Student government is a central fixture of many, if not, most upper educational institutions, and students can occasionally wonder if their student government does an appropriate job of representing its constituents.
Despite the fact that Vassar students have the opportunity to run for a variety of positions to serve as representatives for the student body, the 2016 Class Council has recently decided that the elected officials do not entirely represent the wide range of diverse viewpoints on campus, and is currently working on ways to better improve representation.
In an effort to better embody the wide diversity of the entirety of the Vassar population, the elected council is currently working to add new and additional members with a variety of diverse viewpoints to their group. Adding new members is just the first of many steps in the ever continuing process toward creating a more representative student government for Vassar students.
This effort, while still a work in progress, is not a new project for the 2016 Class Council
Vice President of the Class of 2016, Sino Esthappan, said that the council first noticed this problem sometime last year when they realized that the council members were agreeing on almost everything brought to the table, and began to see how this could potentially be a sign that ideologies on the council were too homogeneous.
Esthappan also addressed concerns that the type of people who would run for elected positions in student government have the potential to not be the most accurate representation of student voices and concerns on Vassar’s campus
“But too much agreement isn’t always necessarily a good thing,” Esthappan pointed out in an emailed statement.
Esthappan continued, “It just indicates that we’re all too similar. We were (a), the kind of people who are interested in and are confident enough to run for an elected position, and (b), in the case of the house representatives, the kind of people who are interested in being on house team.”
They soon realized that basing representation on house affiliation alone did not reflect the true array of differences of the student body.
“The problem with this is that campus issues more often than not transcend our living conditions and class year—it is rare that a truly pertinent issue brought up in VSA will only effect members of a certain house or class, whereas certain demographics at Vassar are affected more than others by certain issues, but have no official representation to our student government” wrote President of the Class of 2016, Max Moran, in an emailed statement.
To address these concerns, the 2016 representatives have invited five of the major Campus Life and Diversity Centers to sit on the class council, and to bring new voices to the council.
“Once we came to the conclusion that there needed to be a more equitable way for including accurate representation of voices from all perspectives on campus, we needed a plan of implementation. We decided that ideally, accurate representation of different perspectives on campus comes from where difference primarily lies in our campus: organizations,” wrote Esthappan.
These representatives will be responsible for attending Class Council meetings to give input on the initiatives of the council and reporting back to their respective centers on what was discussed in these meetings. Representatives will also be given the choice to be a voting representative in any of the Standing Committees of the Vassar Student Association (VSA).
However, this is not a fix-all. Even with more representation, someone’s views are not going to be presented. It is an inescapable problem. As Arisa Gereda, the 2016 representative that will be sitting on the Class Council for the Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) Center points out, even with more members, the council will still not accurately represent everyone in the student body.
She wrote in an emailed statement, “Of course I, as one individual, cannot possibly represent the entire RSL community and their beliefs- whether religious, spiritual, secular, relating to social change, community-building, holistic lifestyles- all values that are integrated into the opportunities that RSL offers.”
Gereda went on, addressing her belief that her center has been overlooked in the general student dialogue in the past.
“Personally, I can see how issues of religion/spirituality/secularity are not as frequently discussed among students on campus as maybe other social issues might be, and I think that small steps like this one can help open up more opportunities for such change on a larger scale” she wrote.
At the time of this article, several groups have selected representatives already, including the Women’s Center and RSL, who have selected representatives already, the Office of International Services (OIS) and the LGBTQ Center have also decided to open a position to those who the center serves.
According to Moran, the African American/Black, Latina/o, Asian/Asian American, Native American (ALANA) Center is still deciding whether or not it would like to send a representative to attend the Class of 2016 council meetings.
Adding more council members may not solve the problem of fair representation on campus, but Esthappan believes it is a good start.
He wrote, “I wouldn’t say that drawing from campus organizations is going to resolve the issue of representation altogether, because, let’s face it, some voices are always going to be marginalized on the basis of systemic oppression.
Esthappan wrote, “But I do think this is a solid first step in deconstructing that oppression and shedding light onto voices from the margins and letting campus wide concerns dictate the actions of class council.”