Constituent apathy proves detrimental to VSA operations

In the aftermath of an election season with particularly profound effects on both country-wide and local politics, it feels apt to consider Vassar’s own government and the role students play in it. On Oct. 28, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) held a forum on the school’s upcoming curricular changes, which will affect many current first-years and sophomores. In anticipation of this assembly, VSA President Tamar Ballard ’19 sent out an email notifying students of the forum. However, even though these new policies promise widespread changes for the College, something was notably missing: student attendance. Alarmingly, last Sunday’s forum is not an exception. Student attendance at VSA meetings has been consistently minimal over the past few years, or as least as long as current seniors can remember. As a student body that often voices our concern for the College and evinces a commitment to fostering a collaborative and transparent relationship between students and the administration, we should make it a priority to stay updated with the VSA. Comprised of senators, student representatives and committees, the VSA strives to represent the interests of the student body. Examples of the VSA’s influence include deciding funding allocations for every Vassar student organization, initiating Project.Period—which provides free menstrual products to students who need them—and otherwise supporting the wellness and education of Vassar students. The VSA’s primary responsibility is to us, its constituents, and the most effective way to ensure that our student government hears and represents our voices is not only attending meetings, but also directly engaging with our elected representatives.

VSA outreach and organization is instrumental in encouraging students to participate in the processes of student governance. One way to improve the accessibility of the VSA is to update the website, which would create a centralized source of information about appropriate points of contact for different questions and concerns that may arise. If students do choose to contact their class senator or other elected representative, establishing a clearer line of communication would help them understand where the concerns they voice will end up and with whom they need to speak in order to further address the issue at hand.

Representatives should also regularly attend meetings and clearly communicate with their constituents. It is important for students to take the time to read emails from our representatives rather than relegating them to the trash bin, but to improve accessibility, representatives must make an effort to send out consistent updates. Some students do not even know who their representative is; while the responsibility principally falls on us to educate ourselves, it is also key for those in leadership to keep in contact. Communication between the VSA and the people they represent is especially vital given that many students do not attend the meetings themselves.

One potential reason for poor turnout is the meetings’ day and time, Sundays at 2:30 p.m., which may not mesh with many students’ schedules due to academics, athletics or simply a build-up of neglected weekend assignments. Disseminating a poll for the student body to fill out the times that work for them could remedy this issue. If students still cannot attend, livestreaming the event and allowing for virtual submission of questions and feedback would ensure that anyone who wishes to participate in meetings can do so.

Last year, for example, during a forum with College President Elizabeth Bradley, VSA Treasurer Robyn Lin ’18 livestreamed the event and asked questions sent in by students online. A livestream would be welcomed not only by students who have time conflicts, but also by those abroad, away or otherwise physically unable to take part in the meetings.

However, while VSA representatives should work on improving their communication with the College community, it is important for us to remember that they are students, too, putting in hours of work on top of their already busy schedules. We as constituents should make the effort to take advantage of the structures that are already available to us.

Voting for representatives offers another avenue for involvement. Unfortunately, in the Spring 2018 elections, only 36.4 percent of students cast a ballot for the VSA President, and even fewer for most other positions (Vassar Student Association, “VSA Spring 2018 Election Results,” 04.12.2018). Actively pushing for voting in local and national elections but passing up the opportunity to make our voices heard in our own school is all but hypocritical. Moreover, students should take the initiative to run for VSA positions. Many roles remain open, weakening the depth of student representation. Furthermore, candidates often do not face opposition, which may diminish the effort expended by those who run unopposed.

On the whole, students exhibit indifference toward engaging with the VSA. Whether due to apathy or a conscious decision not to participate, the dearth of student involvement grossly undermines the channels by which we can influence the College’s activities and atmosphere, injuring Vassar’s ability to represent a diverse and inclusive array of perspectives in its policies. In the end, it is detrimental if the VSA and students are not on the same page. Both sides must prioritize and put effort into collaborating with, showing up for and listening to each other.

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

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