If a waiter fails to serve their customers promptly, they are fired. If a doctor fails to care for their patients, they are fired. If a lawyer fails to adequately defend their clients, they are fired. Likewise, if an elected representative fails to defend and fight for their constituents, they too should be fired.
Prior to spring break, the VSA Council passed a resolution endorsing the BDS movement, while failing to pass the amendment. Essentially, the VSA endorses an academic boycott of Israel, but isn’t going to force student organizations stop buying Ben and Jerry’s or Sabra Hummus.
Less than 48 hours before the vote was to take place, the VSA Executive Board put out a statement claiming that “were the VSA constitution amendment, by Council vote or referendum, to include a boycott, the administration and Board would still consider the option of no longer allowing the VSA control over the Student Activities fee.” The situation is very clear. The administration is interfering with student governance in order to prevent a boycott and are presenting a very clear choice: if the amendment passes the VSA gets defunded, if the amendment doesn’t pass the VSA won’t be defunded.
But this is contrasted with the statement released by President Hill and Dean Chris Roellke. According to their statement in The Miscellany News, “The VSA Executive Board asked us what the options might be, were such a proposal to pass … We responded that the options would include vetoing the proposal…or taking away the VSA’s authority over spending the activities fee…as to prevent it from implementing the boycott.” They went on to say, “Since no proposal has passed, the college has not had to make its final decision about how to respond … Were such a proposal to pass, we would work with the VSA on the appropriate response. Our goal would be to insure that student organizations continued to be funded, but in accord with college policies.”
The statement from the VSA Executive Board suggested that defunding would be a definite option were the amendment to pass. The administration’s statement suggests a much different story. Firstly, it was presented as one of numerous options. Secondly, it would most likely have been used if they feared that the VSA would enforce the boycott regardless of a veto from President Hill. Thirdly, the administration made no decisions regarding their plan, and would have worked on a potential solution with the VSA council. All of this was left out of the VSA’s statement.
While some may pooh-pooh this is an excuse to oppose a movement many alumnae/i don’t like, the legal consequences of approving the BDS amendment could be devastating. In order to receive federal fundings, Vassar College must abide by certain rules. One rule forbids the college from engaging in discrimination on the basis of nation of origin, which BDS might potentially violate.
Were the College found to be in violation of this provision, the institution could lose all federal funding, including Pell Grants. Many students unable to pay for college without financial aid would have difficulty continuing to attend Vassar. Posse students would likely disappear. The character of Vassar would change drastically for the worse.
Yet, none of this was referenced in the statement the VSA Executive Board made. As a result, an already toxic environment became even worse.
Due to this, the meeting in which the resolution was debated devolved into complete chaos. BDS supporters took every opportunity to imply that opposing their brand of activism is racist; while every time antisemitism was mentioned it was met with laughter and mockery. Multiple at-large members were in tears while reading statements on how the debate has affected them, and were met with BDS supporters pointing and laughing. While it was not loud enough to interrupt their statements, it was noticed and commented on by members of the audience.
It is the responsibility of the VSA President to prevent this type of behavior at meetings. However, he either didn’t notice what was going on or he did and couldn’t be bothered to intervene. Either way, he failed to do the job that he is paid to do.
It’s unfair to blame this all on one person. The complete abdication of the VSA Council’s moral and ethical responsibility towards the student body neither starts nor ends at the meeting. It begins with the council’s decision to become a political organization.
The VSA Council has no right having a political bias. They are representatives of a student body with diverse political beliefs, using money that they are given by Vassar College. As one individual declared during last week’s meeting, “Vassar College is not a liberal institution. It is an educational institution.” It is the belief of the VSA council that one cannot ever truly be apolitical. That is not true. One can stand against racism and sexism and antisemitism on campus without favoring certain political beliefs over others. Essentialism leads to the death of diversity of opinion, and is not conducive to solving the issues facing America or this campus.
In defense, the VSA Executive Board usually asserts that they have to vote on whatever is proposed. But what the VSA didn’t have to do was waste months of everyone’s time for BDS training and discussion after discussion on this pointless affair. They could have just voted on the issue and then been done with it for the year. But they made the decision to spend more time and resources on this issue than any other one.
And I understand that this is an issue that caused significant stress to the representatives, but as we focused on the Israeli-Palestinian situation we failed to properly realize the issues it presents regarding life on campus. Can’t we focus less on the overseas impact and more on the impact back home? If they were going to have training, that’s where the focus should have been.
Then, there’s the issue of the confidential vote, which has been very controversial to say the least.
I understand why the VSA council felt it necessary to adopt the secret ballot. I imagine that many people on this campus would be uncomfortable with the possible consequences of voting a certain way. There is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable with the financial or personal repercussions of a vote; however, if you’re so concerned of the consequences of your decision that you couldn’t possibly vote publicly, you shouldn’t serve elected office. Since a secret ballot gives these representatives an ability to lie as to how they voted, the VSA deprives the student body their right to a representative that “openly and proudly” serves their interests.
Both sides of the debate have put their own personal and professional reputations on the line for what they believe in. It is insult to everyone involved for the VSA Council to vote in secret when so many have risked everything to speak in public.
And finally, there is the decision itself. You might be of the belief that a boycott is the best course of action in order to prevent human rights violations in Israel. You have a right to your belief. I don’t think that anyone who personally boycotts Israel is necessarily antisemitic. I do think that there is a great deal of antisemitism embedded in the BDS movement and in Students for Justice in Palestine, but if you don’t feel comfortable buying Sabra Hummus or Ben & Jerry’s, more power to you. If you want to promote this and advocate that this is the best way to combat human rights violations in Israel, that is also your right. If you come to the viewpoint that not only is your course of action the best one, but that it should be recognized as the best one by a government body and forced onto people who disagree with you, then you have crossed a very serious line.
One student at the VSA meeting pointed out that their money is used by the VSA Council towards things they didn’t want to fund since college money is used to purchase products they believe support human rights violations by the Israeli government. This argument could be used as justification to defund practically every student organization on campus. I could use this argument to defund J-Street. I could use this argument to defund SJP. I could use this argument to defund JVP. I could use this argument to defund the VCLU. I could use this argument to defund VJU. I could use this argument to defund any student organization I didn’t like. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and considering how deeply the VSA council has failed to handle politicization I do not trust them to draw it. We tried acting political and it failed, it’s time to serve students again.
I formally call for the immediate repeal of the BDS resolution and the depoliticization of the VSA. It is time for us to move past the nonsense and focus on what matters: ending sexual assault, improving accessibility on campus and improving Vassar College to the best of our ability.