Student forums assess VSA restructuring

On Friday, Feb. 21 and Saturday, Feb. 22, a group of students held forums in UpC to discuss with the student body a proposal for restructuring the VSA. The proposal was going to be voted on by the VSA Executive Board on March 2, but has now been tabled to the VSA Committee of Operations. The authors of the proposal, Raymond House President Ramy Abbady ’16, Cushing House President Ruby Pierce ’16 and Vice President for Activities Stephanie Goldberg ’14, summarized their goals on the forums.

They wrote in the amendment, “The VP for Activities would be split into a VP for Organizations and a VP for Programming. The former would deal with student organization certification and pre-orgs, and all issues related to orgs. The VP for Programming would deal with large-scale events such as Tasty Tuesday, Meet Me in Poughkeepsie, the Saturday Shuttle, Founder’s Day, Serenading, etc.”

They continued to outline their second major change, writing, “The VP for Student Life would be split into a VP for Student Life and Diversity and a VP for Campus Resources. The former would work with the Campus Life and Diversity Office (including the centers within; the ALANA Center, LGBTQ Center, Women’s Center, Office of International Services, and Religious and Spiritual Life), and help these students have a stronger voice at Vassar. The latter would work with the many offices that deeply affect students, including Accessibility, SAVP, Metcalf, Baldwin, ResLife, and many more.”

Pierce spoke to the reasoning behind the proposed changes. She said, “We took a list of the tasks VSA Executive Board does and we found a way to distribute them evenly, and hopefully in a way that makes more sense, and it ended up creating two more positions. …We hope that if it is an idea that is adopted it would make the VSA more accessible, because there are more people on the exec board with more time, and also we hoped it could include more..diverse voices….[Students] don’t feel like they can belong to [VSA], they don’t feel like they can participate in it, it’s not a very open structure as it is now.”

Abbady added, “We also think [the changes] would increase efficiency a lot because right now tasks are allocated kind of strangely…Those two have disproportionately more work than any of the other exec board positions and it doesn’t make sense for it to be that way.”

Pierce said she hoped it would set a precedent: “If we get the VSA to do something in terms of restructuring it opens the floodgates for other changes, which I really hope will happen.”

While the Saturday forum only had a handful of attendees, the Friday forum attracted more voices. Pierce said, “It went really well [on Friday], we had a really productive conversation about what’s working, what’s not working, and got some student perspective on what we can do better, which would be great, and we got some feedback on the proposal. It was mostly just agreement with what was proposed.”

Abbady said that a member of the ALANA center attended the event and reported that many people in the ALANA center were strongly in favor of the changes. Abbady explained this was because “The splitting of the Student Life position is very much to give voice to the centers, because over the years, they’ve all been saying that they feel like they don’t have a voice in the student government.”

In terms of feedback, Pierce said, “From individuals, we’ve heard good things but also not good things. A lot of people on the VSA are worried that this is a plan that’s not well-developed. To that, we’ve been saying, we don’t know until we try.”

On of these concerned voices on the VSA is VSA President Deb Steinberg ’14. In an emailed statement, Steinberg said, “I do not support the proposed changes. I believe we can more effectively make these changes from within—by delegating more, doing a better job of reaching out to our constituents, and improving our institutional memory—rather than by creating new positions.”

Steinberg expressed concern that the changes would make the situation worse, saying, “I think these changes, and all of these discussions about our structure, are just distractions from the actual issues students want us to be addressing and they make us less accessible because no one has any idea what is going on.”

She attested to having a different experience with informal student feedback, saying, “I have heard very little feedback from students, which suggests to me that we are not actually solving any issues by making these changes. Most students I have spoken to believe there are more pressing issues on campus and these changes would have very little effect.”

On the other hand, the authors of the amendment have received positive feedback from the two students currently occupying the debated positions. Goldberg, listed above, is a co-author of the amendment and very in favor of its changes.

At this time, the amendment will not go to the students but is being dealt with by the VSA.

Pierce said, “The reason it wouldn’t [be voted on by students] isn’t because we don’t want to know what the student body wants, because that’s what these forums are for…It’s just because of the time crunch because of the way elections are done.” She continued to explain that the election process for these new positions would have to begin immediately after students return from spring break.

Steinberg is not optimistic about the amendment’s chances, saying, “In Council [on Feb. 23], I got the feeling that others agreed that this amendment would not get passed and that there were better ways we could be spending our time.” She continued, “I do not think any changes to the amendment would make it easier to pass.”

Abbady exhorted students who are in favor of the amendment to contact their house president and class president and express their support of the bill. Pierce said that she wanted students to know that “the VSA is not an angry, ugly monster. We’re just a bunch of students like you…our goal is to help.”

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