The VSA is a miserable mess.
Every participant struggles with it. How many times have you heard someone in the VSA say that they hate the VSA? This could be for a number of reasons. First, it is an enormous amount of time and effort—often more than over ten hours a week for any active member. Second, the projects we work on do not have immediate results. In fact, depending upon the interests of a handful of administrators, it may have no results. Third, the social atmosphere of the VSA can be both false and harmful. Fourth, and most important, the VSA does not effectively represent the Vassar student body.
Composed of only those who are empowered enough to run in a public election, the VSA is often heavily populated by cis-gendered white males. Composed of only those with the time to spare, we often have a council of students who do not rely on work-study for things like food and laundry. Composed of only those who understand the system of Robert’s Rules and parliamentary governing, we often have a council of “career” VSA members—members who have done student government for a number of years. Even those who do it for one year are absorbed; with three or more VSA meetings a week, council members hardly have the choice but to be knee-deep in political drama.
So, we have a governing body that structurally lends itself to being populated by white, upper-class, cis-gendered males. Unfortunately, bogged down in tradition and routine, the VSA is utterly unwilling to alter itself. If the structure is in the bylaws, it’s the gospel truth, and only a supernatural amount of effort, passion and rage with ever change it.
We have a specific, accepted culture in the VSA, and that is one of elitism, formality, silence, inaction, posturing, selfishness and petty argument. Instead of dissenting on the council floor, members stay passive and angry. I’m not exempt from it. This culture breeds small cliques, where those with similar goals bond together and battle the rest. Soon, battle becomes the only underlying factor. Not leadership, not progress, not action. Simple, petty, useless battles. We speak about each other viciously, but speak to each other with only thinly-veiled aggression. It quickly becomes a destructive atmosphere. It actively disempowers those who participate in it, up to the point they feel the only outlet is social media. Or, perhaps, writing an article for The Misc.
A major contributor to this cycle is the lack of perspective. Everyone on VSA becomes guilty of it. We become so used to our weekly battles that we forget what we signed up for in the first place, or why we do what we do. We forget that Vassar is actually much larger than the VSA. We forget that the VSA is not really representative of the campus. We forget that there is a whole world outside of the VSA—like, a whole planet. People who struggle to even have a representative government; people who die and live and hurt and work and deal with problems we privileged youths couldn’t imagine. We forget that all of us are in a place of privilege. We have access to an education while there are people who fight poverty and disease and hunger every day just to get to school.
That massive world is not something the VSA needs to be govern by. It is something it needs, however, to keeping its thoughts and actions balanced. Something as a reminder that America, Vassar and the VSA are not the end-all be-all of existence. If we fund one org or another, if we change that position or those, if we add a document to the list of governing documents or not—none of it will change the world. None of it will alter the universe or save a life. It’s all practice and all nonsense, until we get out of this tiny bubble that is the liberal arts experience.
As someone who spent a good deal of energy and time this year trying to improve the student government experience, I can’t help but feel that I spent a whole year throwing my body against an immovable brick wall. But, just because some of us get tired doesn’t mean the action should stop there. I sincerely applaud every person who is prepared to work on the VSA next year—on and off council. It’s an undertaking. There is an incredible amount of work to be done. I can only hope that some of what we did this year has helped to pave the way for future change.
—Ruby Pierce ’16 is the outgoing President of Cushing House.