May 2019: Jon ChenetteI met with Jon Chenette on the day of a celebration held in honor of his eleven years of service as Dean of the Faculty, and the timing of that was quite conducive to deep reflection and sharing of his experiences. He told me that “To see how the institution has changed in my eleven years has been really thrilling. There’s been an incredible transformation of our student body, expanding the diversity of socioeconomic status, racial and national origin, veterans, and more in our community. I’ve been really proud to be a part of a college that’s dedicated to access regardless of people’s socioeconomic background by meeting full demonstrated financial need.” He noted that he has twice served as the interim President of the College, most recently in the year before President Bradley began her tenure. During this time, he “became increasingly aware of all the challenges a transforming community faces.” Jon elaborated, and emphasized that “it’s great to be more diverse, but there is a need to become a place that feels like it’s accessible and made for these people to belong, thrive, and capitalize on all that the institution has to offer.”
Dean Chenette marked two exceptionally “happy things” that were accomplished at the college near the end of his time as dean—the Engaged Pluralism Initiative and the newly rebalanced curriculum. He speaks fondly of working on the grant proposal for EPI with Candice, and tells me how the name of the initiative actually came from President Bradley herself, during one of her early visits to campus after being identified as the next president of the college. He quoted Anna Deavere Smith, and said that EPI has “shone light through the cracks in our community, and opened up important conversations that occur across constituency, exposing the things we need to become a better community, such as changing the way we interact with each other.” Of projects such as EPI, the intensives, and Creative Arts Across Disciplines, Chenette says that “We are changing our culture. We aren’t there by any means, but we are changing our culture by having conversations that have been long needed but haven’t happened as directly as they’re happening now. One of the real challenges will be sustaining this level of conscious engagement across all members of our community means we all need to embrace an engaged pluralism way of life at Vassar, as habit, a commitment, and a permanent part of our culture, to always be listening and changing.”
I asked Jon about himself, and he responded that he draws sustenance from family and the outdoors, stressing how important it is that “everyone have balance in their lives.” He FaceTimes with his grandchildren every few days, which “puts all the hard things into perspective.” It struck a chord for me when he said that we all need to “take care of ourselves and not sell ourselves completely to our roles, jobs, or studies. Be committed to what you do, but be something more than that single job or role.” When asked what he’s looking forward to most after eleven years as Dean, he said he is “looking forward to a life filled with music and family. Better balance, more time outdoors, and fewer emails.”
Jon, your impact on the College has been immeasurable. Thank you for sharing yourself with us, and may your days be a perfect balance of family, fresh air, and beautiful music.