa Vandenbark: I went to high school in Wisconsin, so that's where I say.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And do identifies a student of color?
Alissa Vandenbark: No.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And are you a first-gen student?
Alissa Vandenbark: No.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And if comfortable, could you describe you socio-economic status?
Alissa Vandenbark: I’m definitely lower income for Haverford, absolutely lower middle class, probably.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And what is your intended major?
Alissa Vandenbark: Psychology and then I have a minor in Spanish and a minor at Bryn Mawr in Political Science.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Okay, and were you on campus or remote this year?
Alissa Vandenbark: On campus.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And what made you choose Haverford?
Alissa Vandenbark: Number of things. I was looking at those sorts of things I think a lot of people go to Haverford for we're looking at. Things like rank and difficulty and various things. I almost want to Carleton, actually, but I grew up Quaker, so I had heard about Haverford from that. And so, I was able to talk to a lot of alumni from Haverford just casually. My older sister actually went to Haverford, which is funny because it's the first time I’ve ever gone to the same school, as her because we're nine years apart, so we moved around. Anyway. And so, through her friends and through capital F Friend, Quakers, I was able to talk to a bunch of alumni and they were all like… and then I talked to some Carleton people and they were like, “Yeah it's good,” and I was like, “All right, people see more enthusiastic, even when they were telling me bad things about Haverford.”
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That’s great that you got different opinions on your choice. Yeah, so I just wanted to start talking about the strike now. I want to know about your initial reaction to the email that President Raymond and Dean Bylander sent to Haverford community regarding the protests about Walter Wallace Jr.’s murder if you remember.
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, I think I was immediately like, “Oh, not great. People are going to be really upset about this because this comes off a really unfeeling.”
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Did you talk to any of your friends about this reaction that you had?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, I mean I think I was like in class or something um. I had- I'm trying to remember. That was so long ago. I was distracting myself between the class and a meeting, just sort of hanging out scrolling on my phone and I was like it's scrolling on Instagram seeing people be like, “This is unacceptable,” and me being like “Yes, this is unacceptable.” I feel like I should have thoughts about this. And then I went in a meeting with Walter Sullivan from the QAO’s (Quaker Affairs Office) office and the rest of the QAO team. I live in Quaker House and actually my position on the QAO team is technically like FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) person or something so I lead the delegation to the FCNL weekend, but mostly I’m just like a Quaker student who Walter can ask questions to. And in that email Wendy Raymond cited the silent worship service we were planning on having for Walter Wallace Jr. to be like, “You can't protest, but you can come to this.” And everyone on that call was super like, “Ah, that's really problematic. She did not ask us to put that in the email. She did not tell us she was doing that.” Um so that was one of the first things I reacted to that email honestly was the sort of like, “You can't protest, you could go to silent worship.” When it’s like, “No, that is not how Quakerism works.” Like silent worship serves the purpose of like grounding for people who don't… and also as like a space for people who want to feel their feelings and not put themselves on the front lines, but that does not mean it should be a replacement. People were sharing those feelings on the call, and then I think I drafted something in my notes app on my phone and posted about it on my Instagram story to be like, “Yo, this is not, the point of this worship service.” And we ended up just canceling it because it was just too embroiled in everything.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Did you get any direct backlash for having it before or… having the event plan before it was cancelled from students or anyone?
Alissa Vandenbark: Not for the email. I mean it was pretty under the radar at for students. I don't think people really read the emails from Walter Sullivan. Don't tell him that. They already probably know, but um… No, and then after that I saw people really frustrated being like, “This is not a replacement for protest.” But nobody like directly contacted us as far as I know, being like you should not hold this. It was more like a, “Wendy should not have used this in the way she did.” Wendy and Joyce because technically it was signed by Wendy, but I feel like we all sort of know that Joyce was one of the main people writing that email just because of the tone. Didn't feel like Wendy.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Did you end up going to the sit-in that evening?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yes
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And what were your thoughts?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, I think all of Quaker House came, we were all sort of cluster to get it well, most of us were closer together at the back. And then the two the members of color that we have on our in our House went like further up front. I was like pretty far in the back because we didn't want to like shove up close because COVID and everything. So, I couldn't hear a lot of the time, but generally, I mean I felt like it was a). very vindicated like it was… like it was there for a reason, and it should happen. I don't know. I didn't have strong reactions to the sit-in except, “Damn, a lot of people are here. Yes, I’m glad, people are here.” And then the like march around. Still feel a little guilty about this. I left them march partway through. U didn't finish it because I was exhausted. I had woken up really early that morning. I was really tired. And it was like 1am, and we passed by the apartments on our way back up. And I was like, “I gotta go to bed.” And I was asleep before the rest of the people got home. So, I was like out. But yeah, I thought that the match was good and everything, I just am not a late night person.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): So, the strike was announced at that event. What were your reactions to the strike announcement?
