Despite recent objections, VSA must remain political

Since its inception as a self-governing body, the VSA has been inherently political. Each year there are calls for the depoliticization of the VSA. This is not a new concept and the argument is always the same: that being apolitical would be returning to the VSA’s “natural” state. Last year, former VSA President Ramy Abbady wrote an op-ed for The Miscellany News in which he soundly refuted this claim. He argued, “Calls for depoliticization are misguided because they fail to take into account that the VSA has never been apolitical because ‘neutrality’ as it relates to politics is the means for upholding the status quo” (The Miscellany News, “Politicization Necessary for Effective VSA,” 04.07.2016). In light of recent calls for depoliticization, as well as the upcoming VSA Elections, we at The Miscellany News want to reiterate our support and commitment to the Vassar Student Association as a political body.

First and most fundamentally, it is imperative to clarify what it means for the VSA to be a political body. Those that are opposed to politicization do not seem to have a clear idea of what it entails. Politicization of the VSA does not mean that elected officials will be representing the views of any national political party or organization with which they may be affiliated. Rather, politicization means that the VSA has the ability to make decisions and take action based on their guiding principles of supporting Vassar students of marginalized identities, antiracism and intersectional feminism, among others. Those advocating for an apolitical VSA do not realize that politicization does not mean paying less attention to and investing fewer resources on improving campus life and students’ welfare. The idea of the VSA as a political body is often posited as the opposite of it being a student service body, as if these two functions of the VSA could possibly be separated and exist independently from one another.

However, the College and all students are already situated in broader political contexts in that their lives are constituted, shaped, produced and managed by various systems of power. At a time when many already-marginalized folks are being disenfranchised and experiencing overt acts of violence, it would be nonsensical and simply impossible for the VSA to claim to represent and serve students’ needs and interests without speaking and acting politically. In this sense, then, the ability to argue for the student government of a college to be apolitical comes from a place of privilege. When so many people’s mere existence is deeply affected, impacted and even threatened by political powers, stepping back from politics serves the interests of the few who can afford to ignore and evade such powers. Being apolitical also serves to perpetuate the violence and discrimination inherent in the status quo.

Furthermore, many of the commentaries on the supposed harmful and undesirable effects of a political VSA misrepresent relevant issues and situations. Last week, Drew Solender ’20 published an Opinions piece in The Miscellany News arguing that progressive politics at Vassar have led to intolerance toward different views and discouraged political pluralism (The Miscellany News, “Politicization of VSA should be questioned in election,” 4.5.2017). In particular, he expressed concerns that members of “purist progressive groups like Healing to Action (H2A)” who are running for office might put Jewish people at risk by facilitating “the return of the ridiculous Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.” However, this line of reasoning is hard to defend because not only is there no logical connection between an individual’s progressive politics and the BDS Movement, it is also not valid to infer the positions of the members from H2A on this matter, since most of them were not on campus when the resolutions were brought before the VSA Senate in 2015-16. The article also mistakenly asserted that, “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” (The Miscellany News). However, similar discussions have in fact taken place at Brown University, Oberlin College, City University of New York and the University of California, among others (The New York Times, “The B.D.S. movement and anti-semitism on campus,” 03.29.2016). In fact, Tufts University’s student government recently passed a BDS resolution (The Tufts Daily, “TCU Senate passes resolution urging divestment from companies involved in occupied Palestinian territories,” 04.10.2017).

But ultimately, it is the author’s belief that political causes and activism are the antithesis of serving students’ needs and improving campus life that we most urgently need to challenge. Arguing that the VSA should be apolitical because of the possibility of a BDS debate resurfacing minimizes the experiences of people of color and other marginalized communities on this campus who need a political student government that can actually improve their lives on campus. Political discussions and actions are an essential part of the VSA to work for and realize students’ interests on this campus which are not isolated from, but are deeply embedded in and influenced by the larger political context of both the U.S. and the world.

Moreover, while many have called for the VSA to be apolitical, none have ventured to describe what that means or what an apolitical VSA would look like; perhaps this is because an apolitical VSA would not be able to achieve nearly as much as it does now. The VSA has been able to facilitate productive discussions and accomplish important work because of the fact that it is a political body. Projects like The Social Consciousness Fund, promoting events discussing the Dakota Access Pipeline and Trump’s travel ban, endorsing the sanctuary campus proposal, Project Period and the Gender Neutral Bathroom Initiative are possible due to the VSA’s endorsement of inherently political practices such as anti-racism and intersectional feminism. Obviously sharing bathrooms with people of any gender and discussing the implications of targeting a group of people from entering the United States should not have to be political, but since there are people in the U.S. that disagree, it is.

