VSA Council Meeting Minutes—24 November 2013

Hey, everyone, we’re going to start in a few minutes. Today, Chris Gonzalez, next semester’s Editor-in-Chief will be liveblogging. Outgoing Editor-in-Chief, Bethan Johnson, will be assisting.

7:01 // Call to Order…..President
Absent: Student Life
Proxy: Davison

7:02 // Consent Agenda

Attendance ……………Operations
Consent Agenda
Business Club – Discretionary ($400/$500)
SEASA – Discretionary ($800/$1635)
CHOICE – Speakers ($1000/$1000)
Capital to NSO $30

All Consent.

7:03 // Wendy Freedman, Director of Counseling Services

FREEDMAN: I’m a clinical psychologist. Wanted to give you a brief overview of the services I offer. I’m really curious to focus this conversation on what matters most to you. You probably know we’re a fairly utilized resource. 500 students a year, and about half of Vassar by the time they graduate. We offer individual short-term counseling. There are only 5 of us in the office. Some students because of their circumstance have to go off campus for long-term services.
We have a psychiatrist who is there

One of my favorite things to do is run therapy groups. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet with other students and the facilitator. Some of them are topical in nature—social anxiety, body image, etc.

We want to do prevention work and outreach. We want to do some . We’re therapists but we’re also people. We’ve been doing a lot of partnering with different offices. We want to reach out to students who are from traditionally marginalized groups.

Emergency services are a big part of what we’re doing. We have a counselor on call 24/7. The evening and weekends we have a counselor on call. The counselors on call are the professionals. TLC and sometimes CARES will refer students to us.

Other thing I want to mention: I sit on the Student Support Network and Bias Incident Response Team as well as being the director. I’m fairly new, but I can talk about my experience in working on those teams.

We’ve been trying to get out and be an ally for the community. We’re also building our counseling services for the fall—a post-doctoral fellow and social work interns.

MAIN: What’s the College’s policy for students who have expressed self-harm or have those tendencies?

FREEDMAN: Well with students with suicidal thoughts we usually come up with a safety plan. We assess to see what level of risk there is. A plan is one level but intent is another level. So if at all possible we try to manage through the counseling service. If a student expresses intent to self-harm or injure another student we haSt. Francis has a psychiatric emergency room and that’s where we stabilize them.

Most of the time students who self-harm are not suicidal. So we try to come up with a safety plan. If someone self-injures we need to contact a medical professional. Sometimes students who think they are okay will have cuts that need further medial attention, etc.

OPERATIONS: About the SSN, are students being discussed by the network notified about that status?

FREEDMAN: Information will come in that a student is struggling. The team meets every Tuesday and that information will come up. We look at what the student might need and what resources they might need. We figure out who has the best relationship to that student to reach out and explain to the student why they are on that list.

PRESIDENT: For the group therapy session, how do you pick the time for those? And is there any leeway?

FREEDMAN: It’s something we struggle with. Some groups are set for a specific time depending on when we have counselors available and when a room is available. We try to be mindful about privacy. With the interpersonal relationship groups we try to offer them at different times. For topical groups we use a When Is Good document. We can usually accommodate most of the students. A lot of groups run Wed. between that 3-5 hour because there are no classes offered.

PRESIDENT: One of your main initiatives is student outreach, what can we do as student leaders to help?

FREEDMAN: One of the major issues we’re seeing. We all go through hard times, but what do we do those emotions. A lot of students are coming in, to no fault of their own, without having learned those skills. So we’re trying to think about how students can learn more of those skills to manage and tolerate really hard feelings. There are skills we can learn. The other thing, Self-care, is really important. We know when people are struggling with anxiety and depression, not sleeping and not taking care of yourself is the worse can you do. We’re trying to figure out how we can promote Self-care as a campus.

As student leaders you’re interacting with

2014: One of the most common critiques of Metcalf I hear, is that you don’t have enough counselors. But how do we rank in comparison to our other schools?

FREEDMAN: Across the country, there is usually one counselor to 1800 students. But we’re being more utilized. It’s an interesting dichotomy. We are over staffed,
Three years ago the discussion of a post-doc wasn’t on the table. But now it’s being taken seriously.

