Abbady elected VSA President

Under the leadership of President Ramy Abbady ’16, the new Vassar Student Association Executive Board has pledged to bring significant change to students’ representative body on campus through efforts to be more receptive and transparent. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Under the leadership of President Ramy Abbady ’16, the new Vassar Student Association Executive Board has pledged to bring significant change to students’ representative body on campus through efforts to be more receptive and transparent. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Under the leadership of President Ramy Abbady ’16, the new Vassar Student Association Executive Board has pledged to
bring significant change to students’ representative body on campus through efforts to be more receptive and transparent. Photo By: Sam Pianello

On April 22, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) released the results of its elections for the 2015-16 academic year, which will usher in a new Executive Board with both experienced members and those entirely new to VSA Council.

The winning candidates, now under the leadership of newly-elected VSA President Ramy Abbady ’16, ran on platforms of considerable structural changes to the way Vassar’s representative body operates.

Along with Abbady, next year’s Executive Board will feature Christopher Brown ’16 as VP for Student Life; Ruby Pierce ’16 as VP for Operations; Logan Hill ’16 as VP for Academics; Kevin Pham ’18 as VP for Activities and Josh Tempro ’16 as VP for Finance.

Several of the winning candidates agreed that it can often be difficult to present themselves to the public during the campaigning period, and that posters and outreach on social media are not necessarily effective in convincing voters. Hill remarked, “I simply put my ideas out there in my candidate statement and the Exec debate and hoped for the best.”

Abbady, however, felt that the best way to make himself known to voters was to visit dorms and to walk around the quad talking to individuals. He wished other candidates would try the same tactic, since it allowed him to familiarize himself with students and gauge how their ideas related to his own.

Both incumbent and newly elected Executive Board members are eager to work with their fellow house and class officers. Two of the 2015-16 board officers have been on the Executive Board before, and most have been involved in some way with the VSA in the past. Abbady said, “[The Executive Board] ha[s] some newer people, which I think is very good also because you don’t want the same voices there year after year.”

As the face of the Vassar student body, the board is supposed to represent a wide range of student backgrounds, something Pierce suggested may have been more successfully achieved in this upcoming iteration of the VSA than in recent years. She commented, “I’m really excited about the fact that we are mostly of color, I think that’s…definitely a valuable shift at this point in time. I am disappointed that I’m the only woman on exec board, but that’s okay. It just means that I’ll have to learn to be louder than I already have to be. Fight a little harder maybe.”

Although they will frequently meet and operate as a unit, the VSA’s new executives have separate visions for their roles. As VP for Activities, Pham wants to help students enjoy the wide range of organizations. He said, “[C]oming into Vassar, it was hard for me to find community in the first place…and I started to find community [through student organizations], and I realized how important orgs and pre-orgs are to a Vassar student’s college experience.”

Other budding plans for the coming academic year include more effective use of funds. Pham stated, “I want to put the student activities fee to good use. I want to put the money into the hands of more orgs so that the student body can benefit as a whole.” Tempro agreed, in an emailed statement, “The funds are disproportionately used.”

Although not specifically tasked to address one issue, as the new VSA President Abbady—having participated in VSA for two years, first as Raymond House President and subsequently as VP for Operations—hopes to employ his experience to help the rest of the Council communicate effectively and improve its transparency to the general student body. He said, “The position of the VSA president is very open-ended, which I think is a good thing because I’m gonna have a lot more flexibility than I’ve had the last few years. So I think now I’m going to really be able to get creative with what I’m doing.”

Abbady also plans to be a support mechanism for his fellow Council members. “In relation to the other VSA members, I think my role is very much to support their initiatives, and support the things that they want to do,” he said. “It’s not my job to tell someone not to do a project.” In regards to the general student body, Abbady hopes to give more power back to the students and hear their voices consistently.

As the student body’s official representative voice, the new VSA executives will be tasked with maintaining positive relations with various administrative offices. Dean of the College Christopher Roellke wrote, in an emailed statement, “I have been very fortunate to have a very positive and collegial relationship with the VSA. Of course, we do not always agree on particular issues, but I have long been impressed with the time, energy and devotion to VC that our VSA councils have provided over the years.”

