Response to Westboro inspires new social justice fund

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As a response to the numerous student initiatives created in the wake of the WBC, Vassar’s administration has created a new social justice fund that, through an application process, students and student organizations can access.

On October 10, the newly formed Social Justice and Inclusion Fund Committee released the application to the fund of the same name to the general Vassar community. The committee, which is comprised of nine students, two administrators and one faculty member began working during the spring to establish a fund for projects committed to furthering the goals of social justice and inclusion. The first deadline for applications for the fund is November 1. The fund will hold several more application periods over the course of the year for interested groups and individuals.

The fund was established as an additional resource for groups trying to support or facilitate social justice causes. Director for the Campus Life LGBTQ and Women’s Centers Judy Jarvis explained. “The short term goal is to fund projects of all kinds that focus on some social justice issue,” she said.

The money came out of fundraising and movements that took place last year as a response to the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest of the college. The fund, therefore, aims to empower specific groups that were targeted by the Westboro Baptist Church protests.

The fund organizers said in an emailed statement, “Whatever happened to the energy following Westboro’s visit to Vassar last February? Among other things, one of the great developments was the establishment of the Social Justice and Inclusion Fund through the donations of the immediate Vassar community and alumni.”

One member of the committee, VP of Student Life, Genesis Hernandez  ’15, spoke to his views of the future of the fund, expressing optimism for the opportunity groups now have to pursue programming specific to social justice issues. “I hope that through this fund we can see more diversity in programming on campus, not so much the structures of events but also the mission statements behind events,” he said in an emailed statement.

Hernandez continued, “While I think that the Social Consciousness Fund can also help promote diversity of thought, the great thing about the Social Justice and Inclusion Fund is that students don’t have to be affiliated with a VSA organization. This, thus, means that the fund is much more accessible, and it means that we can see events put on from all students on campus, not just those involved in affinity based organizations.”

Jarvis went further, outlining the aims the fund. She said, “We want to empower students and Vassar employees to realize projects or initiatives that they’ve been wanting to do or think the campus needs but haven’t been able to fund through other sources.”

The first project that was funded actually took place over the summer. This program was called “The Vassar LGBTQ Oral History Project” and focused on stories of LGBTQ struggles against oppression and discrimination through the medium of oral history.

The Chair of the Committee and Dean of Campus Life and Diversity Ed Pittman spoke to the many opportunities that this fund offers to members of the Vassar community. One thing Pittman emphasized was the student-focused approach the committee was taking in its decision-making processes. Pittman noted, “We’re trying to ground this as much as we can in the experience of students. That’s the idea with having this many students on the committee who can inform us.”

Pittman also described how the particular fund fits into the context of Vassar in general. He recognized that discussions and efforts to improve the campus climate at Vassar happen often and that this fund is less groundbreaking as it is contributing to a larger sense of social justice. As Pittman stated, “I think that there are so many groups and communities within Vassar that live and try to carry out social justice. These initiatives are always happening.”

He continued, “This is a fund that gives life to many of those initiatives. I don’t think it’s new to anything Vassar has been doing. This is a way of affirming the value and importance of that work.”

Jarvis echoed this idea. She explained the possibilities of the fund, highlighting the fact that the committee is open to funding a wide variety of events and programs organized by a variety of groups and individuals. “The Committee is interested in funding projects that range from pilots like that to conference attendance to hosting dinner dialogues to research and presentation on a topic,” Jarvis explained.

She also noted, “The beauty of the fund is that there are few limitations—we want applicants to get creative and propose projects that they think could benefit the campus and increase knowledge of and education on various social justice issues.”

Hernandez agreed with this idea. “Essentially, there is no ideal structure to a potential event, the only actual requirement is that the event be focused on social justice and inclusion,” he said.

Pittman also spoke to his hopes for the fund in the future. He recognized that the fund currently is a finite amount of money that can easily run out at the end of the year. He hopes for a more sustainable future for the fund. As he said, “Right now it’s a limited amount. Our goal is to work with others on campus to keep the fund going.”

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