Politicization of VSA should be questioned in election

This week, I and other writers for The Miscellany News have been given the unique opportunity to comment on the upcoming election. I don’t know about my contemporaries, but I am seizing upon this rare opportunity to analyze ongoing events and voice some of my personal concerns and observations. While I’m sure this has been said about many an election, this year’s election is a pivotal one for the VSA and Vassar for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is politics. With the rapidly changing political landscape since the election of President Trump, college campuses have become hotbeds of progressive protest and outrage. Will the next VSA be a political body or a student service body if we elect the progressive candidates who are poised to win? Will they prioritize political issues like the return of BDS and the alienation of certain members of the student body, or will they put aside their opinions and serve all students?

The VSA, in recent years, has sometimes acted as a political body. This can often be for the benefit of many, such as when it reaches out to historically marginalized communities, works to create a more progressive community, and create a more inclusive society. It falls short, however, when it does this to a militant degree. I think few at Vassar will argue that attempts at creating an environment of inclusion have been largely bad. The intentions behind them are certainly good. Continuing programs of inclusion and support for marginalized communities are essential and ought to be expanded. However, such attempts at an inclusive environment have had the effect, instead of eliminating discrimination, of discouraging political pluralism and silencing those who think against the grain.

There is definitely a way to be inclusionary to people of all races and also to those with opinions that don’t fall into the majority. Purist progressive groups like Healing to Action (H2A), which has fielded multiple members and allies to their movement as candidates in the VSA elections, might disagree. One of H2A’s members encourages people to “be the fist you want to see in a fascist’s face,” which is something I will elaborate upon in a future article. My response to that would be, “you guys sometimes call moderates and conservatives, or anybody who doesn’t agree with your progressive views, fascists.

So where’s the limit to who you want to punch?” While the punching example is probably the most radical and is mostly talked about ironically, it does beg the question; where is the line drawn?

As a moderate centrist who believes in free trade, the sovereignty of the Jewish state, the idea that we shouldn’t punch anybody regardless of their views of race, as well as the idea that not every white person wants to explicitly undermine marginalized communities, I have been called a racist by some progressives at Vassar.

Yet conversely, I believe that the US government should pay billions in reparations to the Black community, that gerrymandering is an inherently racist process, and that the federal government is obligated to alleviate the poverty of historically oppressed communities. Still, even with these views, I’m not considered progressive enough by some because I don’t think people who disagree with me should be tarred and feathered. I wonder what will happen to conservatives, moderates, libertarians and any non-progressives if we elect candidates who paint all non-progressives as racists?

This is the inclusivity paradox; when Vassar creates a community that is more inclusive to historically marginalized groups, it becomes increasingly intolerant to those with differing views on the matter. I believe that a balance can be drawn between accomodating those who think differently politically (while, of course, ensuring that prejudiced ideas are properly confronted) and creating an inclusive environment for all marginalized identities. While I personally applaud the increasingly tolerant society that Vassar has created, I also think that progressives should try to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar. It sometimes seems to me that the goal is to just alienate people with problematic views to the point where they leave the community, instead of engaging them and trying to change their opinions. Sometimes these efforts are made in vain. They are efforts that should be made nonetheless.

Then, of course, there is the marginalized ethnicity that is put at risk in a VSA dominated by progressive purists: Jewish people. I worry, as do many of my peers in the Jewish community, about the return of the ridiculous Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which could be facilitated by a progressive bloc ruling the VSA. Firstly, for those who will argue that Jews are not marginalized, but are rather unequivocally accepted and integrated into Christian society, you are dead wrong. I would refer those people to the Jewish cemeteries that are being vandalized and destroyed by antisemites, the JCCs and synagogues receiving bomb threats from antisemites, the antisemitic man at Penn Station who chased me yelling “f**king jew!” last month, and the antisemites who make the BDS movement the cornerstone cause of their college career.

For those who do not know, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions or BDS is a movement that wants Vassar to divest from and boycott the Jewish state of Israel for the supposed purpose of liberating Palestinians. Though the BDS referenda were ultimately rejected by the student body last year (though it’s important to note that the BDS Resolution was initially passed by the VSA Council), the toxic environment the campaign created has lingered.

