It can be very challenging to be a member of the VSA Council, and even more so as a House President. I am the Raymond House President, and I would like to preface this article by saying that I can only definitively speak for myself. That being said, I do know that many of my opinions are shared by other House Presidents, based on the many conversations we’ve had through the year. I wrote this to help humanize the VSA and help other students understand the pressure we’re under and the thoughts behind some of our decision-making.
It is often very confusing to be a House President. Our position is a dual one—where we are split between being the leader of a House Team and being a representative to the VSA Council. As HPs, we have so many different responsibilities that keep us stretched between these two very different roles. We all have six mandatory meetings every week: VSA Council meetings and two VSA standing committee meetings, a one-on-one with our House Advisor as well as our Student Advisor, a House Team Meeting, and a Board of House Presidents meeting.
This breaks down into three VSA-related commitments, two House-related commitments, and one that deals with both. Additionally, some of us have House Officer meetings, and many of our houses have policies requiring House Team members to attend Study Breaks and other House events.
This adds up to a significant amount of time each week. Once you factor in classes, homework time, meals, social interactions, a part-time job, other extracurriculars and sleep, there’s suddenly a lot less time.
I find it nearly impossible to give everything the energy and effort it deserves – managing five classes, six hours of work per week, and VSA and House Team commitments. I have to reprioritize almost every day to adapt to the situations going in these realms of my life. Long problem set due for physics tomorrow? Not the night to send an all-house e-mail, thereby negatively affecting advertising and dissemination of other information. Working on a major project in VSA or one of my committees that requires talking to constituents? Gotta skip some of that reading for sociology, making me look less prepared for discussion. There are always accommodations to be made to balance my student and leadership roles.
Being a member of the VSA Council can often feel like crossing Niagara Falls on a tight rope. In terms of dealing with issues on campus, there’s a constant struggle to maintain a very delicate balance that involves keeping both students and administrators satisfied, while simultaneously representing your constituency. Sometimes, it’s not even possible to do all of these things.
For me, I definitely prioritize the opinions of my constituency over my personal feelings and viewpoints, but things get a little more dicey when trying to manage the satisfaction of students and administrators.
I think that it is our job to, first and foremost, support the initiatives of the students here. That’s why we were elected. However, that being said, as a member of Council, I am privy to the opinions and feelings of many administrators. Hearing both sides of a controversial issue makes it so difficult to form my own opinions and also adhere to my value of being a representative first.
That being said, I also consider it very important to have an informed opinion, and hearing and understanding both sides is definitely a step towards doing that. At those moments, I simply have to trust my gut. Few students know both sides of some issues, and utilizing the information I have at hand is the best thing I can do.
To be clear, I do believe that we should be on the students’ side at all times. However, doing that does not mean that we should be ignoring administrators, especially when they willingly let us know their position. The VSA has significant pull at Vassar, and, for the most part, administration will take our actions very seriously. It’s a delicate balance.
When constantly faced with this overly complicated choreography set forth by being a House President, it becomes very difficult to maintain healthy relationships. We’re elected for the whole year, which means we have to maintain working relationships with other Council members, our House Team members, House Advisors, and many other administrators. You can disagree with someone, but you still have to remain respectful and cordial, or risk causing a problem that continues for the entire year.
Being a House President, I’ve learned to not taking things personally and to agree to disagree. If I dislike someone’s ideas about something, it doesn’t mean I dislike them.
I want to end on a positive note. Being a House President is incredibly challenging, but can be so rewarding. My House Team successfully planned a new event this year. I’ve definitely improved my leadership ability. I’ve become more capable of thinking broadly about issues and forming a solid opinion that I can back up. It’s easy to become disillusioned, but when I realize that students here have the very real power to make change, it motivates me. I have many initiatives I want to work on this year. Even in those that fail, I will have learned from the process. Here’s to the rest of this year!
—Ramy Abbady ’16 is President of Raymond House. He is a physics major.