On Sunday, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) unanimously appointed Dallas Robinson ’14 as VP for Student Life for the spring 2013 semester. The first of two executive board appointments this month, Robinson will assume Michael Moore ’14’s vacant position immediately.
The appointment process, which officially began with the VSA’s decision to select a new VP for Student Life through appointment rather than special election on Jan. 27, consisted of three steps. The proceedings fell largely under the purview of the VSA Operations Committee and VP for Operations Deb Steinberg ’14.
As stipulated by the VSA, interested students were asked to submit applications to the Operations Committee for review. The main components of the applications were the candidates’ experience, motivation, and ideas statements.
Armed with these applications, the Operations Committee then held open interviews with each candidate. According to Steinberg, candidates reviewed their applications and answered questions from the committee for roughly ten minutes. “We did each interview and then we asked the atlarge members [non-Operations Committee members] what their impressions were and if they had any candidates that stood out for them,” explained Steinberg. “Then we asked them to leave while we were doing final deliberations andrecommendations.”
The deliberation process took roughly three hours, broken up into two separate meetings—an hour and a half on the first day and for over an hour the next afternoon. The result was a majority, though not unanimous, decision to recommend Robinson to the empty position. This advice was delivered to and reviewed by Council on Sunday night, along with the applications of each student, before the VSA officially voted in Robinson.
Although the Council unanimously chose Robinson, the appointment process remains an imperfect system. Class of 2015 President Benedict Nguyen, a member of both the Operations and Student Life Committees, noted in an emailed statement, “It’s already a difficult process having seven candidates and the time constraints we were under didn’t make things easier but I believe the Operations Committee chose the best candidate for the job in the end.”
Concerns about the time needed for a special election also resonated with Robinson. “I sat on council last year as Lathrop President, we had to do a few appointments ourselves, and just for time purposes it makes a lot more sense…You can’t go two three weeks without a member of [the Executive Board]. And they are elected people so we trust their judgment to some extent.”
With this sentiment in mind and amid the pressing need for the completion of the Executive Board and a permanent leader of the Academics Committee, the VSA will use the appointment system again when it selects its VP for Academics this Sunday.
The weight of the Operations Committee’s recommendation to the VSA Council cannot be understated. While a number of representatives sit on the Operations Committee, many in the VSA utilized only the applications and the recommendation to inform their decision. Steinberg explained, “Almost always Council takes [Operations Committee’s] recommendation because Ops has deliberated at that point…Frequently they assume we have thought through everything at that point.”
Robinson appealed to the Operations Committee for a number of reasons, both ideological and logistical. Steinberg mentioned matching concerns for the upcoming semester playing a role in this decision. “Easily half the candidates were saying a lot of the same things Dallas was saying,” Steinberg observed. “Most people really did want to focus on issues of campus climate and social consciousness, and that’s really exciting because that has been one of our overarching themes as a Council this semester…so that was something that Operations Committee wasn’t necessarily looking for but was definitely a plus.”
The sudden departure of Moore and the Student Life Committee’s weeks without a chair necessitated a quick transition in order to ensure prior projects did not break down. “[Robinson] had experience being on VSA Council before as a house president last year,” Steinberg pointed out. “That was appealing because the transition is just that much easier, because there’s definitely a learning curve with these positions.”
Robinson’s experience with Council as an observer also proved to be another positive quality. According to Steinberg, “One thing that really appealed to Council was that they already sort of knew her because she had come in and met with all of us before. After MEChA had come and we had had a lot of issues at that point…[Dallas] had reached out to us and said, ‘I noticed a problem and I want to talk to you guys.’ So she had come in. Everyone knew her and respected her, so that was definitely a plus.”
Robinson also took initiative upon hearing that the position had opened. “Before I even knew about the appointment, after I applied, I talked to [TA President] Devin Griffin ’13 as a just-in-case to see what was going on in Student Life Committee, and he gave me a run through of last semester and what might be going on this year,” Robinson explained.
Steinberg, who heard about this meeting, noted that this would also prove beneficial in ensuring a swift return to the normal operations of the Student Life Committee.
Another concern that Operations Committee used to reach its conclusion, and one that Robinson has already begun thinking about, was the state of the Student Life Committee. Following weeks without a chair and a semester without many sizable accomplishments, the task will fall on Robinson to breathe new life into the group. “We liked that she was really interested in boosting the morale of the Student Life Committee because a lot of them felt like they hadn’t got as much done last semester as they had hoped,” Steinberg explained. “So coming in with excitement and a fresh pair of eyes was something that really appealed to us.”
Although Robinson did not describe any concrete plan for changing the pace of the group, she considers it among her most important responsibilities. “I just hope that [the committee] could pick back up maybe with a new spark of energy,” Robinson admitted.
Other members of the Student Life Committee already anticipate a change in productivity jumpstarted by new leadership. Casey Hancock ’15, a member of Student Life and Operations Committees, noted in an emailed statement, “Student Life this semester will likely be much more active. As it stands, the only thing going in that division is the START committee, which the VP for Student Life doesn’t sit on. So, I imagine [Robinson] will have the committee doing much more…I imagine this will be a new beginning in areas that weren’t touched on before and I am really excited for the upcoming semester.”
The other aim Robinson has for her semester is improving the tense relationship between the VSA and many identity-based organizations connected with the ALANA Center and Spectrum. Robinson anticipates her other experiences at Vassar as assets to her new position. “I guess you could say I am cheating,” Robinson joked. “I am involved in ALANA as a member of BSU [Black Students Union], and the Spectrum orgs, I visit the LGBTQ Center a lot. I know people in there…With my mindfulness and my relations to people already, I can help them feel more comfortable approaching VSA.”
However, Robinson remains aware of the potential constraints this semester-long position will entail. Steinberg noted, “Dallas also had reasonable expectations of could be done in such a short time frame…[and you] have to recognize that you can’t do everything.”
With the limited time she has in office, Robinson hopes to use her past experiences in VSA and membership in identity-based groups to more effectively and fully bridge the divide between the VSA and students, ever conscious that her time will not necessarily solve the problem, but rather begin the healing process.
“To be realistic, some sort of conversation at least can be achieved, and I mean a meaningful discussion that will open eyes on both sides…and to create a bond that’s not even there right now,” Robinson noted. “As a leader of a student group, attempting is a good thing for me. That would make me happy.”