This week, I and other writers for The Miscellany News have been given the unique opportunity to comment on the upcoming election. I don’t know about my contemporaries, but I am seizing upon this rare opportunity to analyze ongoing events and voice some of my personal concerns and observations. While I’m sure this has been said about many an election, this year’s election is a pivotal one for the VSA and Vassar for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is politics. With the rapidly changing political landscape since the election of President Trump, college campuses have become hotbeds of progressive protest and outrage. Will the next VSA be a political body or a student service body if we elect the progressive candidates who are poised to win? Will they prioritize political issues like the return of BDS and the alienation of certain members of the student body, or will they put aside their opinions and serve all students?
The VSA, in recent years, has sometimes acted as a political body. This can often be for the benefit of many, such as when it reaches out to historically marginalized communities, works to create a more progressive community, and create a more inclusive society. It falls short, however, when it does this to a militant degree. I think few at Vassar will argue that attempts at creating an environment of inclusion have been largely bad. The intentions behind them are certainly good. Continuing programs of inclusion and support for marginalized communities are essential and ought to be expanded. However, such attempts at an inclusive environment have had the effect, instead of eliminating discrimination, of discouraging political pluralism and silencing those who think against the grain.
There is definitely a way to be inclusionary to people of all races and also to those with opinions that don’t fall into the majority. Purist progressive groups like Healing to Action (H2A), which has fielded multiple members and allies to their movement as candidates in the VSA elections, might disagree. One of H2A’s members encourages people to “be the fist you want to see in a fascist’s face,” which is something I will elaborate upon in a future article. My response to that would be, “you guys sometimes call moderates and conservatives, or anybody who doesn’t agree with your progressive views, fascists.
So where’s the limit to who you want to punch?” While the punching example is probably the most radical and is mostly talked about ironically, it does beg the question; where is the line drawn?
As a moderate centrist who believes in free trade, the sovereignty of the Jewish state, the idea that we shouldn’t punch anybody regardless of their views of race, as well as the idea that not every white person wants to explicitly undermine marginalized communities, I have been called a racist by some progressives at Vassar.
Yet conversely, I believe that the US government should pay billions in reparations to the Black community, that gerrymandering is an inherently racist process, and that the federal government is obligated to alleviate the poverty of historically oppressed communities. Still, even with these views, I’m not considered progressive enough by some because I don’t think people who disagree with me should be tarred and feathered. I wonder what will happen to conservatives, moderates, libertarians and any non-progressives if we elect candidates who paint all non-progressives as racists?
This is the inclusivity paradox; when Vassar creates a community that is more inclusive to historically marginalized groups, it becomes increasingly intolerant to those with differing views on the matter. I believe that a balance can be drawn between accomodating those who think differently politically (while, of course, ensuring that prejudiced ideas are properly confronted) and creating an inclusive environment for all marginalized identities. While I personally applaud the increasingly tolerant society that Vassar has created, I also think that progressives should try to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar. It sometimes seems to me that the goal is to just alienate people with problematic views to the point where they leave the community, instead of engaging them and trying to change their opinions. Sometimes these efforts are made in vain. They are efforts that should be made nonetheless.
Then, of course, there is the marginalized ethnicity that is put at risk in a VSA dominated by progressive purists: Jewish people. I worry, as do many of my peers in the Jewish community, about the return of the ridiculous Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which could be facilitated by a progressive bloc ruling the VSA. Firstly, for those who will argue that Jews are not marginalized, but are rather unequivocally accepted and integrated into Christian society, you are dead wrong. I would refer those people to the Jewish cemeteries that are being vandalized and destroyed by antisemites, the JCCs and synagogues receiving bomb threats from antisemites, the antisemitic man at Penn Station who chased me yelling “f**king jew!” last month, and the antisemites who make the BDS movement the cornerstone cause of their college career.
For those who do not know, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions or BDS is a movement that wants Vassar to divest from and boycott the Jewish state of Israel for the supposed purpose of liberating Palestinians. Though the BDS referenda were ultimately rejected by the student body last year (though it’s important to note that the BDS Resolution was initially passed by the VSA Council), the toxic environment the campaign created has lingered.
The fact is, antisemites and other people hostile to the Jewish people are manipulating progressive college students into wholeheartedly supporting this movement as an “anti-apartheid movement,” of which it is nothing of the sort. BDS is simply the latest attempt to undermine the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Yet, what really concerns me is the campus effect of this movement.
While the BDS movement was happening during the 2015-2016 school year, the environment was described as “tense” and “hostile,” especially towards Jews who opposed BDS. This movement creates militants and combatants out of well-meaning students, all under the umbrella of an allegedly progressive agenda. What is it all for? Vassar College’s divestment wouldn’t make a chink into Israel’s robust economy, but it might force Vassar to pay more for things like computer chips, telephones and medical supplies in Baldwin if it is indeed one of the many entities that imports those inexpensive and high quality products from Israel.
Essentially, this movement creates disharmony and antisemitism at Vassar, while also hurting Vassar financially and not affecting Israel at all. To those who think that Vassar would serve as a domino in the BDS movement, paving the way for other colleges to participate until a significant dent is made, you can forget that idea too. For many colleges outside the Vassar bubble, the BDS movement would look like a hot potato of ludicrousy that any institution would want to rid itself of as expediently as possible.
I strongly believe that electing droves of likeminded progressives and H2A members to the VSA will put non-progressives, Jews and Israel supporters in great danger of alienation, discrimination and even harassment.
I would like to see progressive candidates, and indeed every candidate, state whether they would incorporate free speech and political diversity measures into their inclusivity initiatives. I want to hear their exact opinions on the BDS movement and whether or not they would facilitate its return. I would like them to tell me whether they are running for the VSA for political reasons, or because they actually want to help improve the lives of students here. Student governments are meant to serve their constituents, fund clubs and create a better campus. They are not meant be activists on issues that have never touched their lives or alienate members of the student body who they believe to be deplorables or degenerates.
Creating a more inclusive educational community is, of course, essential. I believe that such efforts do not necessarily have to come at the expense of political pluralism.
I have seen far too much evidence that progressive candidates would support the latter definition of government and eschew the former. So this is a challenge to progressive candidates for the VSA: prove me wrong.