VSA elections bring new student leadership into focus

On April 12, current VSA Chair of Equity and Inclusion Tamar Ballard ’19 was elected as the 2018– 19 VSA President. The new VSA Senate members will take over their roles in a few weeks, on May 6./ Courtesy of Tamar Ballard

Each year, the student body expresses its voice in the choice of representatives for student government. The Board of Elections and Appointments (BoEA) announced on April 12 the election of Tamar Ballard ’19 as Vassar Student Association (VSA) President, Rori Chuck ’19 as VSA Vice President, Eloudia Odamy ’21 as VSA Chair of Equity and Inclusion, Mendel Jiménez ’20 as VSA Chair of Finance, Jennifer Luo ’20 as VSA Chair of Residential Affairs, May Venkat-Ramani ’20 as VSA Chair of Academics and Dea Oviedo Vazquez ’20 as VSA Chair of Organizations. Many other candidates were also elected to other leadership positions in student government committees, residential house teams and as class year representatives.

A primary area of focus for student leaders over the next school year will be representing student voices in a way that best develops their sense of inclusion in the campus community. Ballard reflected, “I would hope that everyone I come in contact with understands that I not only care deeply about students feeling comfortable at Vassar, but that I’m dedicated and willing to get necessary work done and to offer my support wherever I can.”

Ballard noted that personal experience plays a large role in effective leadership and continued, “I have a bunch of moments that I can pull from during my Vassar experience where I felt like I wasn’t getting what I needed from the College academically, mentally and emotionally, those last two points being the most important, so I’m hoping that through using those experiences, listening to the experiences of other students, and collaborating heavily with the other members of Senate, we can take steps towards alleviating some of our student-wide concerns in the next few years.”

With the change in student government at the end of the school year, those leaving office have expressed both a sense of accomplishment and nostalgia for their work. Current VSA President Anish Kanoria ’18 described, “It’s always a mixed bag of emotions to see something that you have invested so much time and energy draw to a close. That said, it is rewarding to see the work done this past year come to fruition and transition to a new President, Executive Board and Senate.”

Kanoria elaborated, “This past year has been challenging at various points, and I believe that we have weathered those challenges well.” Some of the more publicly visible and complex moments for student government this year included President Elizabeth Bradley’s forum with the VSA Senate on the financial status of Vassar College in October, Cornell Clinical Professor of Law William Jacobson’s lecture on free speech on college campuses in November and the resignation of several members of the Senate over winter break. Kanoria continued, “The amount of work that this VSA has been able to accomplish is truly astonishing, and for this I am grateful to my Executive Board and Committee Chairs, as well as the new college administration.”

The incoming student government is sensitive to the challenges and opportunities presented by this change. Venkat-Ramani agreed, “While it is a time of eventual transition, the VSA elections allow the current members of Senate to pass down wisdom, experience and points of action that they were unable to accomplish in their time. Now, the new members of Senate have the ability to pick up where they left off with and begin projects that we are passionate about.”

In the timeline of events next year, Jiménez described plans to increase the involvement of VSA Finance with the student body at large and noted, “We will have treasurer training in the fall and the same timelines for special purpose fund applications. Students can expect campus-wide events from VSA Finance early on in the beginning of the school year, as I hope to pair my initiatives for more awareness and knowledge with treasurer training.” Jiménez also aims to increase collaboration between VSA Finance and the Committee on Equity and Inclusion, as well as VSA Organizations. Jiménez believes that the different components of student government are most effective when they share knowledge and dialogue to resolve concerns from a holistic perspective.

Odamy also emphasized the importance of dialogue and said, “I want to connect with the students to bring equity and inclusion to this campus. I am all for talking with students and learning more about the issues on this campus because I am not aware of all of them.” Considering student interaction with faculty and administration, Odamy urged students to remain vocal. Odamy argued, “I think that their perspective is really important because the higher officials are not the ones who constantly see what it is like day to day at Vassar. Students must present their voice because they know what goes on in the campus.”

Oviedo Vazquez ‘20 recommended, “Something I would advise to students and student organizations is for them to be proactive about the programming they want to put on. The Organizations Committee is here to make sure organizations function to the best of their capacity on campus… but it’s hard to do that if they do not reach out. Moreover, I would also advise for organizations to meet the expectations that will be further specified during the Fall Leadership Conference.” In particular, Vazquez urged student groups to keep track of treasurer training, SAVP training and inclusivity for the next school year.

Focusing on dialogue between the VSA and administrators, Venkat-Ramani suggested, “We are all entering our positions with new perspective and determination. We will be meeting with administration soon and discussing the year ahead.”

Voter participation rates in many of the electoral races for office in student government remained close to one-third of all students eligible to vote. Addressing this issue at a fundamental level, Venkat-Ramani responded, “I would have liked to see more students voting for their representatives. Unfortunately, many on this campus do not know who represents them or what the VSA does. The bureaucratic nature of the VSA can hurt the flow of communication with students. Changing this is a priority.”

Luo corroborated, “The ability of the VSA to act as a liaison relies on members of the VSA to stay connected with the college, to continue to build bridges between our residents … People are tired and skeptical of the VSA, and I think the decrease in voters speaks to that. I think we really need to focus on re-establishing a bond with our peers, however difficult the means.” Putting aside largescale projects that student leaders often commit to but fail to realize, Luo focused first on rebuilding connections among students at a personal level.

Luo considered priorities in residential communities next year. Luo elaborated, “For what house team and the student fellow program are structured to function as, I think we are doing the best that we can to welcome new students to campus. There are a lot of concepts at Vassar that cannot be introduced and learned through orientation week.” Noting challenges that are particularly poignant for incoming students, Luo continued, “Each person learns at a different pace. Already, adjusting to living [at] college is a big hurdle for many. On top of homesickness and immersion into a different environment, they are exposed to a variety of ideas that they may not have interacted to prior.”

For the oldest students on campus, incoming VSA Senior Class President Ziyi “Yina” Wang ’19 described, “I would say the most pressing concern to rising seniors is the real world. It’s hard to figure your life out and get thrust out into the outside society. [The] Vassar bubble is real. Now, we have to consider getting a financially feasible job, paying rent, while simultaneously keeping up with all our student responsibilities.”

Citing popular events this school year, such as the Millennial Pink Masquerade and SELFcare of Color: A Day of Living Well, Wang continued, “I would like to make senior events as inclusive and affordable as possible with our given budget. I also think it is important to have healthy stress-relieving events where we can all just have fun. It’s our last year at this school, so I want to help create many wonderful memories.” Wang concluded, “I want to end our college careers as a cohesive and supportive community, brimming with genuine enthusiasm and eagerness.”

Speaking to the incoming student government, Kanoria advised, “The VSA has a lot of institutional weight, and as such, gets access to rooms, data, conversations and people that other students may not. Being elected means something. Use it well.” While holding office does pose issues of work-life balance for elected representatives and numerous worries associated with handling a challenging workload and resolving personality differences among representatives, Kanoria believes that student leaders with a strong vision for change will be able to rise above these challenges.

Kanoria concluded, “This is a time of great institutional change for Vassar and the VSA can play an instrumental role in being part of the molding process of the kind of institution we want it to be. I have every confidence in [Ballard] and her Executive Board that they will get this done.”

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