‘Campus Climate’ presents six demands to empower marginalized communities

Over a month has passed since the mass counter-protest of Vassar students, community members, alumnae/i, administrators and staff in response to the Westboro Baptist Church’s outward statement of hatred and intolerance. With such a massive surge of introspection and solidarity within the Vassar community in anticipation of the picket, many students have been left wondering, ‘What’s next?’

Campus Climate is a coalition of students from various identity based ALANA and LBGTQ affiliated organizations as well as activist groups. Originally assembled in reaction to instances of racist and sexist hate speech that occurred last semester, the group is now working to answer that question. This Thursday evening, April 4, at 7:00 pm in Rocky 200, Campus Climate will host an open forum entitled, ‘Rise Up: 6 Demands You may Have Missed While You Were Busy Rallying.’

Organizers hope the event will help create a safe and open space in which students can brainstorm ways to enact structural changes within the Vassar community. In the zine “VC Has Been Doing Something!” published on the eve of the WBC picket, Campus Climate presented a list of these initiatives and demands alongside student artwork and counter-narratives. The zine was published to critique what Campus Climate saw as sensationalized and the largely white, male-led responses to hate speech that followed the announcement of WBC’s visit to Vassar.

The forum is meant to propel the group’s demands into action. “We want to use this event as a platform for students to address their feelings about the demands, express concerns or learn more about the group,” explained Yaneé Ferrari ’15, a member of the Campus Climate committee. By focusing on structural shifts, Campus Climate hopes their action-based campaign will be more effective than dialogue alone in fostering an inclusive, equitable, and empowering campus space.

“To make those broad goals happen, we need to think about specific, institutional devices we can realistically change,” said Sarah Slichter ’15, another organizer for the event.

The six demands range from institutional to academic to infrastructural, and as the Campus Climate mission statement explains, aim to foster a space where all historically marginalized populations can expect safety, find support and become agents of meaningful change on campus.

First on the list of demands is the restructuring of campus life offices, including the creation of a class issues center for students of lower socioeconomic classes as well as the creation of a disability cultural center with full directorship positions for all campus life administrators. Campus Climate also asks that these centers occupy central, visible and easily accessible locations.

The second demand is for a social consciousness curricular requirement in addition to more emphasis on social consciousness programming during the First-Year activities. This would entail the distribution of a glossary of social justice-related terms to new students, follow-up workshops in the First-Year Program, and bystander intervention training.

The third demand addresses the cost prohibitive nature of VSA Executive Board positions. Campus Climate proposes that stipends be available for students on financial aid to pursue VSA leadership, as work study responsibilities greatly hinder a student’s ability to serve on Council. The demand also suggests a review of representation on the VSA to appraise how accurately, effectively and successfully the student government represents students from marginalized groups.

Fourthly, Campus Climate demands more open conversations with the Office of Admissions through a town hall meeting as well as a review and consideration of gender and race biases in marketing and advertising materials.

The fifth demand calls for an expansion of counseling services and the hiring of at least one more counselor or psychiatrist position, allowing for continued services for students with financial aid.

Finally, the Campus Climate group demands that all buildings on Vassar Campus have gender-neutral bathrooms.

The aforementioned demands represent what Slichter describes as a ‘renaissance’ at Vassar, as they are all emblematic of a pivotal moment when students can enact structural change. “These six demands basically came out of a longer list of grievances and changes compiled to address negative aspects of Vassar life. We chose these to sit at the forefront, as they, we agreed, were the most pressing,” explained Ferrari.

Vassar is often hailed as an institution of acceptance and open-mindedness, however, Campus Climate argues that this notion represents just one perspective and is working to privilege the perspectives and needs of students who do not feel agency in the Vassar Community.

According to the Campus Climate mission statement: “For many of us, Vassar has been a disempowering and unsafe space. Both the de facto and de jure institutional, social, and punitive codes of the College re-inscribe oppression within our campus culture and are detrimental to effective and affectionate communication and community building.”

The open forum will give students an opportunity to dive into these issues head-on, discuss the impetus for the group’s creation, and consider ways systematic and institutional changes might make way for tangible, positive shifts in the campus climate.

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