Alissa Vandenbark: “Oh, shit. Okay, this is what's happening now. How's that gonna work? ah, I will find out morning?
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And how did you participate just in generally throughout the strike?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, so I mean first thing I did when I woke up that morning was, I emailed my boss at the library being like, “Hey, not coming in today. Strike.” Didn't go to classes. Didn’t go to work. Reached out to my… extracurricular activities that I’m involved in to be like, “Hey can I put our name on the thing on the list of activities supporting the strike and put my name on all those spreadsheets and everything” and all of Quaker House was doing it, so we were all just sort of like… it was a really nice time to be in a Community House. Gotta say. Like there was just a real feeling of closeness during those two weeks of people being like, Well, what do we do now? Just like a lot of time spent sitting in the common room with people from Quaker House like filling out the stuff, contacting people being like, “What can we do?”, whatever.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Did you feel like the House got closer after the end of strike?
Alissa Vandenbark: Definitely, definitely.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And what other extracurriculars were you a part of during the strike?
Alissa Vandenbark: So technically I’m co-head for Rainbow Fords and one of the Queer groups on campus, but we were pretty much nonexistent fall semester. So, there wasn't too much going on with that anyway. There's acapella. That was… that's the whole story I'm sure we're going to get to. And what else do I do? I mean Chamber singers is technically a curricular event, curricular thing but it's also a thing we were communicating via group chat about being like… Thursday night… Thursday is when we usually have personal being like, “Hey, like a strike is happening for rehearsal question mark?” Then yeah, dealing that. What other activities do I do on campus? Honestly, not that much else. Because theater wasn't really happening either and that's the other thing I usually do.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That's already so many things. So, with acapella what group are you in?
Alissa Vandenbark: Counterpoint. So that's the… one of the two Bi-Co groups on campus. It’s us and Looney Tunes except counterpoint is just sopranos and altos.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And could you describe your experience with Counterpoint during the strike?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, so because of this is a Bi-Co group I was a little bit like, “What's this going to mean?” because this was pre-Bryn Mawr striking. And then during Bryn Mawr striking and that dynamic was kind of odd. But when I saw that groups were signing up to officially support the strike, I texted our group being like, “Hey is it ok if I sign us up like put our name down? And also, rehearsal was cancelled for the foreseeable future,” because I was pitch at the time, the student leader… the leader of the group basically um and the only junior, the only junior. We had one senior in our group, but she was busy busy busy with the thesis. She was not in leadership, and then mostly just sophomores. And then one new first year and our one new… the first year was our only member of color. That’s relevant later. And also, the only guy in our group. Marcos joined the group as like a very, very high tenor, close enough to an Alto that we were like, “Yeah I mean hey if you want to join our group go for it.” And so, I like sent that in the group sort of like I did it as like an anonymous poll I think on GroupMe being like, “Are we supporting the strike? a sort of… and then signed us up after like one persons liked my comment sort of assuming that like, “Yes, duh. Of course, we're supporting strike.” Or no, the poll was about whether or not we were canceling rehearsal. That's what it was. And then the poll was for 4-3, four support, three against the idea of canceling rehearsal for it. And I was like, “Oh, that's interesting. We're still canceling rehearsal, but we should talk about this.” Not right away, because everything is crazy. Everything was so crazy at the beginning. Nobody was sure how long it was last. And then Bryn Mawr finally put together their own strike demands and started doing their stuff. And so it was all a bit up in the air, but there were… honestly, at this point I don't remember perfectly the order that things happened in, but I was in the leadership group chat working in there being like, “Yeah we want to draft up some statements from the whole acapella community being like, “How are we as a community working to be better?”” given acapella’s slightly problematic history with like hazing and traditions and stuff that Counterpoint wasn't really a part of. But also splitting between two campuses made it a little odd but, most of our members were Bryn Mawr. There were just three of us from Haverford. And so talked to acapella community. And then I think we had a zoom meeting with Counterpoint being like, “How are people feeling about this?” and people were being super non-committal, non-confrontational, myself included, to be fair. I was not expecting people to be opposed to the strike. I was expecting maybe people would be like, “There's like one or two demands that I’m like eh they're like not worded super well or something.” But I was not expecting one person or group to be like, “Actually, I signed on like opposing the strike. It’s just like a personal choice, like, I thought about it. I really considered it, and I just don't support this.” And then two people being like, “I mean, I think I support it, but like I’m not striking. Like I can't. Like I support that it's happening, but I can't do it. Like I'm not going to skip class.”
