Letter to the Editor: The case for a students’ building

We, the President and Vice President of the Vassar Student Association (VSA), oversee a 154-year-old governing organization. “The mission of the Association shall be to serve, represent, promote the interests of and improve the welfare of the undergraduate students of Vassar College,” as reflected in Article I, Section 2 of the VSA Constitution. To accomplish our mission, our government has established and now executes an advocacy agenda of 11 priorities and 43 initiatives based entirely on surveyed student opinion, organizes and facilitates a range of programming events and finances, and manages over 165 student organizations. We understand deeply that vibrant social life, general student welfare, positive social change and transparent decision-making on our campus hinge upon the contributions of our student organizations. In recent years, however, burgeoning shortages of space within Vassar’s buildings have increasingly threatened the permanence and security of our student organizations’ offices, storage closets and capital items. To ensure the long-term vibrancy of student life and curtail the space allocation crisis on campus, we believe urgent action must be taken by the College to establish or expedite plans to renovate and transform the College Center into a true Students’ Building. 

Vassar has an acute shortage of space, which will only worsen without significant corrective action. Every year, the College grows, our government approves five to 10 new student organizations, and the College establishes new programs requiring new staff members. Meanwhile, the available office and storage space on campus remains fixed in place. Our records indicate that 70 VSA organizations now share 40 spaces across campus. Many of these spaces are cramped and poorly maintained basement closets scattered throughout campus buildings, particularly within our variably maintained residential houses. In previous years, capital items paid for by the VSA—valuing thousands of dollars in total—have gone missing due to the inadequate security of these spaces. To provide immediate relief to the situation, the VSA is now in the process of investing an initial $50,000 to refresh these spaces and provide storage lockers to protect capital items. However, we recognize that these steps are ultimately a short-term band-aid for a crisis that is not of our doing; we are now faced by the consequences of the College’s decade-long deprioritization of student spaces. We are currently unable to allocate space to many requesting organizations and the problem will only intensify moving forward. While our current plans will make every effort to provide spaces and resources equitably and strategically, it remains ever-looming that the spaces provided to student organizations are insufficient, constrain their current operations and limit future growth of student activities.

As the College expands, administrative operations have encroached upon, and now threaten to displace, student organizations from the College Center. This semester, the College’s need for a new office space resulted in the revokement of VCTV’s College Center office and provoked discussion of the potential sharing of The Miscellany News office—a small but long-standing allocated space dedicated to one of the oldest College newspapers in the country—with multiple publication-based organizations. These organizations require a fixed amount of space for production, editing, filming and broadcasting, and the suggestion that they may soon need to share space not only threatens their operations but also signals a fundamental failure by the College to invest in the student spaces necessary for vibrant social life, general student welfare, positive social change and transparent decision-making on our campus. While the VSA has worked and continues to work behind the scenes to dampen the blow, we have no tangible authority over the revocation of spaces within the College Center. We, instead, are mere messengers of the College’s space allocation decisions; serving in this capacity has and will continue to jeopardize our commitment to protect and defend the interests of our peers.

While we recognize and appreciate that some effort has been made by the College to ease the impact of these immediate changes in space allocation, and are particularly grateful to our VSA Advisor in her efforts to investigate all possible alternative solutions, we remain gravely concerned that the College’s priorities and building projects do not confront the shortage of student activity space on campus in either the short- or long-term future. While the College’s construction of a hotel and conference center may—as some note—provide tangential benefit to the wider Vassar community, there remains no building project or College priority that dramatically improves or directly addresses the breadth of our residential college experience. 

We recognize that the shortage of space on campus impacts administrators and student organizations alike. However, the VSA’s lack of tangible authority over the allocation of space ensures that administrators may both offset the impact of the crisis onto student organizations and subsequently delay the administration’s personal need for physical solutions to the problem. We urge the College to reaffirm its commitment to the promotion of a well-rounded student experience, particularly as it relates to our student activities, beyond the general applause to student organization programming and through real investment in student space. The College needs to provide students with the appropriate amount of quality space and authority over those spaces as is necessary for us to continue providing the robust activities and opportunities our peers need.

The time for a Students’ Building was yesterday; the next-best time is today. 

 

This opinion editorial is the shared private stance of the VSA President and Vice President, and does not express the official opinion of the Vassar Student Association, its membership or any of its bodies. Any references to our position titles in this editorial are made solely for the purpose of identification, not to suggest the VSA’s endorsement.

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