New VSA President discusses his hopes and goals for the year

Anish Kanoria ’18 was elected as VSA VP last April, but took on the role of president when his predecessor, Miranda Amey ’19, stepped down in August. Kanoria said the change was a shock, but that he’s excited for the year ahead. / Courtesy of Anish Kanoria

On Aug. 19, 2017, the 2017-18 Vassar Student Association (VSA) President Miranda Amey ’19 announced that she would be stepping down from the position, as she won’t be on campus this fall, and that the elected Vice President, Anish Kanoria ’18, would be taking over as VSA President. The Miscellany News recently spoke with Kanoria about his new role and what he hopes the VSA will achieve this year.

The Miscellany News: When you ran to be VSA Vice President last spring, you had no idea you would be serving as President most of your term. What was it like realizing you would be stepping into this role?

Anish Kanoria: Miranda told [the VSA she would be stepping down] as soon as she found out, which was very commendable on her part. She kept us in the loop. It’s always a mix of emotions— there was a lot of anxiety, shock, but also enthusiasm. I was initially shocked that Miranda wasn’t going to be President because she was elected to that position. But I’m now excited and grateful for the opportunity. I’m especially grateful for the Executive Board and for the Senate, both of which have been so supportive and understanding of the whole situation and have offered any help that has been required. It’s going to be a fantastic year, I have no doubt about that.

The Misc: The VSA’s going to be holding a special election to fill the Vice President position. Can you tell us more about that?

AK: The timing is going to be the same as first-year elections, just for logistical reasons, because CIS needs to handle all the software. Filing will open with first-year elections and will close with first-year elections. Of course, first-years are not eligible to run for VP, but they will get a vote. Any sophomore, junior or senior can run. Once CIS confirms when they’ll have the software up and running, we’ll have the elections. [Editor’s note: Since this interview, the VSA announced that filing for both first-year elections and the special election for Vice President will be open from Sept. 5 to Sept. 10, with voting from Sept. 15 to Sept. 17 and results announced on Sept. 17].

The Misc: And you’re currently acting as Interim Vice President?

AK: Yes, I’m doing two jobs at the moment.

New VSA President Anish Kanoria ’18 is also co-founder and student leader of Vassar Refugee
Solidarity. Along with many other local colleges, the org is part of the Mid-Hudson Refugee
Solidarity Alliance, which helped to resettle a Congolese family in the Hudson Valley last winter. / Courtesy of Joshua Sherman

The Misc: When you won the Vice Presidency in April, you told The Misc that your goal was to increase the transparency and accountability of the VSA, specifically by posting VSA attendance records, creating a database of meetings and demands met and sending out a VSA review survey to students twice a semester. Are these still things that you hope to work on, or do you plan to pass those tasks on to the new Vice President?

AK: We’re going to work on it together, as the VSA. During Senate training, those were some of the core goals that people had, without me prompting anyone, so that’s a shared ideal. Some of the ideas that I had were specific to the role of a VP, but I’m still going to carry that over into my new role as President. In terms of increasing transparency, one of the things we’re discussing in the Senate is a form sent out in my weekly emails for students to voice concerns, comments, anything they want VSA to discuss, anything they just want to comment on, any feedback, anything at all. We’re also making a giant poster of all Senate members, with our pictures, positions, pronouns and emails that’s going to hang over the College Center, so that people know who we are, because we’re their government, and we should be present, and people should know who their representatives are. I’m also starting a spotlight in my weekly emails, which will have information about one Senate member each week. These are all small steps, which I believe are essential to achieve a larger vision, but in terms of larger things, we are working with senior administrators to make information about the College more accessible—things like who are our trustees (which is in a website that no one goes to), or who are our biggest donors and how is that money used? Basic stuff that every student at Vassar should know. What’s happening with Bon Appétit? Lots. You know, what’s the point in keeping information?

The Misc: What else do you hope to accomplish during your time as President?

AK: Many things. There are a few major ideas, or themes.
One, and I cannot stress this enough, is transparency and accountability, and those two tie in together in terms of Senate keeping each other accountable, students keeping us accountable, us keeping student organizations accountable and the same thing with administrators. That ties in with the transparency we discussed earlier.
This is also all with a lens of serving and representing those with marginalized identities on this campus because this Senate and this Executive Board, we were all elected for a very specific purpose. It’s not isolated; most of the people involved in this year’s VSA are currently involved in organizations geared towards social justice or have been involved in the past. That’s the sort of bridge that we need to build to make government and the institutional access that we have serve the needs of those who have historically not been served and who we say we represent. That’s a key part of this year’s agenda.

Another thing that ties into that is bridging gaps in our community on campus, [for example], between athletes and non-athletes. We want to change the culture of isolation between some communities and some other communities. That’s not specifically geared towards identity, [but for all groups].

We’re also working with the administration to rethink health on campus so that people don’t have to jump through hoops to get care.

We just had a lovely meeting with Professor Candice Lowe Swift about the Engaged Pluralism Initiative, so we’re going to be working very closely with her and the initiative at large. Institutional memory is also very big on this year’s agenda.

The Misc: How did you get involved in the VSA? What other positions have you held?

AK: I got involved my first year, when I was Cushing Freshman Representative on House Team and on the Student Life Committee. My sophomore year, I was Cushing House President, on VSA Council and, of course, on House Team. My third year, I was abroad in the fall, and in the spring I was the 2018 Senator for Strategic Affairs, and this year I’m President. So I’ve been around, which is good and bad, yet to be determined.

The Misc: I’d like to ask a few questions not related to the VSA to help readers who don’t know you personally get a better sense of who you are. Can you tell me about where you grew up?