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Out of curiosity, where the students or the people in your group that didn't support, where they White?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, like I said there's just one member of color, and he was definitely on board. At least… okay to be fair, I don't know how everyone in the group identifies. But definitely all the rest of us are at least White passing. Ah, I can't say for sure how people identify. But so that conversation did not go super well because I mean, I was surprised, and I don't… I was being non-confrontational because that's how I was. And then I had a conversation with the acapella leaders and acapella in general, where I was asking like, “Okay, what do we do if members of our group don't support the strike?” and people were pretty much like, “Well, kick them out.” And I was like, “I don't want to make that decision.” Because like our group is tiny, tiny seven people is really small for acapella. And I did not think that people would be on board enough to kick someone out of the group. Did not want to kick someone out of the group. Did not um… I wanted to be able to get to a point where everyone in the group, could get on board with something so that we wouldn't have to go that route. I also didn't think that even if I had wanted to be like, “We should kick people out of group” … and I went back and forth on this with in my head like I talked to friends. I was like, “I don't know what I'm doing.” And I called the senior in our acapella group. And I don't really want to name names, I guess. But she was also super on board with the strike, super confused that people weren't. So, we talked, and I talked to other people. So, we decided to have a second conversation, and this one was much more productive. We went into this… senior and I went into this like having planned out like, “Okay, this is what we're gonna do. This is how we're going to come at it. We are going to be upfront and we're going to be confrontational.” f we actually confrontational sort of supporting each other and we went through the demands of the however strike, however. Because of scheduling issues this wasn't able to happen until the day after the strike ended. So there was this tension, the whole time, but. And then the Haverford strike ended, to be clear. The Bryn Mawr strike was still ongoing. And we like read through the demands of the Haverford strike, and we worked on our own document of things that like we as an acapella group were committed to doing. And the member who was opposed to the strike was very on board with the like, “Our group can definitely make commitments. I just don't like the way that the strike organizers went about it” which was a thing that we definitely were pushing back against. And then at the end of it, the two people who had been unwilling to really put themselves on the line for the strike were both willing to sign on to support the strike being like, “I see now why this was so important. I'm glad we went through this. I'm glad we talked about this. I understand better now.” And the person who had been opposed to the strike was like, “I'm not going to go back on my word. I feel that would be disingenuous after the strike already ended. But I understand a lot better now why people were supporting the strike.” And then we discovered that there was a person who like had not been talking during these discussions, was like sort of blowing it off a little bit. And I was confused as to what that meant. I was like, “Is this like a you support it, you don't feel like this is a necessary conversation, or what?” Turned out, it was a she really didn't support it at all, didn't want her name associated with it, was really unhappy about it. I was like, “Oh.” But I still came out of that conversation feeling a lot better. I felt like we were making progress, like it still wasn't great, but it was something. Ad then, I like tried to call rehearsal i'm after the Haverford strike ended being like, “I know the Bryn Mawr strike is still technically happening. This is the Bi-Cp group. If anyone does not want to come, because of the Bryn Mawr strike. I totally support that. But we have only been able to rehearse like four times this semester. if we want to keep going, we need to rehearse.” And that was my bad. That was on me. Like I did not do enough research into the Bryn Mawr strike to really like know what was going on with that or know that they were still asking…like still asking that extracurricular activities strike. And so, we like tried to hold rehearsal and like almost nobody showed up. But only one of the people who didn't… only the person of color texted me to say, “I'm not showing up because of the Bryn Mawr strike.” And he's a Haverford student. And so, and… but some of the Bryn Mawr students just didn't come. I was like, “Hey, why are you like… are you coming today question mark?”