Since its inception as a self-governing body, the VSA has been inherently political. Each year there are calls for the depoliticization of the VSA. This is not a new concept and the argument is always the same: that being apolitical would be returning to the VSA’s “natural” state. Last year, former VSA President Ramy Abbady wrote an op-ed for The Miscellany News in which he soundly refuted this claim. He argued, “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” (The Miscellany News, “Politicization Necessary for Effective VSA,” 04.07.2016). In light of recent calls for depoliticization, as well as the upcoming VSA Elections, we at The Miscellany News want to reiterate our support and commitment to the Vassar Student Association as a political body.
First and most fundamentally, it is imperative to clarify what it means for the VSA to be a political body. Those that are opposed to politicization do not seem to have a clear idea of what it entails. Politicization of the VSA does not mean that elected officials will be representing the views of any national political party or organization with which they may be affiliated. Rather, politicization means that the VSA has the ability to make decisions and take action based on their guiding principles of supporting Vassar students of marginalized identities, antiracism and intersectional feminism, among others. Those advocating for an apolitical VSA do not realize that politicization does not mean paying less attention to and investing fewer resources on improving campus life and students’ welfare. The idea of the VSA as a political body is often posited as the opposite of it being a student service body, as if these two functions of the VSA could possibly be separated and exist independently from one another.
However, the College and all students are already situated in broader political contexts in that their lives are constituted, shaped, produced and managed by various systems of power. At a time when many already-marginalized folks are being disenfranchised and experiencing overt acts of violence, it would be nonsensical and simply impossible for the VSA to claim to represent and serve students’ needs and interests without speaking and acting politically. In this sense, then, the ability to argue for the student government of a college to be apolitical comes from a place of privilege. When so many people’s mere existence is deeply affected, impacted and even threatened by political powers, stepping back from politics serves the interests of the few who can afford to ignore and evade such powers. Being apolitical also serves to perpetuate the violence and discrimination inherent in the status quo.
Furthermore, many of the commentaries on the supposed harmful and undesirable effects of a political VSA misrepresent relevant issues and situations. Last week, Drew Solender ’20 published an Opinions piece in The Miscellany News arguing that progressive politics at Vassar have led to intolerance toward different views and discouraged political pluralism (The Miscellany News, “Politicization of VSA should be questioned in election,” 4.5.2017). In particular, he expressed concerns that members of “purist progressive groups like Healing to Action (H2A)” who are running for office might put Jewish people at risk by facilitating “the return of the ridiculous Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.” However, this line of reasoning is hard to defend because not only is there no logical connection between an individual’s progressive politics and the BDS Movement, it is also not valid to infer the positions of the members from H2A on this matter, since most of them were not on campus when the resolutions were brought before the VSA Senate in 2015-16. The article also mistakenly asserted that, “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” (The Miscellany News). However, similar discussions have in fact taken place at Brown University, Oberlin College, City University of New York and the University of California, among others (The New York Times, “The B.D.S. movement and anti-semitism on campus,” 03.29.2016). In fact, Tufts University’s student government recently passed a BDS resolution (The Tufts Daily, “TCU Senate passes resolution urging divestment from companies involved in occupied Palestinian territories,” 04.10.2017).
But ultimately, it is the author’s belief that political causes and activism are the antithesis of serving students’ needs and improving campus life that we most urgently need to challenge. Arguing that the VSA should be apolitical because of the possibility of a BDS debate resurfacing minimizes the experiences of people of color and other marginalized communities on this campus who need a political student government that can actually improve their lives on campus. Political discussions and actions are an essential part of the VSA to work for and realize students’ interests on this campus which are not isolated from, but are deeply embedded in and influenced by the larger political context of both the U.S. and the world.
Moreover, while many have called for the VSA to be apolitical, none have ventured to describe what that means or what an apolitical VSA would look like; perhaps this is because an apolitical VSA would not be able to achieve nearly as much as it does now. The VSA has been able to facilitate productive discussions and accomplish important work because of the fact that it is a political body. Projects like The Social Consciousness Fund, promoting events discussing the Dakota Access Pipeline and Trump’s travel ban, endorsing the sanctuary campus proposal, Project Period and the Gender Neutral Bathroom Initiative are possible due to the VSA’s endorsement of inherently political practices such as anti-racism and intersectional feminism. Obviously sharing bathrooms with people of any gender and discussing the implications of targeting a group of people from entering the United States should not have to be political, but since there are people in the U.S. that disagree, it is.
Providing a formal space for such political discussions to take place, within the context of the VSA or supported and facilitated by the VSA is especially necessary and significant as white nationalists are intensifying their recruiting efforts on college campuses. The Boston Globe reported that after last year’s election, “white nationalist and supremacist groups have become an increasingly visible presence on college campuses, using fliers, posters, and e-mails in an effort to recruit new blood.” According to a study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, there have been more than 120 cases of white supremacist fliers, posters, or stickers reported on American college campuses since last September (The Boston Globe, “White nationalists are now recruiting at college campuses,” 03.31.2017). Given this situation and the political climate, we at The Miscellany News believe the VSA’s role and function as a political organization is all the more imperative and indisputable.
—The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.