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Vanessa Cheeks

College Students Heart ROC, Open Mic Rochester

Interview No. 60


Rochester has this ability to be what you need it to be at the time you need it.

Where are you originally from?

I’m from Rochester originally—I grew up right across from Seabreeze. It was nice because we could head over to the lake whenever to go swimming.

What made you choose to attend RIT?

I always wanted to go to RIT—and it worked out really well for me, because their programs aligned really well with the credits I’d already earned at MCC! I spent several years at MCC, probably from about 2008 until 2014 or 2015. I spent a few years in Virginia and some time out of the country, and MCC fit in with my busy schedule. At MCC, everyone was doing the same thing in that most students were commuters. It’s a bit harder to fit in at RIT when I work full-time off campus. I’m currently studying Advertising and Public Relations and am completing a minor in Journalism.

What’s it like being a college student in Rochester?

Being a college student in Rochester opens a lot of doors for you. There are so many learning opportunities in Rochester, and I wouldn’t be aware of half of them if I weren’t a college student! There’s a real focus on learning. Plus, student discounts are great!

Has your perception of Rochester changed since you started going to college in the area?

Well, I used to hate Rochester! And as you get older, you figure out where you fit into the community. Leaving and coming back also helped me to realize that Rochester is more worldly than you might initially think. I remember coming back and thinking, “I used to really not dig this place, but it’s so great!”

What’s your favorite part of living in Rochester?

Rochester has this ability to be what you need it to be at the time you need it. Whether you’re growing up here, attending college, just joining the workforce, or even starting a family, Rochester has what you need. You can be in the city or the suburbs, but either way, you don’t have to leave Rochester to find what you need at any given point in your life.

Do you have any favorite/secret Rochester spots?

Press Coffee Bar. It’s so chill and relaxed. I also love the Arboretum over at Durand Eastman Park. It’s amazing how much nature is right in Rochester! The Arboretum is great for spending time with pets and for taking nice photos.

Rochester has this ability to hear and really listen to other opinions. The city as a whole has a willingness to grow and change.

Do you have a favorite local charity/nonprofit you like to support?

Anything to do with women’s rights. Planned Parenthood and Rochester Now are two that come to mind. Rochester Now deals with access issues, creating equity, and equal opportunity for women and men.

Describe your dream Rochester day.

I’d go to the farmer’s market and eat nothing but junk. Then I’d hang out and read City Newspaper or write. I’d spend some time taking in scenery—as much as I love being in the city, I love getting out in nature too, so I’d probably go to a park like Cobbs Hill.

What’s the most interesting or unique event you’ve been to in Rochester?

Probably Upstate Social! I have met so many creative people there in the past two years. There’s a new generation of young people in media who want to share themselves and their experiences, and to create intersectional dialogue.

Favorite neighborhood?

The 19th Ward. My mom was born and raised on Arnett. I lived there as a young adult for awhile, and it feels comfortable. There’s a lot of culture and history there. It’s nice that it’s an urban area but feels very family-oriented.

Favorite restaurant?

I cannot pick one place! It really depends what you’re going for. Greek food? Voula’s. Barbecue? Dinosaur. Hotdogs? Dogtown. Vegan? Red Fern or Owl House. I could go on.

What is your personal coping mechanism for cold/gray weather?

I never leave the house! Ha, just kidding. It doesn’t really deter me—I just need a nice pair of stockings and a coat.

What is your favorite Rochester memory?

I used to catch the bus on Main Street with my dad all the time. Waiting to catch the bus with him and my sister really stands out in my memory. I loved coming downtown, even then, and seeing all the people. It seemed like my dad knew everyone!

What makes Rochester unique?

Rochester has this ability to hear and really listen to other opinions. The city as a whole has a willingness to grow and change. We’ve gone through so many major transitions, like the loss of Kodak and downsizing of Xerox, and now the move towards smaller businesses. And we have so many places and people to pull from to be great! It’s just a really unique feature that we have.

What do you think could be improved?

The ability to understand minority issues here in Rochester needs to be improved. Ironically, we’re no stranger to it! We have a history with Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. And yet, minority issues still exist, even on the micro-level. There’s still work to be done.

If Rochester were a food, drink, season, animal, or person, what would it be?

President Obama. We’ve had our struggles, we’ve made mistakes, but we’re also a fun and lively community interested in bettering ourselves as a whole.

Vanessa Cheeks is an RIT student and journalist for Open Mic and Rochester Woman Magazine.  Read more of Vanessa's perspective on our Instagram.