. And the person who I had just found out was opposed to the strike just like didn't respond. And she just hadn't been coming to rehearsals semester, really, which was frustrating, as it was. She was supposed to be part in leadership for the group anyway. That was a whole separate struggle that I was frustrated about. But we didn't really even have rehearsal at that point. And then in December, we were going to like hop on a call be like, “Hey, we have to do song pick for next semester.” And then, our one member of color texted me about an hour before that was supposed to happen to be like, “I don't feel safe or supported in this group. I'm leaving.” It was a much longer text than that, but that was sort of the summary. And of course, I was like, “Fuck. Okay, fair.” And the worst part is, I couldn't even say I didn't see it coming. And I really feel like I should have reached out to him sooner, to be like, “Hey, I know this was like… there were some issues that came up. Do you want to talk about it? Do you like… Is there anything you need for me as a leader of the group?” But it was just so hard once the strike ended. And I was catching up on… and everyone was catching up on everything and finals were happening. This was during finals that we were having this call. So, I get on the call, and we talked a little bit about, “Hey, jow are people feeling about having acapella in the spring, at all with Covid continuing to exist?” People saying a couple things, and then I was like, “So before we talk about songs, we need to address the fact that we did not make this space feel safe and accepting for a person of color to join our group. And l like I want people to respond to this. Like I said, my piece of like, “I feel really bad about this. This is what I know I did wrong.” I want us to sit with this for a bit.” And then the person who had… The person who had not supported the strike but was vocal about it and was willing to talk about it was like, “I feel bad.” But also did one of those non-apology apology things one of those like, “I'm sorry that my words made him feel that way.” And then the other person who hadn't wanted to talk about not supporting the strike did one of those, “Well, I'm sorry I shared my opinion. I should have kept it to myself.” And then the two who had been on the fence were like, “I feel really bad. Like I see why this happened. I feel really…” Anyway.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): So, how did your group proceed after that conversation?
Alissa Vandenbark: I told everyone take a couple days, think about how you want to proceed with this. We will meet back up later, and then we hung up and I went for like an hour and a half long walk with the senior in the group. We like met in the middle between the two campuses and went for a walk. And we came to the conclusion that this group needed to end. Just needed to dissolve, and that we would quit together the next morning. And then, one of the people who had been on the fence, but had been more active anyway, we like let her know that we were going to do that ahead of time in case she wanted to do it same time. And she did. So we all three of us left the group. And then the second person who had been on the fence left immediately after with a similar like, “I agree like i'm sorry like I-“ Whatever. And then the person who had not wanted to talk about it left the group chat without a word. And the person who had who was willing to talk about not supporting it was like… I think she said something like, “I understand.” And I was like, “Okay.” And that's how we left it.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Was there any- did you have any moments of healing in the spring, with any of these people, or have you just not spoken since?
Alissa Vandenbark: The senior and I are friends. We've hung out, so you know.I briefly talked to the person who… the girl who was on the fence and really not wanting to do anything solid about… briefly talk to her. We didn't really talk about it even though I felt like we should have. Both slightly not wanting to bring it up, I guess. And not really haven't seen the person who didn't want to talk about it. Person who was willing to talk about it I passed on campus a couple times have been like, “hi” and that's it.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And has Marcus been in touch with you, since-?
Alissa Vandenbark: No. But I respect that, you know. When he texted me, I like responded with a long apology text that included the like, “Feel no obligation to respond to this. I understand if you don't want to continue talking to me.”
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Thank you so much for sharing all that. That must have been a very painful experience in the moment.
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Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, it was not great.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): I can imagine. We've been talking a little bit about people who oppose the strike. Outside of the acapella group did you have any friends or friends of friends that opposed to strike? And how did you go about handling those situations if you encountered them?