The fact is, antisemites and other people hostile to the Jewish people are manipulating progressive college students into wholeheartedly supporting this movement as an “anti-apartheid movement,” of which it is nothing of the sort. BDS is simply the latest attempt to undermine the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Yet, what really concerns me is the campus effect of this movement.

While the BDS movement was happening during the 2015-2016 school year, the environment was described as “tense” and “hostile,” especially towards Jews who opposed BDS. This movement creates militants and combatants out of well-meaning students, all under the umbrella of an allegedly progressive agenda. What is it all for? Vassar College’s divestment wouldn’t make a chink into Israel’s robust economy, but it might force Vassar to pay more for things like computer chips, telephones and medical supplies in Baldwin if it is indeed one of the many entities that imports those inexpensive and high quality products from Israel.

Essentially, this movement creates disharmony and antisemitism at Vassar, while also hurting Vassar financially and not affecting Israel at all. To those who think that Vassar would serve as a domino in the BDS movement, paving the way for other colleges to participate until a significant dent is made, you can forget that idea too. For many colleges outside the Vassar bubble, the BDS movement would look like a hot potato of ludicrousy that any institution would want to rid itself of as expediently as possible.

I strongly believe that electing droves of likeminded progressives and H2A members to the VSA will put non-progressives, Jews and Israel supporters in great danger of alienation, discrimination and even harassment.

I would like to see progressive candidates, and indeed every candidate, state whether they would incorporate free speech and political diversity measures into their inclusivity initiatives. I want to hear their exact opinions on the BDS movement and whether or not they would facilitate its return. I would like them to tell me whether they are running for the VSA for political reasons, or because they actually want to help improve the lives of students here. Student governments are meant to serve their constituents, fund clubs and create a better campus. They are not meant be activists on issues that have never touched their lives or alienate members of the student body who they believe to be deplorables or degenerates.

Creating a more inclusive educational community is, of course, essential. I believe that such efforts do not necessarily have to come at the expense of political pluralism.

I have seen far too much evidence that progressive candidates would support the latter definition of government and eschew the former. So this is a challenge to progressive candidates for the VSA: prove me wrong.

21 Comments

  1. If you are a democrat, by definition you represent the status quo. Sorry, but hell no, I do not need to engage with liberal hegemony in any civil type of way because in the grand scheme of things that type of politic has done NOTHING reorganizational or fundamental to end the inequality of capitalism and all its intersections that have so hurt many people I know and love. Please get off your high horse. As a Vassar activist, I will continue to advocate for punching fascists and I will continue to decry Israeli apartheid. It is my DEMAND that my representatives do the same, because no part of this institution is not apolitical. To suggest that it is only reveals your position of privilege and the blindness that causes.

    • Gee, with that attitude, I can’t fathom why it is that BDS is overwhelmingly unpopular at Vassar with everyone except the radical activist community, which relentlessly pushes what the vast majority of Jews around the world consider to be an antisemitic political philosophy that vilifies the world’s largest Jewish community. You guys bullied the VSA into passing a BDS resolution last year, and then lost a campus wide referendum by a large majority. Now you want to put the campus through this again. And at a time where Jews are already experiencing high rates of antisemitism.

      Sorry, but how does BDS “end capitalism” again? It doesn’t. I’ll tell you what it might end: Vassar’s need-blind admissions policy. Because alums tend not to want to give to campuses with aggressive BDS movements. BDS helps Vassar become richer and whiter.

      Seems pretty stupid to ask students of modest means who worked incredibly hard to be at Vassar to put their futures at risk to support your parochial political cause.

    • Must be wonderful to know everything you need to know before you get to college. Saves you the trouble of having to listen to anyone who might express a different view. Even better, you never have to risk explaining the bases for your own beliefs, you can just keep hurling epithets at all those immoral idiots who don’t see things the way you do. But there seems to be one thing you don’t know — you are wasting your time and money (assuming you are contributing financially to your education) at a place where by your own admission it is clear you can learn nothing.

  2. yall really published this? whewwww. kids been on campus for 5 months and thinks he knows this shit? damn. also can one of yall teach him how to use quotation marks properly

    • You sir… are an asshole! Maybe you should learn how to use capitalize letters and use periods at the end of your sentences.