Despite their expressed commitment to the students, the consensus among the new Executive Board is that students are generally not well-informed about the VSA, a fact they aim to change next year. Abbady admitted, “I don’t think most of the student body really knows what the VSA is doing. And I think that speaks to the fact that, a) the VSA probably isn’t doing things that students care about right now, and that should change, and b) the VSA has a huge communication issue, so even when we are doing things, people don’t really know we’re doing things.”

The College has invested heavily into improving the VSA, as an external audit of the organization was recently performed for the new Council to consider when assessing its operating procedures. Roellke said, “[It] will prove helpful to the council as it seeks to be as accessible and responsive as possible to the needs of its constituents.”

The newly-elected VSA Executive Board encourages students to participate in VSA meetings and be familiar with their elected officers as another method of addressing this issue. Abbady said, “I just want people to know that they can and should talk to their VSA representatives. [D]on’t be afraid to talk to any of the VPs or me. Our job is just to deal with student concerns. So talk to us, and we’ll help.”

Pierce corroborated, “I’m really hoping that I can get as many people involved as possible. I don’t want this to be an internal project, I don’t want the VSA to be reforming itself, I want the whole student body to have input because the students are the ones who’ll be most affected by this. [U]ltimately I would like student government to be a megaphone for activism.”

Tempro added, “A good student government relies on student participation, and we can make better decisions when there’s a wide scope of interests and org backgrounds and lived experiences in the room.”

The new elects to the Executive Board are all committed to changing the VSA to make it a more accessible and helpful space for all students. “There needs to be greater improvement on this campus in regards to everyone feeling safe and like this institution cares about them,” said Brown, in an emailed statement. However, they ask for students’ patience along the way.

Pierce said, “The process of changing the VSA is going to be a year-long process, and so by the end of next year we’ll have something that’s radically different from this year. But that said, it’s not going to be one climactic moment of change, it’s going to be gradual throughout the year.”

Above all, the new VSA officers have pledged to listen to student voices. “I want people to understand that I am still a person, so even if I disagree with someone it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do what they’re doing,” affirmed Abbady.

Pierce echoed the sentiment, positing, “I’m a person first, and a student second, and a political representative third maybe. I am committed to making changes but I’m also a person, and I am approachable, hopefully.”

4 Comments

  1. It is ironic that that the article regarding the election of Ramy Abbady as VSA President is in the same April 29, 2014, issue of the Misc as his opinion piece, “Islamophobia Alive and Well after VCLU Campus Lecture.”

    Abbady’s comments about Marc Thiessen degenerated into the classical name-calling used by today’s “liberals.” By accusing Thiessen of racism, Abbady instinctively mouths the illiberal liberal tactic of using invective to dismiss conservative beliefs as if those convictions do not deserve an argument and then to redefine mainstream conservative arguments as extremism and bigotry. It is a sad commentary on the Vassar College student electorate that they have elected as President someone so close minded and uncivil as Abbady. Rather than democratically engaging with those he disagrees with, Abbady calls Thiessen a racist and bigot who has no business in the public arena.

    Abbady insists that “for so many people ‘radical Islam’ has become a stand-in for Islam in general.” Although Thiessen repeatedly said that the vast majority of Muslims are not radical, that was not enough for the President-elect, who apparently wishes to introduce the term “Islamophobia” and thereby paint Thiessen as fundamentally evil and illegitimate. It is Abbady who is intolerant of others’ views and must come to realize that, although Jihadist violence has everything to do with Islam, very few of those who condemn terrorism blame all Muslims.

