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.”