This past Sunday, the VSA proposed a reform initiative that is expected to both expedite the funding process for student protests and promote campuswide activism. The emergency funding plan that the Executive Board has established permits quick and informal interactions between org leaders and the VSA Executive Board.
This system will allow activists to acquire financial support at the exact moment of need; normally, groups have to wait for their applications to be reviewed by the Finance Office before they received any money, a process that could take up to three weeks. Now the VSA either approves or denies the funding immediately after the request is made.
Considering the ongoing campaign against racial inequality and the recent events at the University of Missouri and Yale University, this timely proposal will grant students the opportunity to react instantly and add to the momentum of social movements without any bureaucratic delay. While we at The Miscellany News applaud the VSA for prioritizing activism on campus, we believe that this initiative’s implementation is vague and requires closer examination.
The arrangement will permit the Exec Board to communicate in the most efficient way possible over text, email or in person, to consider an organization’s request for aid. This sparks a number of criticisms. For one, the notion that the Exec Board will use their unchecked judgement to decide which causes are deserving of funds potentially leaves the process subject to personal biases or non-objective decision making. Without codified standards to outline the demonstrated needs of an organization or an individual protestor, it’s possible that the VSA’s definition of activism will fluctuate and fail to accommodate all parties equally. These transactions will not be officially recorded, leading to a critical loss of accountability from the student government.
We believe this proposal indicates larger institutional issues on campus. The reality that organizations and individuals don’t feel that they have adequate support to voice their convictions or challenge authority outweighs any doubts regarding the transparency or reliability of the funding process.
Although the VSA’s methods can be improved to reduce anxieties surrounding the obscurity of this decision-making, it’s imperative that the Board continues to take steps toward enhancing student politics before re-evaluating its methods. We at the Miscellany News laud the VSA for changing their guiding principles to take a more active and productive stance on activism.
The increased commitment to supporting marginalized voices on campus is an important message to send regardless of the state of the initiative itself. We understand that there are situations that transcend the typical formalities of the VSA’s existing structure.
It is important that the VSA is taking a concrete step toward upholding their guiding principles, while still increasing and maintaining their commitment to aiding activist groups whose monetary needs aren’t always foreseen.
Theoretically if a person or organization needs money, they can approach any VSA Exec Board member and explain their situation. The Exec Board member will then communicate with the other members and attempt to come to a decision as soon as possible.
The process will run through the operating budget, which the Executive Board uses to fund its own internal operations. Thus money will not be pulled from other pools like the social consciousness or discretionary funds that students may normally apply for. Effectively, this means the VSA will not be taking potential funding away from other orgs in this process. This also means that when students plan larger events through the typical financial procedures, the VSA will not tax those funds.
We at The Miscellany News see this as a win-win situation, as the money used for these important, time-sensitive acts would not impact any plans students or orgs would implement.
This money is available regardless and allocating it to help students who request emergency funds and resources for their organizations. The only ones impacted by this informal policy will be the Exec Board members themselves, as they have less money to spend on their own operation.
We recognize there have been issues in the past where organizations did not get enough funding in time sensitive situations. Although it was not specifically mandated at the time, there was an instance last year in which the VSA Exec Board helped to fund a protest led at the Dutchess County Jail. They provided funding for megaphones and transportation to the jail.
The VSA’s mission is to be more open and accessible to the student body and this policy adheres to those goals. We expect that with this new mission, more orgs will approach the VSA for help, starting a dialogue between activist orgs, the VSA and the greater student body. We recognize that without funding and raising awareness, it is difficult to have these conversations. While we are concerned that this new policy shift will value accessibility over transparency, we also recognize that the details have not yet been ironed out. Thus, we hope that once the policy is solidified it will develop a better method through which to archive and distribute information.
Last week’s VSA Council meeting seemed to reflect the notion that the intention to implement this policy was finalized, yet the specifics surrounding how it would be implemented were still to be discussed at a future setting.
We at The Miscellany News hope for a clearer, more concrete system regarding how people and organizations can request this money. We also expect that the initiative will feature an ad-hoc design without dense, complex rules that bring a notion of red tape to the process, as this would be counter-intuitive.
We expect that when this plan is finalized, the initiative will be widely publicized to individuals and groups via email and social media. We see the spirit of this proposal as an act that will increase the potential for engaging in meaningful dialogue about these events and moments that will break free of our Vassar bubble. We maintain our hope that the VSA will continue to refine this system in order to better support orgs that want to engage in and with activism, while also maintain their restructuring goals of increased transparency.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.