New Vassar Student Association council envisions major structural changes

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The VSA Exec Board is composed of (from left to right) Ramy Abbady ’16, Max Moran ’16, Carolina Gustafson ’15, Logan Hill ’16, Reuben Moncada ’15 and Hannah Matsunaga ’16. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Gorski)

With representatives speaking on behalf of every class year, housing designation and area of students’ lives, Vassar Student Association (VSA) is structured as one of the most encompassing and influential groups on campus.

Whereas with other organizations on campus who act in order to alter one area of college life, the VSA is one major organization committed to making large-scale representation largely institutional change that affects all students and requires widespread campus input. The VSA’s almost two dozen representatives, along with those who serve on joint committees that are non-elected, are the group responsible for representing students’ needs and interests to the Administration, conducting and financing campus programming and developing campus policies. As such, there is little that the upcoming VSA, like countless others before, does not have a major part in.

The VSA, as a student council, consists mainly of a student-elected Executive Board and Council and their committees, as well as student members of Joint Committees who work with faculty and administration. The Executive Board consists of the President and five Vice Presidents which handle different aspects of the student experience, while the Council also includes house and class presidents.

In recent years, the VSA has been a controversial body on campus. The VSA has faced criticism from student activist groups and individual students who believe that the council is inaccessible, out of touch with social justice issues and exclusionary of other students despite its role as an elected representative body.  As described by incoming VSA President Carolina Gustafson ’15 in an emailed statement, “The VSA has had a reputation for being very obtuse and unaware of many aspects of their own privilege and how they are received on campus.” At the end of the 2012/13 year, concerns voiced by constituents prompted the formation of a review committee, which has yet to announce any major findings or changes (Miscellany News, “VSA acts on problems of exclusion” 10.2.13). Last semester many students, including VSA Executive Board Members voiced concerns about their safety, voices, and rights on campus and worked toward a “Student Bill of Rights,” which was tabled in March for this year’s Board to handle.

However, this year’s Executive Board highlighted change within the VSA as an institution—particularly in reaction to last year’s criticisms—among their goals for the coming semester.

Gustafson has big dreams for the VSA, but more so, she envisions small but meaningful change taking place. “I imagine the change of the VSA in the day-to-day lives of students being less of an obvious change and instead being one of a subtler atmosphere of less distrust and animosity towards the VSA as an institution.”

VP for Operations Ramy Abbady ’16 hopes that fundamental shifts from within the VSA will bring some of the changes Gustafson seeks. He wrote in an emailed statement, “My biggest goal is to review the VSA and make changes…including looking through [the VSA’s] constitution and bylaws section by section to understand how things stand now…and reaching out to students on campus to determine exactly what kinds of things people want out of the VSA.”

While Abbady expressed his goals for working to rethink the face of student groups at Vassar, he likely will not be alone in his examination of the VSA-student organization relationship. As Vice President for Activities, a job that requires the oversight and representation of VSA approved student groups, Reuben Moncada ’15 will also be in contact with these groups to allow for the most popular and insightful student programming possible. Likewise, as student organizations frequently seek additional funding for programming through the VSA as the year goes on—something that has led to controversies over the inadequate funding of social justice programming in the past—Vice President Max Moran ’16 will also spend his year working with the Finance Committee reviewing individual organization’s funding requests as well as larger changes to the bylaws in regards to how funding is allotted.

Executive Board members also have goals extending beyond internal issues of the VSA, many of which revolve around increasing social awareness and social justice on campus. Gustafson wrote, “I want to create an environment with intention around issues of social justice [and] move the VSA away from telling people how we can solve their problems for them, but instead listening to what people need and are asking for.”

VP for Student Life Hannah Matsunaga ’16 echoed Gustafson’s overall ideas and identified specific goals for her position. She wrote in an emailed statement that her goals include advocating for accessibility for campus buildings, furthering the gender-neutral bathrooms initiative and increasing administrative accountability for racial profiling on campus. Another goal she expressed was “reforming protocol surrounding sexual assault and interpersonal violence to make our campus safer for survivors.”

VP for Academics Logan Hill ’16 expressed several concrete, immediate goals for improving the life of students at Vassar, which incoming students may benefit from in the short term. He wrote in an emailed statement, “I definitely want to focus more energy into the Academics Newsletter, publishing it at least once a semester…I’d also like push for more information about courses (e.g. past syllabi, course structure, etc.) [to] be added to the catalog or elsewhere to help students.”

Additionally, Matsunaga and Gustafson both confirmed that the VSA will be reaching out to students this semester for input regarding plans for the former bookstore space.

Social awareness is also at the heart of many of Vassar’s Joint Committees. Adam Eichen ’15 is a student representative on the Campus Investor Responsibility Committee (CIRC). CIRC is a Joint Committee of students, faculty and staff that work together to develop campus policies. Student committee members are separate from the Executive Board and the Council (which includes house and class presidents) but they fall under the purview of the VSA.

Eichen wrote in an emailed statement, “I want to see CIRC raise the bar for how we perceive socially conscious investments. While all sides have good intentions, my goal is to push the committee to create a reasonable standard for what is a socially conscious investment.”

Gustafson and her team, as well as the members of the committees, are geared up for the coming semester and ready for tangible change within the VSA, in the way social justice is handled on campus, and in the lives of students at a practical level. Gustafson wrote, “The VSA should be representing the needs and views of all Vassar students and I hope students will be willing to hold me, and the rest of Council, accountable to doing that.”

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