Last semester, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) was embroiled in controversy when two VSA members accused their own organization of misusing funds, lacking transparency and procedural misconduct. These complaints led to the attempted impeachment of members of the VSA Executive Board. In response to the attempted impeachment, newly elected members of the VSA spent their summer forming a constitutional commission to amend their governing documents. The commission resulted in a large package of amendments to the VSA Constitution which intend to address several of the grievances put forward by the student body (Vassar Student Association, “Summer 2021 Amendments Package,” 08.24.2021).
VSA elections took place at the end of Spring semester, replacing the Executive Board involved in the controversy and electing many new Senators. Class of ’23 Senator Julián Aguilar, who co-chaired the commission with VSA Vice President Ryan Mazurkiewicz ’22, explained the goals of the commission: “When we were talking about starting this commission, I think the one thing that we really had in mind was just, at the very, very minimum, update our constitutional bylaws.” They sought to make the bylaws more accurate to the way VSA functions in practice. He continued, “The Constitution hadn’t been updated since 2017, and we had passed a series of changes since then.”
They began the process by reading through the bylaws as they existed and asking current and past members if the bylaws matched how the roles actually functioned. After editing the bylaws to match current operations, the constitutional commission began to make changes to increase efficiency and mitigate the problems that led to the impeachment inquiry in the spring.
The amendment perhaps most relevant to last semester’s controversy was the restoration of the Judicial Board, which has the ability to try impeachments. The Judicial Board was dissolved in spring 2019 due to inactivity, and its absence proved problematic during the attempted impeachment since there was no mechanism through which to try the officers. This function is now encompassed by the Judicial Board’s power of judicial review, through which it ensures that the members and actions of the VSA are in compliance with the existing constitution and bylaws. The Judicial Board also has the power to adjudicate cases involving disputes within the VSA and to populate the standing and ad hoc committees of the college.
Also included in the constitutional changes is the elimination of the boards system, which enabled the Executive Board, the Board of Elections, the Judicial Board and the newly established Board of Residential Affairs to function within the VSA as separate bodies, rather than under a unified boards system. The package also reorganized the student delegates system, replacing at-large representatives with representation by senators on joint committees. This system is meant to ensure better representation of all class years on standing committees, creating a better sense of shared governance within the VSA. Among other smaller changes in the way VSA operates, the VSA website was refurbished by Aguilar this summer, and a new comprehensive training program has been implemented for senators, who in the past received no training.
The Commission also sought to better prepare VSA to tackle problems that may arise in the future, or are too large to solve just in one summer of amendments. This led to the creation of multiple new committees. One of these is the Athletics Committee, which establishes a formal space for athlete representation in the VSA. This committee is intended to facilitate communication between Vassar’s athletic and non-athletic communities. Mazurkiewicz explained, “We wanted to have a committee that can just foster discussions between athletes and non athletes because there have been poor relationships between those groups on campus for as long as I’ve been here.”
An additional new committee is the Communications Committee, which aims to improve communication from and within the VSA. Mazurkiewicz explained the necessity of this new committee, describing, “What we had to very much flesh out is the new committee on communications, because if I’m honest with you, people don’t know what the hell is going on in the VSA unless something is actively exploding.” Mazurkiewicz further explained that a main goal of the committee is to increase the accessibility of information to the student body about VSA activity and operations. He hopes this will foster greater student involvement in VSA.
Additionally, the Commission created the Community Affairs Committee to foster relationships between the college and the Poughkeepsie community. VSA President, Gabi James, explained, “I think one of the goals that I also had going into this committee was wanting to feed more relationships… between the people in Poughkeepsie in general and students.” James feels a stronger relationship between the school and community will be especially beneficial after a year of the bubble model, where Vassar was entirely isolated from Poughkeepsie. The final new committee created is the Labor Committee, which functions similarly to a union for Work-Study students. These new commissions are meant to create long term solutions for longer term problems on campus, rather than fix apparent problems in VSA function.
Mazurkiewicz, James and Aguilar are all hopeful that these changes will lead to a smoother running VSA and prevent issues like those that arose in the spring. Mazurkiewicz shared, “I’d say this is one of the biggest things I’ve accomplished in my time here, which feels good to be a part of but my barometer for how successful it is is going to be when we eventually get to some crises, right?” He continued, “Is it going to be a fiasco again where we’re yelling at each other and screaming or is it going to be handled?” The answer to this question will be central to how efficiently the VSA can operate in the years to come.