VSA acts on problems of exclusion

Last Thursday, Sept. 26, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) formed the Vassar Student Association Review Committee (VSARC). The committee, primarily composed of elected students but open to any interested students, was charged with organizing a comprehensive review process through which it hopes to achieve better understanding of issues regarding fairness and representation of the VSA.

Ben Morse ’14, Terrace Apartment (TA) Treasurer, was a leading voice in the newly formed VSARC and spoke to the ways in which the committee hoped to operate. “This committee is reviewing the way that the VSA is structured… and seeing how the different branches interact with each other and who they’re trying to represent,” Morse explained. “For example, if you’re sitting on the Committee for Inclusion and Excellence, are you able to represent your constituents as well as you could, or are we missing something?”

Morse continued, grounding the idea of the committee in specific terms. “We know that people who sit on Joint Committees don’t have email lists, so it’s hard for them to reach out and talk to their constituents. Maybe that’s not the best way for them to be set up,” he said.

President of Raymond House and VSA Council Member Ramy Abbady ’16 echoed the ultimate goals of VSARC offered by others. In an emailed statement, Abbady wrote, “VSARC has some pretty broad goals, but ultimately I think we’re trying to figure out exactly what it is that’s wrong with the VSA. It’s not exactly a mystery that a lot of students harbor negative feelings about the VSA, and the goal of our committee is to get to the bottom of these feelings.”

In 2008, the college conducted a comprehensive year-long program that aimed to improve student life at Vassar. The program was called “What would it take for you to thrive at Vassar?” and it examined aspects of college life across campus including residential life and campus dining.

One result of the program was the Transitions Orientation Program. Since then, as Morse noted, there has been a lack of oversight especially as it relates to the VSA.

As Morse mentioned, “There hasn’t been too much of an attempt to gather a holistic view of the VSA and the way that the VSA is structured and the way that the structure helps or hinders.”

The idea for VSARC was proposed at the end of last year, although the actual formation of the group just started this past week. As Abbady made clear, the institution of VSARC has been an ongoing process that began before the current school year. “It’s my understanding that during Operations Committee last year, some students worked on the charter for this committee as a result of talks regarding restructuring. I wasn’t present at the time, so I’m not entirely sure of the details. But we passed the charter at our first VSA Council meeting at the end of last year, so now here we are,” he said.

While VSARC did not come out of specific concerns aired by students, many on the VSA Council report hearing of concerns that the VSA might not always represent its constituents in the best or fairest ways.

Morse didn’t offer any reports as impetus to the formation of the committee, but stated that he felt putting together VSARC was the right thing to do. Abbady agreed, although he did offer some reasoning for greater review of the VSA.

“Last year, I was a Freshmen Rep, and we discussed this in Class Council. We discussed the fact that the same types of students seem to always run for student government here,” said Abbady.

He continued, “Particularly, VSA positions seem to, in general, be filled by a lot of white students, leaving students of color feeling unrepresented. Of course, I’m only speaking from my personal observations and discussions I’ve had with people, and I’m not trying to represent all [people of color] here.”

VP for Operations Ali Ehrlich ’15 echoed this idea, saying, “I think there definitely are issues of fairness and representation in the VSA currently. It is better that council is more diverse this year than last, but that in no way indicates that we don’t still have a problem.”

Elrich continued, “There are many students who don’t feel engaged, represented, or comfortable with the VSA. Merely the fact that students feel this way indicates the magnitude of the problem.”

Morse also made a distinction in the committee’s goals clear. As he said, VSARC was not created to be a solution to the concerns that it reveals. It means only to bring those concerns to light and have them be discussed by a wider range of people.

As he noted, “Wanting to solve a certain issue is great, but I see this committee as a little bit larger than that. It’s trying to expose all of the issues that we currently have.”

He also explained, “The goal of this committee isn’t to fix all of the issues, because that’s a huge task.”

According to members of the committee, the goal of VSARC would be to present the information they collect to the VSA and the administration. As Morse stated, “Hopefully by the end of this we’ll be able to present our findings to the VSA as a whole and recommend specific areas of concern that need to be developed further.”

Ehrlich continued with this idea, saying, “Ideally, from this committee we would get data that identifies a number of concerns that many students experience. From these concerns we would identify short-term and long-term goals and actions for improvements that can be made to the VSA.”

Abbady, too, weighed in on his vision for the future of VSARC. “Hopefully by the end of this we’ll be able to present our findings to the VSA as a whole and recommend specific areas of concern that need to be developed further,” he said.

Morse’s biggest message to students is a call to get involved if they feel strongly about the VSA and its representation of the student body.

As he said, “We had our initial interest meeting on Thursday and the first thing we realized was we need more perspectives. We’re actively trying to get more people to come into the committee.”

The committee meets Thursdays at 9 p.m. in the Rose Parlor and is open to all.

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