Alissa Vandenbark: Not really as far as I knew. But, to be fair, I wasn't interacting with that many people during that time. I mean within Quaker house, we were having really good discussions about like, “How do we support the strike, why do we support strike. What parts of the strike are we feeling iffy about and why?” And then, I have a couple friends who lived off campus that I was going to see occasionally. Within Quaker House we were all masked. We weren't a pod. So I was able to go see other friends masked occasionally. And within that group of friends, everyone was still supportive of the strike, but just a little bit less active about it. A little bit less gung-ho, so we had some good conversations over there to being like… especially towards the end of the strike where they were like, “I'm getting really sick of this. Like why won’t they… why won't they just sort of accept like…why are they still fighting for these minutiae…” or whatever. And being sort of like, “Yes, but also like…” Anyway.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Yeah, and did you read the Publius article or the Trust, Concern and Respect anti-strike letter? Either of those?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, uh huh. I don't think I’ve read the whole Publius thing. I got too frustrated in the middle and quit. But I didn't- I don't think… I think I did I think I read the like Trust Concern Respect one. Also got really annoyed but was reading it like aloud with Quaker House people when it came out. And so it was sort of one of those things where it's like aggravated noise and we're keeping reading and aggravated noise we're keeping… Definitely still colors my opinion of people when we talk about the strike and someone's like, “Yeah I mean like I signed on to that trust concern respect letter because I really think bullying was a big problem during the strike.” I'm like, “Oh. Okay, that changes something about how I see you now.”
Rhea Chandran (she/her): It was definitely emotional time for a lot of people on campus including yourself, it seems. So, I was wondering where you turned to for support. Was it the people you were living with? Was it other friends or family?
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Alissa Vandenbark: Oh. Sorry I’m seeing a bunch of summer camp kids go on the swings. Yes, so the people I was living with for sure. And then also I called and talked to my sister a number of times, my sister who went to Haverford. And so she had some context that I didn't need to lay out because I did try talking to other people about it a couple of times and it just it became too much exposition and not enough allowing me to rant about it, or whatever. Or not rant but, like you know verbal processing. So I talked to my sister a couple times, which was nice.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And what did your sister think about the strike having… given her experience at Haverford?
Alissa Vandenbark: I mean, she was like, “This is awesome. Like you guys are doing something really cool.” Like she also has a young child, so we weren't able to talk for like long periods of time without him being like, “I want to talk to Lissa!”
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That's great. Did you talk to your parents or any other family members about it?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah. My parents and I have like weekly like… I talked to my dad on a specific time every week and my mom a specific time every week. And so we like chatted about it, but I did not like keep them updated, because everything was happening at once, and there was just no way to do that really. They were… my parents you know Quakers. Very much the like, “You do you. Like you are doing the right thing for you. I don’t I don't know the situation. Like seems like a cool thing that's happening.” Very out of it.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That definitely makes sense, your relationship with them. You mentioned that you are a psychology major. So what did you think about the department’s response, if you remember it?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yea, the psych department was interesting because it was very clear which professors were very on board and which professors weren’t. And the fact that the department letter was very non-committal because of that. And I appreciated the professors who were really on board, and I was extremely frustrated with Marilyn Boltz and mildly frustrated with Becky Compton who was acting head of the department who was also my professor at the time. So, I appreciated that out of that came a group chat for the psych majors where we were… It was going off during the meeting with the department, at one point. It seemed basically in general, the response from psych department itself was not enough. The response from certain like professors was excellent. The psych department response was not actively bad in any way. It was like a, “This is nice. Could be better,” sort of a thing.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): You mentioned the meeting that you had with the professor's was that just for majors? Or was it also for any student taking a psych class?
Alissa Vandenbark: It was for any student taking a psych class but was mostly majors.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And was there a large turnout at the meeting?
Alissa Vandenbark: I don't remember. I think so.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And did they make any promises during the meeting that were later not kept? Or what was… what was the purpose of the meeting, I guess?
Alissa Vandenbark: I don't remember it super well. I think it was mostly just to be like, “We sent out our department statement. Do you have any questions?”
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Okay. And given that the department chair was one of your professors at the time, and you weren't necessarily super happy about their response, how did you proceed for the rest of the semester with them?
Alissa Vandenbark: I wasn't like actively mad at her or anything, just like mildly frustrated. But I also knew she was balancing a lot of things. It didn't really affect the rest of the semester that much any more than any other… I don't know .It's hard to say, because I was mostly just trying to make it to the end of the semester at that point. Get my work done, whatever. We were all on zoom anyway.It’s not like there was much relationship there to be changed.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Definitely. Yeah, you mentioned a little bit about having like to catch up on work. Did your professors that you were taking classes with that past semester offer any support for… did they change their syllabi? What were the steps taken by your professors that you were taking at the time?
