In my experience on the VSA Council this year, I have come to find that we do things horribly inefficiently. Coming into everything new, I was forced to learn a lot in the beginning of the year; this, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is something that comes with most jobs. However, the difference was that some of our procedures in the VSA make no logical sense.
But I digress. I think it’s time to finally make a change. I ran for Raymond House President on a platform of striving to increase underrepresented voices in our student government and to find ways to restructure the VSA. I wanted to make things easier for not only myself to understand, but also for the students at large. It’s no secret that our student body has generally apathetic to negative feelings toward the VSA, and I think that it’s time we changed that.
One night, Cushing House President, Ruby Pierce ’16 and I sat down and tried to come up with what an ideal new structure of the VSA should look like. We ended up writing out substantial changes that we knew would not be able to happen now or any time very soon, but the point was that we thought things needed changing. A semester’s worth of frustration came out that night in the Retreat.
One of the things that stuck out the most to me this year was the extreme load on the VP for Student Life. The Miscellany News itself has commented on this earlier in the year (“College Must Maintain Constructive Dialogues After Incidents,” 12.5.13). I fully believe that this position should be split into two individual positions. There are currently two distinct areas that fall under the purview of the VP for Student Life. One half of the position’s duties deal with the Campus Life and Diversity Centers—the LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center, ALANA Center, Religious and Spiritual Life and the Office of International Services. The second half deals with the various offices on campus that directly affect student life—for example, SAVP, AEO, Metcalf, Baldwin, ResLife, Campus Dining and many others.
Each year, whoever is elected to VP for Student Life has to choose where to focus their energy—and very often, it isn’t possible to give both of these areas the attention they each deserve. If this position were split, and one person was able to devote all of their time and energy to working with the Campus Life centers, these communities that are regularly silenced in our student government (and in general) might actually have their voices heard. Additionally, with one person able to focus on offices on campus that directly impact students’ lives, there would likely be better accountability when concerns arise about these specific offices.
As an anecdote, a few weeks ago, the VSA sent a letter to high-level administrators, including President Catharine “Cappy” Hill, Dean of the College Chris Roellke, Acting Dean of the College Eve Dunbar and several others, requesting that Metcalf hire a post-doctoral fellow for the 2014/15 school year to help relieve the strain on counseling services. Interestingly enough, this did not come out of Student Life. The letter was written by someone else on VSA Council who had the time and motivation to do it. This is because the Student Life Committee this year has focused a tremendous amount of effort on getting more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. When having to deal with many different administrators to get that work done in a timely manner, it was hard to work on other projects as well.
Another position on VSA Executive Board that is spread particularly thin is the VP for Activities. In addition to working with all student organizations and preliminary organizations, that VP is also responsible for planning Meet Me in Poughkeepsie and working with the Campus Activities Office to approve campus events put on by orgs and pre-orgs alike.
There is another clear divide here, like with the VP for Student Life, except this time between organizations themselves and the programming that goes on campus-wide. Having an individual that focuses solely on orgs would help significantly. This year, the Activities Committee has been working extensively on getting closets and other spaces for orgs that need them, but they have been bogged down by various issues with programming. If a sole person were able to focus on programming, we would be able to streamline both VSA-run functions and organization-backed functions, and wouldn’t have to have positions like the VP for Operations handle things like Tasty Tuesday and the Saturday Shuttle. This person would also be able to work with the senior class and other groups on very large campus events associated with our traditions, such as Serenading and the all-campus Halloween party.
I think there are clear benefits to splitting both of these positions in some manner. This would help the VSA become significantly more efficient at the executive level, as well as (and more importantly) help silenced voices be heard. With more people on the VSA council, we would have more perspectives, more time to listen and more opportunities to be helpful to students’ needs. Plus, let’s be honest, the VSA clearly needs to change in some way. Why not try something new? Why do we have to be so stuck in our old ways? To quote my dear friend, Ruby Pierce ’16, “Sh*t gets antiquated.”
—Ramy Abbady ’16 is a physics major. He is President of Raymond House.