The VSA has certainly not been apolitical in recent years, despite the claims of many candidates in Spring Elections who want to “go back” to such a time. Calls for depoliticization are misguided because they fail to take into account that the VSA has never been apolitical because “neutrality” as it relates to politics is the means for upholding the status quo. Furthermore, the issues that candidates have called for discussion on are far from being “apolitical.”
Title IX, accessibility of physical, mental, and financial resources, and other issues candidates have brought up are some of the most political issues of our time.
There are endless examples that show the VSA’s political nature over the years. In 2008, a campaign was undertaken to remove Coca Cola products that involved a vote of VSA Council as part of the initiative.
The resolution to “Kick Coke,” as the initiative was called, passed the VSA Council and was met with a large backlash. The timeline of events is well-documented in The Miscellany News Archives and I recommend searching for further information online to get a better picture of that situation.
In my own time at Vassar, the VSA has been anything but apolitical. During my first month at Vassar, the 27th VSA Council denied funding to MeChA to host a conference. At MeChA’s appeal to the VSA Council, the org’s leaders expressed frustration at the oppressive past and present of the VSA, and a Council member told those leaders to unlearn feeling oppressed by the VSA.
How is such a comment apolitical? This was one of my first impressions of the VSA, though as a first-year student I couldn’t fully understand the series of events I was hearing about through the grapevine.
That same year, the VSA Council endorsed proposals to turn the VSA Executive Board positions into work-study positions and to create a social consciousness academic requirement. The former was aimed at increasing the accessibility of student government positions to low-income students and the second was aimed at combating a lack of knowledge among the student body of the significant barriers marginalized students face in their day-to-day lives. It is easy to see how both of these proposals, which sought to fight oppression, are highly political.
During my sophomore year, when I joined the VSA Council as the President of Raymond House, we began significant work on the Gender Neutral Bathroom Initiative. As more and more states, cities and other localities pass laws that specifically seek to prevent trans and nonbinary people from using the bathroom they feel most comfortable in, how can this possibly be seen as apolitical?
Contrary to claims that the VSA has refused to talk about sexual assault on campus, we have always been involved in such discussions in my time on Council. The 28th Council created a detailed flowchart for the Title IX reporting process that was then updated and further disseminated by the 29th Council.
The 29th VSA Council, on which I was the VP for Operations, actively aimed to provide support to activist organizations during a time of intense campus and national climate. We provided supplies, transportation and funding for organizations engaged in protests and other forms of resistance for racial justice.
The long process of restructuring the VSA has also been incredibly political. During my first year at Vassar, a group of student activists specifically called for an external review of the VSA to determine its faults and make recommendations for action, particularly noting the role the VSA had played in perpetuating oppression against identity orgs.
As VP for Operations, I undertook the project of overseeing this external review and as President, I worked closely with the current VP for Operations, Ruby Pierce, to use this review to frame our restructuring process.
The VSA has caused significant hurt in the past to the most marginalized students of campus, including Black students, trans students, women, low-income students, disabled students, Middle Eastern students, Jewish students and many others.
By “becoming political,” as many are fond of saying, the current VSA Council, the 30th, finally acknowledged this oppressive history and sought to rectify it moving forward. At the beginning of the year, we adopted guiding principles that sought to center anti-racism and intersectional feminism in our work.
That is not at all to say that by adopting these principles we solved everything. However, it was and is an important step towards creating a socially just student government that empowers and supports students that have been marginalized by society, Vassar and the VSA. This Council has certainly not always succeeded in this mission and has in fact failed on several occasions; but we are the first VSA to even consider doing this work.
On a final note, I would like to address the incredibly incorrect claims that an apolitical VSA would have prevented the BDS vote. This is false for the reason that the VSA must consider any and all pieces of legislation brought forth by students. That some BDS proponents used the VSA’s official stance of anti-racism as a reason to encourage support of the resolution does not at all change the procedural obligation we were under.
This year, the VSA did not go from apolitical to political; rather, we were finally honest about the fact that the VSA is, by its very nature, a political institution. Furthermore, by adopting principles of anti-racism and intersectional feminism as foundational to our mission for the year, we took a stance of combating our previous politics of complacency and being bystanders to oppression.
There is still significant work to be done, as there always is when one commits to advocating for a more just society, and I know that the first VSA Senate will tackle these issues right from the start.
But “depoliticization” should not be part of such a conversation. Rather, I suggest the Senate consider repoliticization, to affirm this year’s guiding principles and create additional principles by which the VSA can combat oppression. Complacency is no longer an option.