This past week, Vassar had the honor of cycling through another round of student body elections. We obtained a brand new panel of executive board members, a whole new VSA Council to interrogate and hate on and a slew of eager rising sophomores to fill various house team positions. However, one alarming fact made me realize the declining trajectory that many students at Vassar College experience: Out of the four positions for Senior Class Council, only one position was filled. There is currently no one in the positions of 2015 President, Vice President, and Secretary. The fact that out of a group of 650-plus people, three could not come out of the woodwork and run for the positions listed showcases the high level of apathy with which many students of this campus are stricken. From where did this apathy come? Has it always been there?
I argue that the lack of concern for the workings of student run government at Vassar College is due to many reasons. First of all, let’s please remember that this is student government at a private college. I, like many other members of the Vassar community, realize that the VSA can make very little change, and therefore just refuse to invest much effort into it at all. At a school where most of the institutional change comes from corner offices in random sectors of the administration that students don’t know exist, the VSA serves as the small voice that the students have in determining the course that this institution takes, which honestly makes me sad.
However, I’m not the constant cynic that says that the VSA is useless all the time. There have been many instances of success from projects started by VSA Council members. The Gender Neutral Bathrooms Initiative started by the previous VP for Student Life and continued by the current VP has been an extreme plus for this institution and takes a big step forward. It helps greatly with the inclusion of oppressed groups here on campus. This is one of many changes where the VSA actually improved the lives of students on Vassar’s campus. So why, in a position where you get some power and a pretty little sticker to put on your resume, does not a single person choose to apply?
I believe that people don’t really care because they just do not know what the VSA even does, let alone what their class president does. Speaking from personal experience, as a student that regularly attends VSA meetings and interacts with board members, I cannot list one thing that the Class of 2016 has put on in terms of a campus-wide event since last year’s Freshman 15. Some will tell me that it’s my burden to learn what is going on throughout this campus and stay up to date on all the events.
But why is it my burden? It should be the burden of the VSA council to make every student on this campus aware of what they are doing, what events they are planning and what changes they seek to make in order to improve the lives of students on this campus. If the members of the VSA want to make true change, they need to take a step back from trying to make mindless changes to amendments within their own bylaws and focus on student outreach.
I’m not claiming that the VSA needs to make extreme structural changes. That’s a discussion for another column. But I do believe that there is hope to change the attitude of the student body so that we don’t get to the week after the election process ends and realize that we have more that 15 open positions that require many discussions surrounding special elections and appointments. I have to believe that if people knew what the hell was going on in their class council or on their house teams, a few of those people would be bound to apply, and we would not have this problem.
It is alarming to me, as a student on Vassar’s campus, that there are so many problems within the VSA. Members of the VSA have a unique position of power on this campus where they have the ability to speak for a much larger constituency. So it scares me when all I hear about when sitting in on VSA meetings is that there is endless internal problem after internal problem. It makes me question if the VSA can make any sort of legitimate change.
It makes me lose faith that I have a voice at Vassar, and that discourages me further from believing in the mission of the VSA, which is, I’ll remind you, to improve the lives of Vassar students while at Vassar. The lose of one’s voice is the most deplorable thing that can happen to a student. When the body that is designed to allow one’s voice to be heard is not functioning, it is understandable that people are more or less annoyed with the system in place.
As we near the end of an academic year and the start of another, we will be accepting a new eager batch of freshmen. It’s important not to start off their Vassar experience by limiting their exposure to the VSA Executive Board to nothing more than a quick introduction. They need to be made aware of what the VSA does, what the VSA does not do, and what they can do to get involved. We may never get 100 percent voter turnout in an election or get a huge crowd to come to campus-wide dialogues. But when we see students desire to meet over issues such as a Student’s Bill of Rights, there is something fundamentally wrong with the workings of the VSA that ultimately needs to be solved.
—Christopher Brown ’16 is a political science major.