Alissa Vandenbark: It was so long ago. They definitely all did change syllabi and due dates for things to be flexible. And a couple of them reduced some part of the final, I think. A couple of them had had like a class like one or two classes during the strike that I then had to watch the recorded zoom up to catch up on. It wasn't unreasonable, though. To be fair, though I am taking most of reading, writing classes, which it's like the different vibe for catching up. Basically, I still haven't finished one of my midterms because it was supposed to be due… like you know strike started my Wednesday, the midterm was supposed to be due on Sunday. And I hadn't started it yet. So, I had to then finish a midterm in the last three weeks of class before writing my final papers.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): So that midterm the deadline was just changed? And when your professors held class during the strike, did you get any communication from them about that?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yes, yes. The ones who helped us were like, “I totally understand if you don't show up. I will be recording the lectures. But I want to make this resource available, and I want to get through this content.”
Rhea Chandran (she/her): What was your experience getting those emails? Were you ambivalent? How did you feel?
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Alissa Vandenbark: I was annoyed. It was annoying, and there was one point where I got a little stressed out. But especially towards the end, I was a little bit stressed out being like, “I am missing classed. Not very many not very many, but still i'm missing like…” think total I missed like two or three class periods. That's all it was held, but still.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That must have definitely been frustrating, I can imagine feeling that as well. With your minor departments, you said you remind me in Spanish and political science at Bryn Mawr? What was your experience like with those departments? Were you taking any of those classes this past semester or did you read any of the department statements that they put out?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, I remember I think the Spanish department did pretty well. I don't super remember. I was taking a class with a visiting professor at the time, so it was a little bit different. And then I was taking a polisci class at Bryn Mawr. That was one of my classes that was… that met a couple times during the strike up because Bryn Mawr-Haverford… it was confusing with the multiple places. multiple strikes happening. I think… I don't remember reading that honestly departmental email. Minors…I don’t know…not super cued in there.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And were all your classes on zoom this year? Or did you have any classes that are this fall semester… or did you have any classes that met in person?
Alissa Vandenbark: Fall semester, the only class I had in person was Choir.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And this is the Chamber singers?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And, given that that was a class, did that affect your credit receiving with not having rehearsal?
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Alissa Vandenbark: No, our director we're super on board. He's excellent. Nate is great. And the music department’s response to the strike was pretty good if I remember right. And we sent a letter like we sent one of those letters to the music department and came it off like kind of way too strong honestly. And Nate like reached out to anyone who had signed that letter to the music department being like, “That letter like honestly felt a little bit harsh. Is there something that you feel i'm not doing that I need to be doing?” Reached out to everybody individually to check in be like, “is like, am I doing okay?” And we were working on like a multi school project at the time. We had commissioned to piece that we were supposed to perform, and Nate was like, “I don't want to make anybody do something during this strike. Like we're just not going to have rehearsal. Like we're not going to have our in-person performance of this piece that we've commissioned. We're still going to do the video project, but you are not obligated to participate. Like here are the instructions for the video project because I want this song to exist in the world that we commissioned.” We were working with Swarthmore and Hamilton colleges. Thankfully, though then the strike ended with enough time for us all to like to have one or two more rehearsals and record and put together that project in time.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): That’s great that you had that flexibility in that group. We've talked a little bit about the pandemic affecting you know your experience during the strike with having to mask around certain groups or just like the experience of the sit ins. Just in general, how do you think the pandemic affected the strike? Do you think it positively affected it, negatively affected it?
Alissa Vandenbark: It was weird, like everything was made by the pandemic. I think it's somewhat isolated people. I think I think it discouraged, you know, to use a hated term discourse, to a certain extent um of like people were talking to the people they were podding with. And sometimes talking to other people, and sometimes not. I didn't really talk to that many people who didn't support the strike because I just wasn't around them. Whereas I feel like if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic, there would have been more opportunities to like talk as a broader community and not all feel like we were each experiencing the strike alone with our friends. But the familiarity with zoom did help with things like town hall stuff being able to be broadcast farther than just within a campus. Not having to like all be packed into one place. It helped the strike organizer stay anonymous when they wanted to stay anonymous.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Speaking of town halls, did you attend the town halls? And then also did you attended any sit-ins or teach-ins, excuse me?
