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Student publications have varying staying power at VC

Chronicle revived twice by students


Published: Monday, January 17, 2011

Updated: Monday, January 17, 2011 21:01


Pictured above, The Vassar Chronicle has experienced many different incarnations. Though it appeared as a conservative newspaper in the 1940s, in the ’70s it reappeared as a leftist magazine.

Almost since students began classes at Vassar, they have created student-run publications—from magazines to yearbooks to newspapers—that have reflected the changing interests in the student body.

The first student publication, The Vassariana, was published in 1866, only a year after classes had begun. The Vassariana resembled a yearbook more than it did a literary publication, as it was published once a year as a summary of the previous year's events. It included membership lists of the various clubs on campus, a calendar of campus events, programs of special events and a few essays. The editors recognized the paper's weaknesses as a source of timely news reporting. "We are conscious that it is surrounded by many difficulties, that no well trodden path is prepared for its journey," they admitted, "but that we send forth to clear the way for more favored ones which may follow in years to come." The next year, the Vassariana changed its name to The Vassar Transcript and began to move toward the format and content of a combined literary magazine and newspaper. As the Transcript increasingly drifted from its original function, a new publication entitled Hors d'Oeuvre was published as a yearbook by the Class of 1888. The title was changed to the Vassarion the following year.

The Vassar Transcript continued to publish student poetry, stories, campus news, and even recipes and letters to the editor until 1870. During this time, the publication had close ties to the newly created Students' Association, which originally decided its editors and content. In 1869, the students petitioned the faculty to allow the Transcript to be published twice a month instead of once a year. The faculty refused, uneasy about the Students' Association's bid for greater autonomy. Students petitioned again in 1870 for permission to publish the paper quarterly, and again the faculty refused. To apply pressure for faculty support, the Students' Association cancelled the paper, and the year's news went unrecorded. Relenting, the faculty acquiesced to the Students' Association's petition in 1871; the new publication, first appearing in April 1872, was called The Vassar Miscellany.

There were high hopes for the new publication, especially given the fact it was written and run by women. "A new quarterly, no matter how brilliant, if issued by the students of Harvard, or any other university for men, would cause not the slightest ripple on the sea of criticism outside of the little bay of college literature," the editors explained. "But the first issue of a new publication from the first college for women must necessarily attract attention."

The Vassar Miscellany consisted of two literary sections—one featuring students' work and one that of alumnae, and "the back," which contained campus news. In 1916, The Vassar Quarterly became the official publication for Vassar alumnae, which it remains to this day. The Vassar Miscellany was left to deal with only student work and campus affairs. The following year, The Vassar Miscellany would develop into separate publications: the Miscellany Weekly and the Miscellany Monthly. The former evolved into The Miscellany News we know today; the latter served as purely a literary magazine, eventually severing ties with its sister publication in 1924 and renaming itself The Grist.

The Miscellany News was Vassar's only newspaper until The Vassar Chronicle was founded in 1944. The founding members began The Chronicle as an alternative to The Miscellany News, which they believed was too quick to criticize the administration and agitate for change. The new paper quickly gained readership and was generally considered the conservative paper on campus, though its editors claimed that, "We shall deal with each issue according to our opinions at the time, not according to a rigid, pre-established party line." The Miscellany News, though, almost always endorsed Democratic political candidates while The Chronicle usually supported Republicans. The papers, though to some extent competitors, as both papers depended on funding from subscriptions, also worked together on coordinated issues several times a year, writing contrasting editorials on the same topic. However, by the mid-1950s, the papers had begun to resemble each other in tone and content, and the President's Coordinating Committee on Educational Policy recommended that the two papers merge. The Miscellany News resisted, and after several tense editorials from both sides, The Chronicle published its last issue in 1959. Another publication called The Chronicle appeared in September of 1974, this time with radically different views. Michael Selow and Bill Hearon, both of the Class of 1975 founded the paper, which was quickly changed to a magazine format, as a voice for the radical left. The two chose to call their paper The Chronicle because it was already a recognized activity and could be funded immediately by student government rather than undergoing a trial period. The magazine was controversial in its early stages; in an editorial published in an October 1974 issue of The Chronicle, an anonymous faculty member decried the stigma placed on romantic and sexual relationships between professors and students, writing of colleagues, "Educated and articulate adults who could comfortably discuss and describe at least fifteen different sexual positions suddenly clam up when the positions are occupied by professor and student. Why all the hush-hush?" Yet another issue included an article explaining how to procure an abortion in Poughkeepsie. The Chronicle also printed poetry and literary work, and by 1978, literary submissions far outweighed opinion pieces. That year, it was converted to a literary magazine, and the next year disappeared entirely. Just this past semester, a third Chronicle appeared, this one closer to the original in its philosophy, though focused on political opinion rather than campus news. Published by the Moderate, Independent, Conservative Alliance (MICA), copies of the first issue were quickly distributed, raising the possibility of a second campus paper.

The number of student publications have proliferated in the past few years; other recently founded publications include Contrast: The Vassar College Style Magazine— founded in the spring of 2007 as the College's first and only fashion-related publication—and Puro Cuento, the first Spanish-language literary journal at Vassar. Other publications, like Helicon and Squirm, have been around longer, though they are still relatively young when compared to The Miscellany News or The Vassarion. Helicon, which was formed in 1990, remains the campus's primary literary magazine. Squirm is a submissions-based magazine focusing on sex and sexuality founded in 1999. Now 11 years old, it has become a model for other student-run erotica magazines at places like Harvard University and Swarthmore College. While not officially recognized by the College and not a traditional publication, Mads Vassar, the blog run by Max Kutner '11 since 2007, has opened up the possibility of more online-based publications at Vassar. Only time will tell what role digital media and more traditional publications will play in Vassar's future.

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