The Vassar Student Association (VSA) has elected its first Chief Justice and cohort of judicial representatives since dissolving their Judicial Board in 2019, largely in response to an impeachment scandal last month.
The removal of the Judicial Board made impeachment procedurally impossible. This became a flashpoint in the recent scandal, and was the primary impetus for restoring the Judicial Board.
As several members-elect of the board explained, the Judicial Board was originally removed because it was too inactive and there were too few disagreements over the bylaws to warrant its continuance.
But, as Chief Justice-elect Nicole Philstrom ’22 explained, perception of the board’s importance shifted in the past couple of years. “As the VSA has grown and evolved over time, discrepancies started to emerge…I believe [this year] there was some perceived contention and dichotomization between some of the senators and the Executive Board that led to a less collaborative environment,” Philstrom stated.
Representative-elect Alexandra Finio ’23 described how a pressing issue for the next school year will be analyzing and changing the bylaws. “I expect that one of the main agenda items for the VSA next year will be to closely examine the constitution and bylaws and amend them. This requires a Judicial Board in order to ensure the constitutionality of these changes” said Finio.
Institutional reform efforts affecting the VSA were one reason why many of the four new Judicial Board members decided to run in the first place. Philstrom said, “There had been a lot of frustration, three-hour senate meetings, and general discontent surrounding the current VSA bylaws especially brought to light by events of this past year.” She continued, “My decision for running was prompted by wanting to make sure that, should those events [impeachment or other constitutional issues] unfold in the future, prompt but unbiased decisions can be made to quickly quell any ongoing issues so that the VSA may continue to operate at its best.”
Finio expressed a similar sentiment, explaining, “I ultimately made the decision to run after the events that occurred in the VSA over the past month. I attended the VSA meeting on April 25, and it was evident that the VSA as a whole but especially its constitution and bylaws need to be reformed. I really wanted to be a part of that change.”
Other judicial board representatives sought the position for personal enrichment and experience. Representative-elect Maxwell Newman ’24 stated, “I am a passionate and outspoken person. I believe being the class of 2024 judicial board representative is a great role for me to begin making important and effective change on the Vassar Campus.” Similar to Newman, Representative-elect Ava Thompson ’22 added, “I want to pursue a career in law, so I was initially interested in running for a position on the Judicial Board because it seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore that interest of mine.”
All newly elected members have plans to use their power wisely and bring positive change to the VSA. Philstrom stressed the importance of efficiency. “Much time was wasted by the senate this semester debating many of the bylaws, discrepancies in them, and how to best go about enforcing them,” she explained. “I hope to use the power of the Judicial Board to do away with these inefficiencies in order to clarify these proceedings, allowing the VSA to put its time into general operation and helping the student body rather than debating amongst themselves.”
Newman anticipates direct involvement in constitutional reform, stating, “The first responsibility of the Judicial Board is to revise and modernize the constitution on a constitutional commission with the help of several representatives from the VSA. The Judicial Board must leave as little room for interpretation as possible to create a concrete framework that the board will use in deciding on whether legislation aligns with the constitution moving forward.”