Thursday September 8, 2011

BENNINGTON -- Southern Vermont College opened another school year with its annual Convocation Address delivered by Dean of Students Anne Hopkins Gross who reminded students to put assumptions aside.

Two floors of the Greenberg Atrium were filled with new and returning students, faculty and staff for the afternoon address and afterwards first-year students expressed excitement about the opportunities that lie ahead over the next four years.

First-year student CJ Salva, from Rochester, N.Y., said he was attracted to SVC because of its "hometown feeling" and positive reputation around its nursing program and its soccer team, which he was recruited to play on.

"It is just nice because the campus is small and the school is small. It's just a hometown feeling," Salva said.

Salva said he's still getting accustomed to college life, but since the start of classes on Aug. 30 he's already begun prioritizing his time to focus on academics. By graduation, Salva said he hopes to enter the workforce as a registered nurse.

Pierre Massena, from West Milford, N.J., said SVC's size and academic offerings were the reason he transferred to the private college in Bennington this fall after attending William Paterson University with about 17,000 other students for two years.

"I like small schools. I like the community. It's a nice, close-knit community," said Massena, who is also on the SVC soccer squad. "Everything is more simple here. Everyone knows you and you don't get lost at school, I like that aspect. I like the program too, we didn't have sports management at my old school."

Although SVC is small compared to many college campuses, Hopkins Gross said in her address it has "a richly diverse population" and cautioned students not to make assumptions about others.

"Sometimes when we are in a diverse environment, particularly when we're in unfamiliar territory, we make assumptions based on ignorance and sometimes fear and suspicion," she said. "Over the years I have seen many, many roommate conflicts over people making inaccurate assumptions about ‘the other.' In a community such as SVC, we don't all have to like one another, although it would be nice ... but we do need to go outside our comfort zone and try to understand and learn from ‘the other.' That's part of a good liberal arts education."

Hopkins Gross challenged students to talk to their classmates and learn things about them instead of assuming things because of the way they look.

"When we consciously and thoughtfully take the time to remove assumptions, we open the door for a more accepting, authentic and caring interaction to unfold, which can lead to a more understanding and supportive community."

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com