Welcome back from October Break! I wanted to take this opportunity to update the Vassar community on some of the projects that the Vassar Student Association (VSA) has been working on this year. So, the VSA Executive Board and I put together a summary of some of our main initiatives to date.
STUDENT SPACE: While the bookstore will not be moving off campus, the VSA has been working with the Campus Activities Office to begin to address the demand for a more versatile student space on campus. We have returned the upper floor of the All Campus Dining Center to a space where students can hold events in the evenings, and now the East Wing of the lower floor will be open from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. for students to meet, do homework, play games and more.
While the kitchen is closed during these hours, students still have access to the café on the upper level of the space for beverages and light snacks. In the future, we would like to consider the possibility of serving food in this space, since that was one of the major findings of the VSA student space initiative from last year. In case you were wondering, the Board of Trustees is currently exploring potential uses for the Juliet property off-campus.
COLLABORATING WITH PEER INSTITUTIONS: One of our main initiatives for this year is to strengthen our relationship with our peer institutions. Despite our differences, we all have similar goals and face similar challenges, and we could benefit greatly from working together. After participating in the Seven Sisters Student Government Conference the past few years, Vassar College will be hosting the 2013 Conference the first weekend in November. The theme of the conference will be collaboration. We will be exploring the ways our organizations collaborate within our schools, how our schools can better collaborate with one another, and how we can collaborate as the Seven Sisters to take action in support of our core values. Beyond this conference, we are also looking forward to working more closely with the other colleges in the Poughkeepsie area throughout the year.
VSA FUNDING: Last year, the VSA established a Social Consciousness Fund to better support events and programs on campus that raise awareness and celebrate the diversity of our community. We are looking forward to continuing to utilize and expand this fund throughout this year and in the years to come.
The VSA Finance Committee will also be engaging in more outreach efforts in the weeks to come to make sure all students and organizations are more aware of what funds are available and how we can be more supportive and helpful in the application process. We are hoping to promote the Collaboration Fund more strongly this year, because we would really like to challenge ourselves more to put on events that can reach the full range of students on campus.
SAVP: The Student Life Committee hopes to analyze the process and the language used in regards to the procedure that students undergo when reporting an instance of sexual assault or interpersonal violence. This would involve improving the language that details the process, as well as creating multiple avenues in which this information could be more accessible. One possible avenue is re-orientation, and that would involve creating a panel/Q&A discussion where the administrators involved in the reporting process could inform students of their role in the process as well as answer any questions for the students.
GENDER NEUTRAL BATHROOMS: The Student Life Committee also hopes to promote inclusivity by installing more gender neutral bathrooms in academic buildings. Currently, there are gender neutral bathrooms in some of the academic buildings, but those bathrooms are typically less accessible. Students on campus do not all feel perfectly comfortable entering gendered spaces. In addition, this move to adding more gender neutral bathrooms in academic buildings would extend our institutional commitment as we already have gender neutral restrooms in our residential halls.
PEER ADVISORS: Over the past few years, the VSA has created and maintained a network of Peer Advisors to complement the faculty pre-major advising system. The stated intent is to register interested juniors and seniors in a searchable database, by means of which anyone with an academic, scheduling, or curricular questions can find someone with the precise expertise to answer it.
In practice, this provides a flexible, user-driven advising resource that collectively can handle almost any question of almost any complexity. The main goal for us this year is to increase student usage of this resource. We have started by ensuring that our advisors come from varied academic backgrounds while also having many important extracurricular experiences. There has also been a distinct focus to ensure a wide array of study abroad programs, sports teams and double majors are represented in the Peer Advising database.
COMMUNITY OUTREACH: The VSA is continuing its efforts to support and expand on programs that engage Vassar students with the Arlington/Poughkeepsie community. On October 5 we held the 6th annual “Meet Me in Poughkeepsie,” where VSA organizations and groups of students planned 17 events that brought students off-campus, ranging from apple picking and go-carts to a trip to Inisfree Garden and an animal sanctuary. We also helped plan the Arlington Street Fair, an all-day festival on Raymond Avenue on September 21 filled with food, performances and representatives from local businesses in addition to Vassar student groups.
In addition, we are continuing to host Tasty Tuesdays, a program where the VSA brings in a variety of restaurants and vendors from the community to sell food in the College Center each week to members of the Vassar community. The event provides a great opportunity for vendors to introduce their products to new customers, and offers students, faculty and staff the opportunity to support local businesses and vary their dining. Finally, the VSA funds a shuttle every Saturday from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. to help transport students to popular destinations in Poughkeepsie including the train station and the Galleria.
VSA REVIEW: Over the past few years a number of students have shown discontent with how they interact with and are represented by the VSA. Last year, a group of concerned students came together and created a list of demands including one that asked that the VSA structure and how different student groups or differentially effected by the VSA be reviewed. In response, the 28th council of the VSA passed a charter for the “Vassar Student Association Review Committee,” an open ad-hoc research committee tasked with collecting qualitative and quantitative data about student’s experiences with the VSA. The committee aims to have a set of concrete recommendations for improvements later in the year.
It has been wonderful working with so many of you over the past few weeks, and I’m so excited to continue the work we have been doing. If you have any questions, ideas, concerns, or would like to get more involved in any of these initiatives, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
—Deborah Steinberg ’14 is President of the Vassar Student Association. She is a psychology major.