I’ll preface this by saying that I am a firm believer that the Vassar Student Association (VSA) has the ability to make legitimate change. As the representative body for the students to the Administration, they hold the voices of the students to a high regard, and have helped shaped many positive programs that exist today at Vassar, including the gender neutral bathroom initiative, as well as others. That is why it saddens me to say that the recent behavior by the VSA board has bordered on absolutely ridiculous.
This past Sunday, at the weekly VSA meeting, there was an issue of how to fill the newly opened VP for Activities position, either by appointment or election. The Board of Elections and Appointments (BOEA), a group of elected representatives tasked with sorting out the Vassar College student election and appointment process, recommended to the board that an election with a more compressed time line be put into effect immediately. While most of the board agreed with this recommendation, a few board members, mainly on the executive board, disagreed, and vocalized their displeasure. Their logic as to why there should be an appointment compared to an election, however, seemed a bit flawed.
To summarize what the dissenters stated, they believe that an appointment would allow the board to pick the most qualified candidate for the position so as to reduce the time it would take to train the incoming representative. They simultaneously said that the Vassar constituency, or at least the majority of the Vassar constituency, did not care about the VSA or the election process, leading to them to push for an appointment so as to not make the election process a popularity contest among the candidates’ friends. While both of these arguments have some merit, I see serious flaws in how they went about arguing for an appointment.
By arguing that the VSA has the ability to pick the best candidate to represent the Vassar community while at the same time saying that the Vassar community just does not care about the VSA, the Board is putting forth a very hypocritical argument. If the Vassar constituency truly did not care about the VSA, then why have a VSA in the first place? It is quite elitist and very disenfranchising to say that the VSA has the ability to pick the best candidate to represent all Vassar organizations and groups.
But their argument brings up this question: Do Vassar students really not care about the VSA or the decision between an appointment or election? The answer is a wholehearted “no,” contrary to what some board members believe. At this past meeting, according to my personal observations, there was a lot of outrage and displeasure circling among the members at large who attended the meeting. There was frustration with how things were being discussed and that an appointment was being considered.
There was also outcry among some students on social media. This alone should show the council that students do care. Yes, there is no way to ever get one hundred percent participation in Vassar elections, or maybe even more than fifty percent participation. Yet, even if only a handful of students show passion for these issues, then the VSA serves a purpose, that purpose being to represent those few students voices. That is why the students that do care voted these people in last semester and gave them so much power. They represent hundreds of voices, and, personally, the thought of another representative body in power ignoring voices at Vassar scares me.
I think that currently, there is a lot of elitism circulating within the VSA. There has been a consistent issue of the VSA being a white-dominated board, and this year has been no different. The VSA each year claims that despite their lack of diversity, they wish to make themselves more accessible and approachable for all students and concerned Vassar community members. However, there has been no action taken by the VSA that has shaped legitimate change in the levels of accessibility.
This attitude that the VSA is the only qualified body to pick the next members of the executive board only contributes to further alienation of the VSA to the rest of the student body. There will never be an accessible VSA if these attitudes carry over from year to year. With a high rate of turnover and returning board members within the VSA already, a change in behavior and mindset will be hard to make. I urge returning and new board members alike to rethink their conception of what the VSA is and what the VSA could be. Don’t use your power to silence the voices that you are trying to represent.
The VSA is important, and the student body does care. I am hopeful that the VSA will do amazing things this semester, but I’m worried that they have the potential to do immense damage as well. It all depends on how they handle themselves.
—Christopher Brown ’16 is a mathematics and political science double major.