AK: I grew up in Kolkata, India. I’m an international student here. It’s a pretty big city, about 13 or 14 million people. It’s a nice city, very slow, very different from the rest of the country. I have a joint family, live with 10 people in our apartment. Fun fact: I’m also the first international student to be VSA President.

The Misc: Going back to VSA for a minute, do you think being the first international student to hold this role will allow you to bring a different perspective to the position?

AK: I hope so. I can’t separate my identity from the job I do, so that is the hope. I hope to pop the “Vassar Bubble” in many different ways. Not only in terms of thinking, “Yeah, this is America, but there’s also a whole world out there,” but there’s a community right outside Vassar that we should be more a part of and should be engaging more with.

The Misc: Back to you, how did you decide to come to Vassar?

AK: I applied to only liberal arts colleges in America (besides Berkeley). My thinking was that if I’m coming to America, what is unique about its education system that I can’t find anywhere else in the world? Universities exist everywhere, good colleges exist everywhere, but liberal arts colleges are still something that, in this form, are unique to this country, by and large. Also Vassar’s quirkiness and reputation for unpredictability.

The Misc: What are you studying?

AK: I’m a political science and economics double-major with a correlate in mathematics. It’s mostly geared towards poly-sci, but I’m too far into econ and math not to do it.

The Misc: Do you hope to go into politics?

AK: No. I don’t know what my dream occupation would be, but something related to a think tank or a policy forum would be fun.

The Misc: Outside of school and the VSA, how do you spend your time? 

AK: I do only three things in my life: I do VSA, I do classes and I do Vassar Refugee Solidarity. I’m the co-founder and student leader of the org. It’s not actually an org; it’s an initiative. I would say that there are three major components.

One is the local component, in which we formed the Mid-Hudson Refugee Solidarity Alliance. The name is in question, but the goal of the alliance is to assist people who are forcibly displaced. Not only undocumented migrants, but we also worked with Church World Services to open a resettlement office in Poughkeepsie. We received one family through that office. Then Trump got elected and shit went down, so we don’t know what the status of the office is right now, but it’s still open [at the moment], and we hope more people will be able to join our community. For context, the alliance is very broad-based and consists of every institution of higher education in the Mid-Hudson Valley, except West Point, because they officially can’t join it. We have faith-based organizations, like Vassar Temple, the Mid-Hudson Islamic Association, a bunch of interfaith councils, and then we have social service agencies like Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, Hudson River Housing, so on and so forth. It’s an amazing opportunity for students to interact with people outside of Vassar. That’s one component.

Another component is the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement and Education. It comprises Vassar, Sarah Lawrence, Bard and Bennington Colleges, and it’s geared toward curriculum development. We got a one-year planning grant last year to have a planning phase, and this fall, we’re going to be applying for a four-year implementation grant. The goal of the Consortium is to develop a radical curriculum, so that involves not only talks about forced migration and displacement, but also integrates some sort of action. For us, for example, it would entail working with the local community or working with our digital initiatives, which I’ll talk about in a minute. It also involves rethinking what we teach and how we teach, taking more of a spatial and temporal look at the subject.

The third component is the digital initiatives. We’re trying to establish transnational classrooms. These would be classes taught by Vassar professors that would have Vassar students and also students somewhere else in the world with a forcibly displaced background, taking classes together. We had also established an English-language exchange, in which Vassar students converse with someone somewhere else in the world in English, to just talk. There’s also this initiative called Conversations Unbound that grew out of the Refugee Solidarity initiative, which is now filing for nonprofit status. They’ve established a program in which students taking Arabic or Spanish classes in colleges and universities are assigned homework to practice those skills with a refugee or someone with a forcibly displaced background, and the tutor gets paid for their time. It was piloted at Vassar is now growing to other colleges in the U.S.

The Misc: Is there anything else our readers should know about the VSA?

AK: The VSA is here for you. We are your government, so please consider us and interact with us in that manner, and we’ll do that same. We’re all on the same side.

The other thing is that the VSA has been operating smoothly and effectively. We’ve had time to prepare and we’ve been working our asses off over the summer, so there’s no reason to worry about anything. Just be excited.

[For students looking to] get involved in the VSA, it’s a very important year for the College, because President Bradley just came in. She has a whole new vision and a whole new approach to administration. This opportunity only comes once in 10 years or once in 20 years. That’s how long presidents stay.

This year is an opportunity you will not find for the rest of your Vassar life, in terms of impacting things right when they’re starting. President Bradley’s tenure is starting, the Engaged Pluralism Initiative is starting, a whole bunch of administrators are being hired and the VSA has input on that, and a lot of offices are getting reorganized. This is also the second year of the VSA’s existence in its new structure, so there’s a whole bunch of new stuff that provides enormous potential for people to be involved and to impact our community.

The Misc: Do you have any advice for other students who are interested in joining the VSA?

AK: Yes, do it! I cannot emphasize that enough. It’s important, and as we keep stressing, the VSA has a seat at the table where no other student does. I, for example, am the student observer to the Board of Trustees, so I am the only student there. That’s just one example of access that the VSA has that other students might not. Another example is all the joint committees, like the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid, where faculty, administration and students are all on the committee together, making decisions or recommending policy. The Executive Board meets regularly with senior administrators.

Also, we’re genuinely nice people. I don’t say that enough, but this year’s Senate is fantastic. It’s a great group of people with immense passion, energy and vision and a desire to implement real change on this campus. Anyone who is remotely interested in making new friends and also doing important stuff, VSA is the place for you.
We have lots of open positions. First-years, please run for all the positions you have access to. You also don’t need to be elected to be involved. All our committees, except Finance, are open. Even Finance, you can apply to be on it. So all you need to do is show up if you want to be involved in the VSA, that’s it. It’s easy, and it’s rewarding.

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