  3. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

  4. 1) Not much of a political science major if you still believe in the concept of “apolitical”

    2) The Jewish people =/= The nation-state of Israel. Outlandishly misapplied identity politics

    3) “militant” … FOH racist
    4) “creates disharmony” … a liberal spin on racism
    5) “As a moderate centrist who believes in free trade” lmaooooooooo

    • 1. Yeah, believe it or not, most people think that student government should focus on – – wait for it – – students, rather than posturing on international politics, particularly causes that have a whiff of antisemitism, cause Jews to feel uncomfortable and to leave campus, alienate alumni, and make Vassar a national laughingstock. That’s what apolitical means. Maybe student government should spend six months debating whether or not to support Brexit. It makes about as much sense. Maybe you should push the VSA to issue a statement on the state of human rights in Iran, where, as the Iranian President once said, gay people do not exist. Or the immigration policies of Saudi Arabia, which officially ban Jews and Christians from entry. But I’m not holding my breath.

      2. You don’t get to tell Jewish people what their identity is. Check your privilege. And if you’re Jewish, recognize that you’re in no way representative, and that your community overwhelmingly disagrees with your perspective.

      3. When the disharmony created by BDS is in reality antisemitism directed at Jews, that YOUR racism, buddy. Check your bias.

      • While I agree with you on several points, I’d like to draw attention to the fact that Vassar has taken a position on a handful of international issues in decades past (i.e. Apartheid in South Africa), and it should not be surprising that a significant portion of the student body would like to demonstrate against the nation-state of Israel due to its gross violation of human rights. I agree that BDS can be isolating to Jewish students and alumni (who donate vast sums of money to keep this institution afloat), however, I disagree with the statement that BDS is a type of antisemitism. Individual people are not a country or a government, though they may align themselves with one or the other or both. (If I disagree with the policies of the government of Nepal, am I anti-Hindu? If I’m opposed to the militant policies of Hamas am I anti-Islam?) The indictment of the Israeli government is not an attack on Jewish people. The clash on campus stems from those who do not support Israel and those who do. I’m not going to pretend that religion is not a factor here because it is, but this conflict on campus is rooted in the political. I understand the opposition to BDS: it costs Vassar money and creates conflict within the student body. Furthermore, our divestment will make very little impact in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, complacency is support; it allows for the continuation of oppression and in this case, it means that we’re not going to take a position on the genocide of Palestinians, or we’ll take a disinterested stance that keeps our wallets safe and neutralizes meaningful but heated dialogue. I’m conflicted of my own stance on BDS because it doesn’t directly benefit the institution as a whole, but if the only grounds for BDS were moral? BDS all the way. Also, please keep in mind that the Vassar student body includes students with ties to Palestine as well as Israel.

        • 1. When the VSA took an anti-apartheid position, it was not controversial. The campus overwhelmingly supported it. Most Western governments had divested in whole or in part. And the racial issue in South Africa was clear. None of this is true about BDS, which reduces a conflict to the point of absurdity and vilifies a state of Holocaust survivors and survivors of Arab world ethnic cleansing.

          2. Most Jews regard BDS as a form of antisemitism. Therefore, it’s a form of antisemitism.

          3. A vote against BDS is not “complacency.”. That’s ridiculous. It’s destructive. I know dozens of people who have spent years building the positive relationships between Israelis and Palestinians that is the foundation of real peace. BDS makes their hard work much harder.

  5. I transferred out of Vassar last year and the issues you talked about in this article are a big part of the reason why. Please don’t let the assholes in the comments section, here or on Facebook, get you down. Kudos to you for daring to address the ignorance on this campus even though your views are so different from the norm.

  6. These views are not representative of the Vassar student body as a whole. Rather, it represents the type of white liberalism that prevents the deconstruction of racism and other oppressive structures within this institution and the world at large. It seems as if you’re only willing to be “liberal” when it does not threaten you or the privilege you have as a cishet white male. This new, non-homogeneous VSA (in terms of race, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, religion, and geopolitical history) is threatening to you because…what? You feel as if they’re drowning out other voices? Who are these other voices? Would they be…[faux] liberal/moderate/conservative cishet white people? Would they be, dare I say it the…majority? As in…the voices we’re used to hearing on a daily basis…as in…the voices that systemically marginalize people who don’t fit in with the ‘majority’ in some way? I’m sorry, are you upset that we’re on the brink of having a diverse set of people to represent the diverse student body at Vassar? That you’re going to have to contend with views that don’t agree with yours? Somehow you’ve turned a group of bright, progressive candidates into a bunch of ‘militant’ antisemites in a sad attempt to swing a couple votes in the direction of apolitical stagnation (lol if you truly think VSA, our student GOVERNMENT is apolitical). Good luck, buddy. This election is not about Israel, it’s about changing hegemonic structures that exist and continue to exist because of people like you. I feel as if you’ve got to know that some part of your logic comes from a place that is defensive of the bigoted views that pervade our school; it’s why you dropped out. It’s a little hard to run a campaign centered around silencing marginalized identities.