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, so I went all the sit-ins. I did attend the town halls I went to some of the teach-ins. But I was also just overwhelmed with the amount of zoom that was happening, so I did not go to all of the teach-ins. I did go through that spreadsheet and like download a bunch of the link readings that we're supposed to happen. And there were a couple teach-ins I like wanted to go to and I then was about to sign in and realized I hadn't done the reading yet. And then I didn’t go. And then later just went back and did the readings. But I did go to a few and those were really interesting. Don't remember which ones.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Yeah, moving into the spring semester, did you feel like the campus climate had shifted noticeably after the strike?
Alissa Vandenbark: Somewhat, yeah, I think, so. I can't put my finger on how, though.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And as a rising senior you've experienced Haverford and like a pre-covid and like post-covid and like I guess post-strike nature. What are the biggest things you've learned, either through the pandemic or through the strike that you're taking with you into your senior year?
Alissa Vandenbark: Probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned from a pandemic is that I need to schedule time for friends or else friends won't happen. It's just too easy at Haverford to stay in your room, do your work, rush between activities and never really make time for things. So having to schedule time with friends this year has taught me how to. Which was really helpful. Strike stuff I guess, it's definitely just kept racial justice issues just for in my brain a little bit more. Thinking through things a little bit more frequently. But I think some of that would have happened without the strike, but it definitely helped me understand specific things, I guess. I don't know. It was already something I was interested in, so I’m not sure how much that was because of the general outcry against racial violence that happened in the past year and a half and how much of it was Haverford specific. But I've definitely… It’s definitely changed how I think about specific people, as I’ve said. Like I would not have expected what I got from some of the people in my group.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Definitely, and do you think that the strike was successful in general?
Alissa Vandenbark: I think, so I mean we got a lot of commitments from the administration like really spectacular honestly. I think the strike was successful in what it was. I don't know yet how successful it will be long term but that's because long term hasn't really happened yet. There are a lot of things that we will wait and see how successful the strike was in like five years when there are a full different crop of students on campus who never experienced strike who might look back on it be like, “Didn’t the administration say they were going to do something about this? We'll see.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And in your next year or even in the future more, what are some things that you believe Haverford still needs to work on?
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Alissa Vandenbark: I think Haverford has to figure out when it's… what it's prioritizing and when and why. Because I think a lot of the issues that complain about at Haverford come from conflicting priorities. Like when are you prioritizing the emotional well-being of your students? When are you prioritizing the academic rigor? When are you prioritizing keeping the College as a money-making institution? I mean not a for-profit institution, but you know what I mean. When are you prioritizing like making the College appealing to who? When are priorities in college like accessible? Those sorts of things, I think just have to become more clear more transparent and like just thought through a little better. I mean there… all of higher education needs a better system than tenure. Because there are some tenured professors at this school that are terrible in one way or another, whether it's racism or sexism, or just laziness in class. But then, then so many visiting professors putting in so much work and not getting paid nearly as well. But that’s not a Haverford specific thing. That's just like a general higher education has to fix this thing.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): And if you were to give Haverford students or any researcher that reads this transcript in the future a piece of knowledge or advice about the strike, what would you give them?
Alissa Vandenbark: It all happened so quickly, and yet each day felt like forever. You can read all of the… you can read all of the emails, all of the updates, all of the everything and it will never fully capture just the intensity of what it felt like to be on campus.
Rhea Chandran (she/her): Well, thank you so much for your time.
Alissa Vandenbark: Yeah, glad you asked. Yeah, it is interesting to look back on. It’s weird, it feels like ages and years ago but also yesterday.
Alissa Vandenbark (Class of 2022) interviewed by Rhea Chandran (Class of 2023)
This interview was conducted by Rhea Chandran (Class of 2023). She interviewed Alissa Vandenbark (Class of 2022) who talked about the collapse of her a cappella group, the work she did with Quaker House, and the social dynamics she experienced on campus. She also discussed the psychology, Spanish and Bryn Mawr political science department's reactions to the strike.
Vandenbark, Alissa (interviewee)
Chandran, Rhea (interviewer)
Metadata created by Rhea Chandran, Class of 2023