Tuesday, Nov. 19, former Vice President for Student Life Genesis Hernandez resigned from his position. In an emergency Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council meeting, the VSA voted to fill the open position through a special election. In order to have a new representative by Thanksgiving, the election featured a combined filing and campaigning period which resulted in Danny Dones ’16 being elected the new VP for Student Life.
According to the President of the Class of 2014 and Board of Elections co-chair Connor Martini ’14, “The Board of Elections and the VP for Operations worked together to assess the situation and decided that holding a special election was the best solution.”
Martini continued, “It was definitely an imperfect system that we had to throw together all at once. Since there is no set process for special elections, it was all up to the Board of Elections.”
President of Raymond House Ramy Abbady ’16 also weighed in on his views of the special election. “The Special Elections process was not nearly as smooth as it could’ve been, but given the circumstances, I think the Board of Elections did the best they could have. The problems arising made it clear that the VSA needs to look at special election procedure, which we will be doing in Operations Committee,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
Abbady also spoke about his feelings for the future of the VSA and Student Life Committee. He said, “I’m very excited that [Dones] was elected. We were in the same Fellow group last year, and we’ve been on House Team together this year. He seems to be very in tune with the issues students are experiencing, so I think he’s very well-suited to be the VP for Student Life.”
The VP for Student Life is the primary liaison to the Dean of the College division, executes projects and responds to student concerns and ideas that are related to any of the non-academic aspects of Vassar. Responsibilities of the position include working with resources on campus including Residential Life, Campus Dining, Security, the Campus life offices and student organizations. The position also represents the student voice on several committees including the Committee on College Life, Orientation Committee, the Bias Incident Response Team, and the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence. In addition, the VP for Student Life facilitates the Student Life Committee which meets once a week.
When Dones initially filed for the position he was told by the Board of Elections that he was ineligible to apply for the position because he held the post of a Raymond House student fellow. Dones challenged the ruling and requested a judicial board hearing but it did not end up happening because the parties involved—the VSA, Dones and the Office of Residential Life—were able to come to an agreement. The VSA was worried that holding both positions would be a conflict of interest, while the Office of Residential Life worried that both positions would be too much of a time commitment to occupy together.
Ultimately, the compromise all parties came to was that if Dones won the election, he would have to step down from his position as Raymond student fellow. Dones said that after winning the election, leaving his fellow group was a difficult decision to make.
At the same time, Dones is extremely excited about fulfilling his new position. Dones is Latin American and Latino/a Studies major and music and culture correlate, which he became interested in during his involvement with the African American/Black, Latino, Asian/Asian American, Native American Center (ALANA) Center, and more specifically, Poder Latina/o, for which Dones served as president until recently. According to Dones, “After coming to Vassar I had to put into context my identity in relationship to everyone else’s identity around me. I was able to attend more in-depth conversations about identity, including the ALANA Center leadership retreat.”
He continued, “During the past year and a half, a lot of things I have faced in my personal life at Vassar made me feel like Vassar was not my space and it encouraged me to try and make it my space and to try and understand the voice and concerns of other people who felt the same way which is why I was extremely interested in the position.”
Dones expressed his excitement for the semester ahead and hopes to continue a lot of the projects that Hernandez was working on in the past few months. Some of these projects include creating more accessible gender-neutral bathrooms, finding funding for students who are unable to go home over break, discussion on academic spaces, work on the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevent (SAVP) process. Dones talked about his own vision for improving student life at Vassar, saying, “I would like to focus on the beauty Vassar already has within and work on how to improve that as well as student’s lives who are affected by their identity on campus. I want to facilitate more dialogues on campus to include conversations that aren’t solely focused on race.”
Dones went further, emphasizing his interest in working with Vassar’s peer institutions. He said, “I also want to look into approaches used by other schools, such as Skidmore [College] and Brown [University], to deal with similar issues that Vassar encounters.”
He continued, “I was also thinking of some sort of disorientation manual, which is something other schools use to orient freshmen—a list of terms and concepts they might not be familiar with that make it easier for them to question the social norms they have been raised with when adjusting to the new environment and climate at their school.”
Dones also spoke about his feelings toward starting the position mid-year: “It is a little daunting, there is a lot of relationship building that needs to be done in order to fulfill the job but I’m very good with change so I’m not too worried about that. My biggest worry is that what has gone on in the last few weeks regarding the former VP of Student Life has shattered people’s views on the VSA and the Bias Incident Response Team. Reestablishing the credibility of my position and the VSA in the best way is a concern of mine. I do also admire [Hernandez] and his intentions so they will be big shoes to fill.”