  7. The fact that all you Bernie or bust people are flipping out about this article means that you guys, in fact, can’t handle other points of view. I encourage you to check yourself when you try to tell people that your opinion is right and their’s is wrong because, news flash, intolerance of ideas is a dictatorial and fascist tendency. I have heard from several VSA members that the VSA community doesn’t want to recognize Jewish issues as issues that need to be represented and supported and even just talked about in a social justice context. That, in itself, proves that there is oppression against Jewish people even by a community that is so-called “accepting”. And stop equating Judaism to the state of Israel! That’s the same thing as equating ISIS to Muslims. Please recognize Jewish issues Also, to the militant person, you’re opinion is not right… it’s an opinion so stop talking about it like its a fact and you aren’t even addressing what Drew is saying. Also please take an economics class, you’re lack of knowledge is disheartening and it’s sad to her that you think that free trade is bad and that no liberals can support it. Please, in your next post explain the math behind free trade and tell us if you think it’s good or bad. You will probably find that you can’t even boil it down to that because it’s much much much more nuanced than that, as is with much of the things you are spewing. When your opinions are so heavily weighted on identity politics you start to loose sight, and stop searching for, facts and reason and you become content in saying that because of someone skin color, political association, religious beliefs, their opinion is invalid and should not even be listened to, you are no less of a bigot than the ones you say you want to punch. As we all know, Martin Luther King’s famous line that people should be “judged by the content of their character” has seemed to be forgotten. So please, just listen to these words.

    • First of all, I literally said nothing about free trade, you played yourself. Secondly, I adored Bernie, but he didn’t have my vote. I found his idealism impractical for office for many different reasons. Thirdly, identity politics are crucial to any argument because they reflect our personal biases. They determine the way we process “facts” and assimilate them to fit our own arguments. Identity politics is a component of the “purist progressive” group Drew is referencing, H2A. My understanding of the org is that it focuses on healing and uplifting marginalized identities in order to a) make Vassar a space that’s equitable for all and b) forge respect and awareness throughout the student body as a whole. It is these objectives that members of this group running for VSA positions could be expected to bring to the senate floor. Drew’s critique of the org is that they call everyone who does not agree with their views “fascist” and are intolerant of “non-progressives, Jews and Israel supporters”. He posits that the election of group members and their allies, and/or candidates that have the same mindset as this group would lead to the silencing, marginalization, and alienation of the aforementioned groups, as well as the return of the BDS movement. There’s no grounds for the latter, and my issue with the former is this: Drew is raging against a progressive wave of candidates and demanding that they remain inclusive of non-progressives, (which I actually agree with). The problem is that he is aggressively targeting a specific group of people, and while these people are reflective of Vassar’s diverse student body, they have not had as much representation as they should in years prior. Now that relative equity is a possibility, there seems to be an issue, and instead of focusing on supposed underrepresentation of moderate views, Drew chooses to paint progressive candidates as discriminatory and antisemitic without any proof outside of a quote that was admittedly taken out of context. What I’m trying to say is this article read as very personal; a “what about me” that stems from his own feelings of isolation for his political views, which is a likely reason why he dropped out of the race. If he thinks a significant portion of Vassar is going to lose political representation, why did he drop out instead of providing an option for these students? Why does any candidate drop out of a political race? If he’s determined the people’s vote before elections, what does that say about the majority, or the majority of students voting, and how well does it correlate with Drew’s criticism above?

  8. a jew who doesn't even know if they're a zionist or not but just wants everyone to stop being so goddamn self righteous says:

    BDSers are pushy and annoying. You, Drew Solender, are also pushy and annoying. Starting to wonder if there is anyone at Vassar that I could have a conversation about Israel/Palestine with that wouldn’t leave me feeling aggravated.

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