VSA, WSC petition against mandatory room and board costs

Image courtesy of Vassar VSA.

On Sunday, Nov. 13, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) presented a statement on the imposition of mandatory costs for intersession room and board, recognizing that the minimum $5/day fee disproportionately impacts low-income and international students who cannot return home during breaks. “The meager income these students receive from campus employment is already not enough to cover basic living expenses. Substantial barriers already exist between low-income students and the ‘Vassar experience’ promised for everyone; establishing mandatory minimums costs widens these gaps,” the VSA Operations Committee wrote in a letter to the College.

The Working Students Coalition (WSC) initiated the petition and presented it to the VSA during one of the weekly Sunday meetings. Members of the WSC and VSA, Charlie From ’25 and Noon Elmostafa ’25, collaborated with other signatories to draft the document. As From explained in an email correspondence, “The petition and its language evolved through this process, making it really the work of the community.” Around 450 students signed the petition upon its presentation to the VSA.

From detailed the petition’s demands, writing, “The petition explicitly calls for the College to remove the mandatory minimum cost of $5/day on break room and board and [to] make the room and board cost directly proportional to the amount students pay in tuition, the way most students on financial aid pay for break.” The WSC also hopes the College will address other flaws in financial aid policies, like the low wages and earnings cap of on-campus jobs and the high cost of textbooks. 

Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana responded to the petition in an email. He explained that pre-matriculation tuition for Fall and Spring semesters do not include break periods: “Accordingly, there is an additional cost associated with room and board during the intersession.” The $5/day fee began in 2005 to cover the cost of room over breaks, but after concerns about food insecurity, the College expanded the policy to cover meals as well, devising the Break Advisory Group (BAG). “As part of our quality improvement process, we also survey students after each intersession to better understand what meals and food options worked best for students,” he added. 

Intersession cost functions on a case-by-case basis. Students who do not receive financial aid are required to pay $45/day, which, Alamo-Pastrana wrote, is still lower than the $70/day expense to the College when providing room and board: “Thus, the College heavily subsidizes the cost for all students.” He added that the College does not want financial barriers to prevent students from staying on campus, especially when personal safety is a concern, and in rare cases, students can work with the College for further accommodations. 

On Friday, Nov. 2, the WSC met with several deans to confer about the proposed changes. From was optimistic about the discussion: “I considered the meeting productive as they recognized the problem and the solution we are proposing.” They added that another meeting is forthcoming.

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