TOWNHOUSES: Do you have any tips for students with finals coming up?

FREEDMAN: I think the hardest thing, I think it’s really hard to say no to things. Especially you all, you wouldn’t be in these postions if you were dedicated to serving. I want to work with students to learn how to set limits and how to say no. This is the worst thing to say to college students, but sleep is very important. If there’s a way to try to get enough sleep and maintain a regular sleep schedule, but…huge in terms of functioning and managing stress.

CUSHING: During house team orientation, my house team expressed some concern that there wasn’t a counselor on call while we were there. Is there a way we can make that happen?

FREEDMAN: Right now we’re available while the houses open and the houses close around graduation. So we haven’t had an on-call counselor, but it’s something we need to think about.

NOYES: In terms of psychiatrist, how do we rank with other schools?

FREEDMAN: If you look at our sister schools, we’re significantly under. One of the things we’re talking about is moving to integrated health. We talked a bit if there is a way to be more collaborated with the health services, if we could have a psychiatric nurse available who would be cost less.

2015: I was curious about the integrated health concept. Could you tell us where that is in terms of the discussion process and what the time line looks like?

FREEDMAN: I wish I could tell you a time line. In a perfect world, we would have a Wellness building. There are about a thousand ways that could actually look. They’ve been talking about this for at least six or seven years. We’re talking about getting training for all three of our offices. We’re seeing if we can get more effective training for those with disordered eating—health services, nutritionist and counseling, for example.

Operations: Last week we talked about the smoking secession… We talked about how smoking might be related to stress. Is there a way for Health Services to look into that.

FREEDMAN: There is a certain level of abuse which is self-medicating for stress, anxiety, etc. Part of our challenge in terms of outreach, is that if we create something it’s hard to get people to come to it. We have more success if we come into preexisting groups. We’d be curious to hear any ideas around how to get this training out to a group to people.

OPERATION: Putting on the hat of EMS, we really appreciate the help you give us in terms of training.

FREEDMAN: I have a lot of support for EMS. And we would be happy to come into different groups and talk to them as well.

PRESIDENT: Houses have study-breaks. Would you be willing to come and do like stress-related study-breaks?

FREEDMAN: I did that with Strong last year, and it’s something we would love to do.

TOWNSTUDENTS: I wanted to know about how confidentiality is handled, and about data collecting. Where does that data go?

FREEDMAN: We do collect data for demographic and the type of concerns they came in for. We don’t give out any data related to identifying students. When we work with other offices, other offices will share information with us, but we don’t share any information out unless we have a signed release. So when we sit with the SSN, for example, we don’t reveal anything about them. We don’t reveal that we know them or that they’ve come to see us. They don’t know, now we know, because I have access to a laptop with our notes that no one has access to, that we would refer them. Within the counseling service we talk fairly openly with each other, but that says only within the counseling service.

PRESIDENT: Thank you for coming in and thank you for all of the work that we do.

FREEDMAN: I really mean that we’re interested in the ideas that you have. Having student feedback is very important to us.

7:39 // Exec Board Reports

ACTIVITIES: There’s been some concern with activity going on in spaces. Be respectful these spaces are used by multiple people. Founder’s Day is in the works. Applications for community chair positions are due Dec. 3rd. The survey with the theme choices will be coming out. Storage space project is underway. We’re meeting with the ROC to look over the spaces for the orgs that have requested them. VSA Webmasters have helped me in creating a dashboard for preliminary orgs, where they can upload their constitution and mission statements. Next semester, the committee will be planning a second activities fair.

MAIN: Good job.

FINANCE: Hi everybody. I will be emailing you the blurb I typed up for exec fund levels. We’re ordering new VCash machines. They should be in service by the beginning of next semester. We’re meeting this Wednesday. We are spending money a little too quickly in the Speaker’s fund. I’m not worried.

7:44 // Discussion

PRESIDENT: A lot of people have been contacting me about various forms of communication on campus. For instance, the email on Tuesday on campus that Cappy sent out about the two students who were removed from campus. A lot of people were upset, and we can’t do anything about something that already happened. But I was wondering if you had any feedback about the way administration communicates with us.

