Bill of Rights indicative of larger concerns

On Saturday, Feb. 15, Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council members, Cushing House President Ruby Pierce ’16 and Raymond House President Ramy Abbady ’16 held a second meeting with members of the student body to discuss the creation of a students’ bill of rights. The goal of this meeting was to not only consider the creation of such a document by the VSA, but also to receive input from students on what changes they would like to see.

We at The Miscellany News believe that the issues pertaining to the creation of a students’ bill of rights are tied to the need of significant VSA restructuring, rather than the formation of an additional document. Indeed, some of the claims made in the promotional material about the creation of the students’ bill of rights—such as the claim that students’ voices are not being heard—is indicative of a failure of the VSA’s current structure and the system of representation itself.

Although we commend those who have taken the initiative to work on the students’ bill of rights, we feel that this document better serves as an example of what needs to be addressed in restructuring, rather than a document that stands on its own. We feel the initiatives that have served as an impetus for a students’ bill of rights stem from dissatisfaction over the VSA’s ability not only to effectively represent the student body, but also a failure in its accountability to what students request of the VSA and address when working with administrators and faculty. Should the VSA seriously consider restructuring in the near future, a structure that creates a council more representative of the student body would breed much healthier governing. Further, it should incorporate the values and interests that a students’ bill of rights tries to accomplish.

A more representative VSA would also project an image of a more unified student body which might prompt faculty and administration to get a better sense of what issues students feel strongly about and how to tackle them.

Over the years , the VSA has made a number of attempts to address its internal structure. The most recent endeavor came with the chartering of the VSA Review Committee (VSARC) at the final meeting of the 2012/13 school year. The committee was intended to compose two chairs: the VP of Operations, and an at-large chair. It was designed to bring in students who were both members of the VSA Council and at-large, who would then investigate possible structures of the VSA that students would like to see, as well as consider the possibility of conducting an external audit with the help of a third party.

Ultimately, this committee was absorbed back into the VSA Operations and Student Life Standing Committees; little information has since been provided about the status of VSARC or the options available for an external audit. While at times it may seem as though students do not care about the inner workings of the VSA, the lack of new information and updates on important events within the VSA does nothing to incentivize student’s attention.

It is worth noting that the VSA Meeting on Feb. 16 did show strong interest among members of VSA Council to consider the possibility of restructuring. The interest came after an amendment was presented by three council—two of whom were Abbady and Pierce—discussing the creation of two additional positions on the VSA Executive Board to address additional programming and student life needs. We at The Miscellany News are glad to see such interest in the Council but do express concern that it comes now, when the VSARC charter called for a report and discussion on this matter back in December, before winter break. We feel, however, that the best thing for the VSA to do is to continue pushing for more discussions and investigations over the structures that students would like to see in the VSA, so as to create a more effective governing body. Input from students outside of the VSA should be a cornerstone of this investigation and restructuring. It is also important to note that that underrepresented students may be the most difficult to gather input from. Such students may not be comfortable going to meeting like the students’ bill of rights drafting.

It is essential that the VSA approach the topic of restructuring with great focus in the coming weeks, and set out a timeline to consider possible structural changes in a timely fashion and with greater accountability, so as not to repeat the failure of VSARC. If significant structural changes take place to address the aforementioned issues, it would accomplish many of the same goals a student’s bill of rights tries to address.

Indeed, while the students’ bill of rights only creates a list of entitlements, a restructuring of the VSA would allow those rights and desire to be realized. In this way, we would move from an assertion that students have a right to be heard to a VSA structure that best facilitates students actually being heard on campus.

As a result, we at The Miscellany News feel that a serious commitment of the VSA to restructuring must be stated to ensure a more effective student government for both the present and future students of Vassar College.

—Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.

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