In a few short weeks, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) will usher in a new administration to serve throughout the 2017-18 school year. As announced last Thursday, April 13, the VSA President-to-be is Miranda Amey ’19. Her executive board will be Vice President Anish Kanoria ’18, Chair of Residential Affairs Takunda Maisva ’19, Chair of Equity and Inclusion Tamar Ballard ’19, Chair of Finance Robyn Lin ’18, Chair of Organizations Patrick DeYoung ’18 and Chair of Academics Joaquim Goncalves ’18.
Amey, who is currently the Chair of Programming, has been involved in VSA since the fall semester of her freshman year, when she was elected as the Class of 2019 President. She reflected, “I decided that I really wanted to be the one to represent my class, because at the time, only six men were running and I felt like I was a better representative of the school’s diversity.”
Since then, proper representation has been an important focus for Amey, who was extremely enthusiastic about the fact that the new executive board is made up almost entirely of students of color and also includes several newcomers to VSA, who she feels will bring a different, less bureaucratic perspective. Amey had originally planned to run for Chair of Equity and Inclusion, but decided that Ballard would do a better job. The only other position in VSA where she would have as much potential to enact change, she felt, was the office of President.
During the coming year, Amey said her focus will be making VSA as accessible and responsive to students’ needs as possible. “VSA has so much history of not responding to the students enough. Being the president is really about directing the vision, and I think part of that really needs to be that we’re more responsive to the students, especially the students who are not often represented or talked about, even, on the Senate floor, let alone represented properly,” she said.
Amey added, “I’m so happy and so thankful that I was voted as your VSA President. My goal is to not let you down and I’m going to do the best I possibly can.”
Kanoria, the current 2018 Senator for Strategic Affairs and former Cushing House President, intends to focus on making VSA as transparent and accountable to constituents as possible, something he thinks has historically been lacking in Vassar’s student government. He elaborated, “VSA considers a lot of important questions that are supposed to have student input, but students don’t know about it. Like, just two weeks ago, we were discussing a change to the Mission Statement of the College, which is really important, but no one knew about it. So I want to make sure that big-picture items that VSA is supposed to represent the students on, the students know about and can give feedback on.”
Some of the ways Kanoria hopes to accomplish these goals include posting VSA attendance records on its website, creating a database of meetings and demands met and sending out a VSA review survey twice a semester in order to get feedback on what the student body thinks VSA is doing well and what it feels could still be improved.
Maisva decided to run because he felt that the Board of Residential Affairs—of which he’s been a member this year as part of his role as Noyes House President—wasn’t well-known or understood by most students. Despite where they live being a major factor in students’ lives, he observed, many didn’t know who their VSA representatives are or what the Board of Residential Affairs actually does, something he hopes to remedy in this new role. “VSA is about all of us. It’s not just the people who are elected for positions. [Students] should know that they make a difference, that even if they aren’t sitting in the meetings all day, their voice matters,” he said.
Ballard, who is new to VSA, felt that assuming the role of Chair of Equity and Inclusion would enable her to give a voice to students’ concerns— particularly those of marginalized identities or those who are often underrepresented. She said, “I saw that people weren’t comfortable on campus and wanted to do something about it. Especially in this committee, in particular, we have the power to really make sure that people are comfortable and make the school more aware that there are people feeling uncomfortable.”
Along with Maisva and other members of the Noyes House Team, Ballard has organized several discussions, such as We Got You and We Got You, Too, on identity and intersectionality. She hopes to continue this work in her new role, and will also strive to make the Social Consciousness Fund more accessible for students, especially students of color, with similar desires.
Lin is also a newcomer to VSA, but has served as the treasurer of the Asian Students’ Alliance (ASA) for the past two years. “As a treasurer of one of the largest budgets of any VSA org,” she said, “I felt like it was my responsibility to help other treasurers manage money as well as ASA historically has, [and help them] understand the ways they can utilize [their budgets] for the benefit of not just their constituents, but also the greater Vassar community.” She added that she hopes to increase VSA transparency and to serve as a representative within student government for her fellow international and Asian students at Vassar.
Like several other members of the new executive board, DeYoung originally got involved in VSA through his House Team, though he now serves as the Class of 2018 College Planning Senator. After fielding many constituent concerns regarding student organizations, he decided to run for a position whose main focus is orgs, a huge part of students’ college experience. “For many students, the first point of reference or contact with the VSA is through student organizations and activities. It’s important to make this interaction as positive, equitable and transparent as possible,” DeYoung commented. In his new role, he wants to focus on helping new students learn to navigate student government structures and find a way to get involved on campus. He added, “If our committee can, without being overbearing, also encourage student organizations to be more outwardly focused in the local community, while being conscious and representative of our guiding principles of antiracism and intersectional feminism in their work, it will be a successful year.”
Goncalves, another VSA rookie, didn’t expect to run until recently. “A year ago, I would’ve scoffed at the very idea [of running for a VSA position],” they commented via email. “I, like many others in my community, [am] disenchanted with many of the formal structures of this institution. Even more so, many of us queer/trans Black and Brown students feel deeply uncomfortable and highly skeptical of structures like the VSA for their lack of efficacy and political ambivalence. This is why I decided to run. I was tired of hearing empty declarations of ‘equity’ and ‘diversity’ while my community was, and is, deeply hurting.” Goncalves also plans to increase VSA’s engagement with administrators and to ensure that all students have access to reports of the Board of Trustees’ activities.
Outgoing VSA President Calvin Lamothe ’17, offered some advice for this new team in a email. His guidance included focusing on effective time management and building collaborative relationships with administrators. And, for Amey in particular, making an effort to remember big-picture goals in order to not get bogged down in the dayto-day minutiae of running VSA. Lamothe concluded, “I would love for the VSA to continue being a ‘political’ body—one that values antiracism and intersectional feminism in its work. I believe that next year’s leadership will hold up these values and strive to hold Vassar accountable to them as well.”