Providing a formal space for such political discussions to take place, within the context of the VSA or supported and facilitated by the VSA is especially necessary and significant as white nationalists are intensifying their recruiting efforts on college campuses. The Boston Globe reported that after last year’s election, “white nationalist and supremacist groups have become an increasingly visible presence on college campuses, using fliers, posters, and e-mails in an effort to recruit new blood.” According to a study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, there have been more than 120 cases of white supremacist fliers, posters, or stickers reported on American college campuses since last September (The Boston Globe, “White nationalists are now recruiting at college campuses,” 03.31.2017). Given this situation and the political climate, we at The Miscellany News believe the VSA’s role and function as a political organization is all the more imperative and indisputable.

—The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.

12 Comments

  1. It is incredibly chilling for the Misc Editorial Board to publish an editorial extensively targeting another op-ed that reflects a minority view on campus. The point could have been made without targeting Drew Solender, and dismissing concerns he’s raised as a Jew on campus. These legitimate concerns have led to Jewish students at Vassar feeling terror and fear, and have even led to some students leaving campus over the past few years. The Misc, a paper with a history of insensitivity to Vassar Jewish community and a dismal track record of covering the concerns of Jews on campus who feel that the BDS movement is antisemitic, should issue an apology to Drew and redouble its efforts to ensure that all Vassar students are heard.

    The Misc should also take account of the price of BDS activism, which has cost Vassar millions of dollars in gifts, putting Vassar’s ability to serve underprivileged students at risk.

    • I’m offended by your being offended.

      What’s more chillin, the”victims” with you as the latest member, asking for a curtailment of free speech on campus, or an editorial addressing it. Its not as if the Misc picked out some random name from the campus directory and targeted him/her. The “victim” crowd, with Drew Solender being their latest publishing “victim”, has been publishing outright falsehoods and perma victimhood in this rag for a coupla’ years. They’ve targeted professors who supposedly have hounded jewish students with falsehoods, colored students who supposedly freaked out jewish students because they stood silently outside a classroom and on and on.

      There’s also an opinion on campus that the “victims” are playing up their victimhood to obfuscate Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing. And you represent the the latest. Common don’t pretend about your goals.

      Also, there you go, playing up the “money” aspect. And of course trying to corral a few minority groups as victims of the BDS campaign. After all, got to present the “victims” as saviors of the colored crowd, just as Israel trots out LGBTQ “rights” in Israel to undermine BDS.

      If the BDS crowd had brought up the same “money” aspect, this newspaper would be chock full of “victim” outrage about antisemitic stereotypes. However you seek a pass for your own self and the “victims”. Typical “victim” hypocrisy.

      All to cover for Israeli apartheid. Try honesty for a change.

      • Sorry Raj, but your reading comprehension skills need work. I’ve not called for a curtailment of free speech on campus.

        I’m not sure who you’re referring to, but no one has ever “targeted colored students.” And they’re students of color, not “colored students.” That terminology went out of style about 60 years ago.

        I’m not sure who has “targeted professors,” either. Some of us have criticized some professors for using their positions and classes to advance their personal politics on campus. Last I checked, academic freedom did not mean freedom from criticism.

        I can’t help it if there’s a opinion on campus that “the victims are playing up their victimhood to obfuscate Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing.” Bigots are going to be bigots. Vassar will lose if the inmates run the asylum.

        I’m not “playing up the money aspect.” I’m just trying to ensure that students who are bullied into supporting an antisemitic cause that they know precious little about understand the price of that antisemitic cause to Vassar. Frankly, most Vassar students reject BDS. It took a referendum for BDS to learn that lesson the last time. And most students are not aware of just how much this issue costs the campus.

        It’s funny that you say that if the BDS crowd “had brought up” money, there would be outrage. The BDS movement brings it up ALL THE TIME, to advance the antisemitic trope that the Jewish community uses money to control US foreign policy.

        Funnily enough, you seem to be suggesting that the money Vassar is losing over BDS is only Jewish money. Joke’s on you, bigot. It’s not just Jews who are outraged by antisemitism.

        • Sorry Drew, rather than lecturing me on reading comprehension and my English, you should pick up a few rags and read ’em. You’ll learn something.

          You state, ” And they’re students of color, not “colored students.” That terminology went out of style about 60 years ago.” Really Drew. ?

          “In addition to that, the academic-achievement gap between white and colored students was even greater in wealthy university towns like Evanston in Illinois and Berkeley in California.”

          https://cepa.stanford.edu/news/why-there-huge-academic-achievement-gap-between-white-students-and-their-peers-color

          “Included in these demands was a request to the UW System to institute a mandatory, comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum to be overseen by a board comprised of colored students, staff and faculty.”

          https://badgerherald.com/news/2015/12/12/demonstrators-demand-better-environment-for-students-of-color-at-uw-system-schools/

          And these are from academic institutions. Not from a Rasta Journal. So who knows English and American colloquialism better Drew ? And i never had a English nanny or Scottish Au Pair.

