May 2019: Tamar Ballard & Rori-An Chuck
This special farewell spotlight is a joint feature of the two phenomenal Black women who led the Vassar Student Association this year—President Tamar Ballard and Vice President Rori-An Chuck. The three of us shared a meal and talked about what that means to them and for Vassar.
Both Tamar and Rori are from Georgia, and shared the experience of being Transitions students who always knew they were going to go to college, but weren’t always sure what that would look like. I asked each of them what it meant to be at Vassar now, and the question stirred up some emotions. Tamar said that she has been empowered, as someone who “holds a lot of identities that don’t necessarily match up with what a typical Vassar student—or college student in general—is supposed to be. Making it here, dealing with the occasional clash between my identity and spaces, while taking classes and running the VSA, shows the amount of strength that people like the two of us have. It’s powerful and it means a lot to me to be here at the end, and look back on the way that I’ve existed here.” Rori noted that “students rarely get the time and space to think about the impact of being here. Sometimes I feel incapable of putting it into words. The obstacles I have faced in getting here and striving to be a part of this community make me feel powerful, because I have overcome. It’s still hard to be here in the fullness of my identity sometimes. I often feel like there are layers that I have learned to take on and off to be able to be present and safe in certain contexts.”
Tamar spoke about the way Vassar “takes you out of your comfort zone, if you let it. There’s something special about how we can grow here.” That growth doesn’t only take place on the individual level; Rori commented on the “willingness of everyone in our community to strive to make this place better. Vassar isn’t perfect, but the way that so many people engage in the work of evolving this community is what drives me and gives me hope.”
I asked them what they were proudest of about themselves and what they’ve done at Vassar. Tamar said that “coming from a Southern Black home, having and building community has always been important to me, and I try to carry that wherever I go, even if that means I need to do a little bit of extra work to make a space feel more like home.” Rori pointed out that “the work of participating in and fostering community is often made invisible. I don’t think very many people realize what it means to gather people coming from all areas of the world, all ways of living, and make them feel empowered and comfortable, making them feel welcome. No one can bring their best selves into any space without that. That’s what Tamar and I have focused on the most here these last four years, especially because I think we came into this space not fully feeling like we can bring our whole selves, and wanted to build and nourish that sense of belonging.”
Rori reflected on how being in community has nourished her through hard times and good times: “Being able to reveal all parts of me, including the really ridiculous, silly parts of me that I let out when most comfortable. To be honest, I’m a clown, and I show that to the people I love.” Later, Tamar said she wished for more opportunities like this one, “to just sit and talk to each other. There are lectures and stuff all the time, but rarely are we just in space where we aren’t expected to talk about anything other than our experiences and our full selves. You learn the most about people when they tell you their story.”
I asked what's next for them, and Rori couldn't have said it better—“I want to surprise myself. I’m expecting growth, challenges, and more struggles, but great things as well.” Thank you both for all that you do and all that you are, and here's to many more great things.