On Nov. 21, the VSA Senate passed the Student Advocacy and Casework Act (SR. 13). Much like members of the U.S. Congress, VSA Senators will be empowered under this bill to advocate on behalf of their constituents to the College administration, serving as liaisons under the newly-created Senate Casework System.
Next semester, students will be able to submit requests to their respective Class Senators on the VSA website through the Senate Casework System web form. Casework requests will then be automatically directed via email to the senator, who has exclusive power and responsibility to fulfill the requests.
Students’ names and other identifying information will be redacted in case files, so as not to disincentivize use of the system. Cases will be considered complete when a constituent has received the outcome they desire, when an alternative satisfactory outcome has been reached or when the Senator has made a demonstrable effort to reach an outcome when none could be reached.
Senators have wide latitude in conducting casework, including urging prompt consideration by administrative officials, arranging interviews or appointments, calling for reconsideration of administrative responses, among other things.
Senators are barred from conducting cases pertaining to the Academic Panel, the Bias Incident Response Team, Title IX or Student Conduct. Failure to carry out casework or carry it out appropriately is grounds for disciplinary action of Senators, up to and including impeachment.
When asked about his thoughts on the bill, VSA Vice President Ryan Mazurkiwicz ’22 stated: “I think it’s a really good idea. I mean, if you look at actual U.S. Senators, that’s something they do all the time. You write them a letter, say ‘Hey, I need this,’ and they use the power of their office [and] try and get it for you.”
“The concept for the Casework System developed in response to the perceived—and I think, real—disconnect between the VSA and the students we are elected to serve and represent,” recounted VSA Senator and bill co-author Joe Mangan ’23 in an email correspondence with The Miscellany News. He also mentioned: “The system is heavily inspired by the casework system of the United States Congress (it even borrows language from that system), which assists constituents in resolving matters involving a dispute of policy or issues relating to a government service.”
Mangan described the process of amending and trimming the bill to address concerns raised by the VSA: “Specifically, I worked with the Chair of Equity and Inclusion…to build out what I believe is a more secure and private casefile system.” Based on these conversations, the VSA agreed to explicitly disallow Senators from engaging in cases involving the Academic Panel, the Bias Incident Response Team, Title IX, and/or Student Conduct cases. This was done out of concern that these areas were beyond the expertise of any VSA Senator and would involve too much emotional labor on their part.
The Miscellany News received comments on the bill from a student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “I think [SR.13] is going to be incredibly helpful and will allow Senators to more fully execute their responsibilities…and actually represent [their constituents] in matters relating to the administration or faculty abusing their power over students.” She continued: “I hope that this gives students more confidence when advocating for themselves and helps the student body see that the VSA can accomplish real work.”
Mangan expressed: “I’m looking forward to seeing this bill being rolled out next semester and hope it tangibly improves life on campus for my peers.” He concluded: “Ultimately, I hope it fosters greater trust and connection between students and Senators and enables more effective advocacy and a more functional student government for the years to come.”