          Thats for starters. More to come.

          • LOL, your article is from a student newspaper.

            You’ll have to explain to me how calling for student government to focus on students rather than on foreign policy is a call for curtailment to free speech. Did the op-ed call for banning from campus speakers who don’t share my opinion?

            Oh wait, that was the BDS movement.

            Raj, are you the progressivism king? If progressivism requires me to adopt antisemitic ideas in order to be called progressive, then that’s progressivism’s problem, not mine.

            It’s always amusing to me that BDS supporters are more worried about what’s good about Israel than about making life better for LGBTQ communities in places where they face real persecution. But I guess the conflict between standing up for LGBTQ communities and not criticizing certain parts of the worlds has been resolved in favor of the latter.

            Raj, your obsessive focus on Jews and money is very unfortunate. I think Vassar students need to know how abhorrent BDS is in the real world because of its associations with antisemitism. I’m sorry if that’s a hard lesson for you to learn.

            “A large portion of the progressive community calls Israel an apartheid state.”

            Again, that’s their problem, not mine. Progressivism, like any other political ideology, can be prone to blind bigotry, particularly when an extremist segment of it attempts to enforce an orthodoxy.

            And by the way, I’m not Drew.

          • Dear “Offended by your editorial”

            CEPA at Stanford is not a college newspaper. You can’t differentiate between a college newspaper and an educational think thank ? LOL LOL LOL !!!!

            And you want to get a lesson on how asking the VSA to not bring up certain political topics is not asking an institution/organization or persons to curtail speech ? Really ? You can’t distinguish between a college newspaper and a think tank paper , but you want me to explain this concept to you. Never mind. Go to the English Department. Maybe you could tag along with Drew..

            “Raj, your obsessive focus on Jews and money is very unfortunate” – And of course here comes the “anti-semitic” spiel. So predictable. From Netanyahu to the latest talking head pretending there’s no apartheid in Israeli, it’s the same shtick.

            Progressives don’t have a problem. Apartheid deniers like have a problem; acknowledging Israeli apartheid. And believe the problem will go away if you start to “anti-semitic” and “victim” spiel.

            Drew or not Drew, both are cut from the same cloth,

        • Brother Drew,

          You state, “I’ve not called for a curtailment of free speech on campus.”

          Really Bro ? Take the following snippet of your own diatribe to the English Dept. and ask them to comprehend, for you, your own words and its implication. However, do so at your own risk. They may ask you to retake your English classes.

          “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.”

        • Now Brother Drew, lets start exposing your falsehoods. You state, “I’m not sure who has “targeted professors,” either. “.

          Really Drew? Your entire diatribe was based on what happened on campus during the past year, but alas you know of no such group as “Fairness to Israel” and other groups that accused professors of targeting jewish students.

          Your memory/research seems rather selective when it comes “Fairness to Israel” on Vassar campus ? Why Drew ?

        • “I can’t help it if there’s a opinion on campus that “the victims are playing up their victimhood to obfuscate Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing.” Bigots are going to be bigots. Vassar will lose if the inmates run the asylum.”

          So “progressive” Drew is all for reparations for slavery and every other progressive cause i’m sure. But when it comes to apartheid in Israel (which many Israeli politicians themselves states that Israel is headed towards), our uber progressive draws a blank.

          I think you expose your own vacuousness of your supposed progressive credentials. I use the word supposed, cause its probably just like the pink washing that Israel does when they trot out their love for gay rights in Israel.

        • “”I’m not “playing up the money aspect.” I’m just trying to ensure that students who are bullied into supporting an antisemitic cause that they know precious little about understand the price of that antisemitic cause to Vassar.”” – Drew.

          Oh really Drew ? You state a hypothetical here.

          “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.”

          And then state a supposed reality here.

          “Essentially, this movement creates disharmony and antisemitism at Vassar, while also hurting Vassar financially and not affecting Israel at all. ”

          And yet you claim you’re not playing up the money aspect. What gives Drew ?

        • “If the BDS crowd had brought up the same “money” aspect, this newspaper would be chock full of “victim” outrage about antisemitic stereotypes. ” – That’s my statement.

          And that your “Jewish money” spiel validates me. Get a grip Drew. A large portion of the progressive community calls Israel an apartheid state.

          Your a progressive as much as Donal Trump is one.

  2. Did you actually read the editorial your opposing? Obviously not, because if you’d read beyond the first paragraph you would’ve seen this:

    “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.”

    The author is simply arguing against taking sides in ideological disputes and taking stances on divisive political issues that don’t involve Vassar students. He clearly said progressivism for the betterment of Vassar is a positive thing. Your article sets up a nonexistant straw man and proceeds to tear it down. Thats probably why the op-ed got 0 shares on Facebook whereas the article its opposing got 180.

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