VSA endorses four student life and conduct proposals

On Sunday April 7, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council meeting passed four proposals regarding student life and conduct. Two of these resolutions, a proposal on updating the relationship abuse policy and another on a social awareness requirement, had previously been tabled by the Council.

The relationship abuse policy resolution was first brought before VSA Council two weeks ago in its March 24 meeting. The council decided to table the proposal in order to allow council members more time to discuss it with house team members and other constituents.

This Sunday, Director of Health Education and Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Project Director Renee Pabst, along with the Sexual Assualt Violence Prevention Coordinator Elizabeth Schrock came to the council meeting to discuss the history and text of the resolution, as well as answer any questions from council members.

According to Schrock, the resolution was sparked by a new federal act, The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SAVE Act), which was reauthorized in February by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.The act aims to increase protections to victims of dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking by requiring universities to have policies that state that these crimes are prohibited on college campuses. Universities were previously only required to establish some mechanism that would talk to students about these crimes. The renewed piece of legislation also requires colleges to establish a process for disciplinary action if these crimes are committed by students.

This reauthorized act mandates that colleges provide support and advocate for student survivors of these crimes. Lastly, it states that universities must report statistics on these crimes in their annual security report, which has typically only included murder, robbery, arson, burglary, sexual assault, drug/alcohol offenses and hate crimes.

The relationship abuse policy was originally put together two years ago by a sub-committee of the Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Committee (SAVP), co-written by the VSA, as well as the Office of Health Education, but was not passed. According to Pabst, the previous proposal stalled while in conversation with Vassar’s lawyers, as they were unsure if Vassar could properly adjudicate the policy.

Now, based on the SAVE Act, this policy is being reviewed and proposed again. The new policy will likely be called the ‘Dating Violence and Domestic Violence Policy’ and will be very similar to the previously proposed Relationship Abuse policy. Pabst explains that the drafters of the proposal were sure to inlude the phrase “domestic violence” because it will help account for students and other residents in the community who are married.

Lathrop House President Sophia Wallach ’15 asked how the policy would change the way Vassar addressed these issues of relationship abuse. Pabst and Schrock explained that Vassar already provides education on these issues to students during freshmen orientation. Vassar also offers students, as of the 2011-2012 academic year, an interpersonal violence panel, which is smaller than a normal student conduct panel, consisting of three people to be used in cases of dating/domestic violence.

Thanks to the passage of this resolution, students will also be told that these crimes can be adjudicated on Vassar’s campus and the handbook will clearly define these crimes.

When asked by Josselyn House President Casey Hancock ’15 about the significance of the VSA’s endorsement of this policy, Pabst noted the significant role VSA has in campus culture. Pabst explained, “As student leaders, to say to students that we want this policy and that it reflects our values..sends a message to the campus.” The VSA unanimously passed this resolution.

The next resolution discussed during Sunday’s council meeting, which had also been discussed on the previous Sunday, came from the Committee for Academics and was titled, ‘A Resolution Concerning Coursework in Social Awareness.’

Initially, the resolution supported an academic requirement for the integration of the study of systems of oppression and social awareness within each student’s major. The Council sent the resolution to the Committee for Academics for more development.

This Sunday, VP for Academics Amanda Zeligs ’13 presented a new resolution to the Council that backed away from the notion of a specific requirement for social awareness coursework, because the faculty are ultimately in charge of creating the curriculum. Instead the writers of the newest proposal wanted to give more agency back to the faculty and the Committee on Curricular Policies (CCP) in order to have more conversations with them, in the hopes of finding a way to integrate these ideas of social awareness into coursework across departments. Zeligs said that she spoke informally with Acting Dean of Faculty Steven Rock who approved of this new path for the resolution. This new resolution passed unanimously by the Council.

Another resolution, titled ‘Resolution Concerning Class Issues,’ was presented endorsing greater support for students of lower socio-economic backgrounds, including the eventual construction of a student space. The resolution also sought to provide support and advocacy for these students.

Lastly, President Jason Rubin ’13 introduced a resolution entitled “Campus Dining Staff Resolution” which stated that the VSA would endorse a day of appreciation for campus dining staff.

Large cards will be placed outside of dining facilities on the day in order to allow students to sign them and show their appreciation for the dining staff on campus. This new resolution also passed unanimously by the Council.

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