    In his interview after the election, Abbady commented that “I think my role is very much to support their (Vassar students’) initiatives, and support the things that they want to do….It’s not my job to tell someone not to do a project.” It appears that he plans to do that only if they do not belong to the VCLU and do not espouse traditional principles. In regards to the general student body, Abbady’s hope that he will hear the students’ voices consistently is contradicted by his unwillingness to allow Thiessen a platform. His pledge that “even if I disagree with someone it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do what they’re doing” seems hollow when juxtaposed with his stated message that conservative views have no place in the public debate and are best dealt with by name-calling. Abbady should heed Voltaire’s “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

    Abbady should recognize that Thiessen’s point of view regarding the threat of radical Islam is held by the majority of American citizens. Thiessen’s argument is principled and coherent. To accuse the VCLU of wanting “racism against brown bodies” is a typical mob tactic, stereotyping anyone who disagrees with his opinions as being out to harm all Muslims. Abbady’s true message, though, is that anyone espousing traditional views should just be quiet and not be invited to the Vassar campus. He dismisses Thiessen and those who agree with him as racist. For Abbady, and, it appears the Vassar student body that elected him, racism, classism, sexism and homophobia are behind most conservative ideas and policy recommendations. This Vassar obsessive fixation on issues of racism and sexism is reiterated by Ruby Pierce, who will share in the VSA leadership as VP for Operations when she states “I’m really excited about the fact that we (the new VSA leadership) are mostly of color, I think that’s…definitely a valuable shift at this point in time. I am disappointed that I’m the only woman on exec board, but that’s okay. It just means that I’ll have to learn to be louder than I already have to be.”

    Since 1948, 11,000,000 Muslims have been killed by violent acts, 90% by fellow Muslims. Abbady wants Thiessen to personally apologize for deaths that may have resulted from United States involvement outside of its borders. Using the same argument, I could ask Abbady to apologize for the killing of 10 million Muslims by other Muslims since 1948.

    Vassar, once a college with the freedom to debate ideas, now holds all conservative opinions as extreme and bigoted. Political correctness banishes anything resembling a conservative viewpoint. Abaddy, while espousing his openness to all ideas, shall continue to advocate the “correct” attitudes toward feminism, homosexuality, and race, together with speech codes that punish “insensitivity” and “ micro-aggression,” and disinvite, banish or silence, rather than welcome, speakers to campus who do not toe his line. The President-Elect’s agenda is that anyone espousing traditional views should just be quiet. He believes in freedom of speech for certain people with whom he agrees but is dismissive of that right for those with whom he disagrees.

    • Gosh darn, Marc Thiessen is no Islamophobe. He just makes “principled and coherent” arguments. I guess like the ones below

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jun/04/barack-obama-cairo-speech-republicans

      ““President Bush would never have criticised our military or our intelligence community on foreign soil,” a former Bush speechwriter, Marc Thiessen, said on Fox News. “He basically threw our military under the bus in front of a Muslim audience.””

      “Since 1948, 11,000,000 Muslims have been killed by violent acts, 90% by fellow Muslims. ” – And since 1940 how many non-muslims were killed by other non-muslims. Does the author need a map of Europe for help on this ? And a map of India perhaps to spot the millions killed there too by non-muslims ?

      • As usual, Raj not only goes off issue but also manufactures vague facts and does not know what he is talking about. My article hardly accuses President Elect Abbady of killing non-Muslims on the bucolic Vassar campus, although the landscape has imagined scarring by the micro-aggression and lack of safe spaces. My point is that Abbady has openly expessed his intent to stifle free speech by denying access to the campus by those with whom he politically disagrees.

        Given my intelligence background in Western Asia, I do not need a map of India, as Raj suggests. and will take the opportunity to provide the historical facts re Muslim barbarism and violence in the Indian subcontinent. The “religion of peace” took control of “India” from the ninth century through the nineteenth century , continuously pillaging , looting, terrorizing and killing non Muslims, all in the name of Mohammed’s Allah, It is estimated that more than 600 million non-Muslims were killed by their Muslim rulers during this period of time. The main culprits were Aurangzeb, the Bahmani Sultans, Babur, Timur Lang (Tamerlane), Qasim, Ghazni Mohammed , Gauri Mohammed and Tipu Sultan.

        More recently, in Bangladesh, Pakistan’s Muslims killed 3 million Hindus in one year (1971) out of a total Bangladesh Hindu population of 10 million.

        Given the centuries old carnage of non-Muslims in India, there is no Islamophobia in India. Islamophobia is defined as an irrational persistent fear which is typically disproportional to the actual danger posed. There has been good reason for the people of India to fear and hate the Muslims. A knowledge of Indian history tells us that the Indian hatred of Muslims is totally rational and hardly a phobia.

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