2015: Class Council met today and we discussed that information coming as an email is less effective than something else. People would prefer to be communicated with in some way other than an email. We also wanted to know about what policies govern when you decide to send out an email about the investigation. It looked pretty odd that it came out then with that information.

RAYMOND: Our House Team had a heated discussion. People felt Cappy’s email was an odd level of vague. Too vague because it didn’t give people information they wanted to know. But vague enough to manipulate the information that students did have. I don’t know, people just felt that administration was being manipulative.

TOWNHOUSES: I think it’s great we’re having this conversation. All of the emails all at once throughout the week was a lot for students’ stress levels. As students we have a lot going on, and I wish the administration was more concerned about how we’re going to take this. Even though it needs to be sent, maybe waiting.

PRESIDENT: It sounds like email messaging in general, there’s kind of mixed feelings about it. Maybe, I don’t know, our professors utilize Moodle. Maybe if we had something like there where students could

FINANCE: I felt both emails, all emails from administration, have this sense of closure and finality. There’s no follow-up. And not recognizing that there will be reactions.

2017: I think the past emails created confusion. They didn’t clarify.

JEWETT: I feel like the way the email was sent out was most valuable. It’s the one thing that will guarantee everyone will look at it. Administration was being real with us byt giving out as much information as they can give out.

PRESIDENT: Good point. There’s a lot of information they legally can’t share with us.

JOSSELYN: My only concern was that it was this low-key stab at being transparent. But it put a big distinction between students and administration.

PRESIDENT: I think it’s a good point, the emails need to have some way for students to react.

FINANCE: I mean at the end of the day the student leaders and House teams are the ones dealing with this. So maybe they can host something as an opportunity for students to discuss these things.

AT LARGE: I kind of felt that something happened and they took advantage of that opportunity to say look we’re doing things, instead of trying to find a solution to these issues of hate.

OPERATIONS: No matter what that email said about those incidents of bias, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t very real incidents of bias. I took issue with the email. I think we need to have dialogues about bias and language and about speech.

JOSSELYN: I also felt that when Cappy said we’re handling it, it felt like a pass on the people who were hurt by those messages. It was saying if you don’t want to get hurt, don’t write this stuff.

PRESIDENT: I know Cappy and Roellke were reaching out to the Spectrana group, the ALANA Center, but we have to recognize that students who don’t identify with those groups are also affected.

2015: People also discussed that the attitude the administration had was linked to this incident. They were smug.

JAMES: I was talking to Luis Inoa, about the distrust and vagueness this email came with. He said we can’t give out too much information, but the students who were responsible were removed. We talked about it in our House Team, but we don’t know what the administration is doing. Inoa asked me if the campus was lighter after this, but I think it’s the complete opposite.

PRESIDENT: One thing that came out of BIRT was moving forward. When it comes to student demands like gender neutral bathrooms and having more safety and security, those are clear actions that administrators can support.

SOCOS: While we understood while it was important to contact those students who were most affected, there needs to be a way for students who don’t fall into those groups can access that information.

TOWNHOUSES: Personally, I think more dialogue needs to happen. In the past there’s been this idea that we’re talking enough about it. But this last week has showed me that there needs to be talk between students and administrators, and students and the VSA.

RAYMOND: I want to speak to the point that demands are the best way to reach out to administrators. But these demands are made because students feel like it’s the only way for them to be heard.

PRESIDENT: Administrators probably don’t realize they’re not doing anything wrong, but that’s why we give feedback. There’s very specific ways they listen and respond to things we bring up.

OPERATIONS: I think something on our side we could do better is helping students on campus who have issues get to the administrators. I know people like to write out a list of demands. I would be happy to sit with any student who is interested in writing out a list of demands. So that we could make sure to get as much of the students voices, so they can say what they want to say, but so we can also mitigate it to the administrations so they would be more likely to respond.

JEWETT: Can you ask administration what their take is on the student labor dialogue? It’s something that deals with the people who make Vassar.

PRESIDENT: That is a good point. It sounds like you all have a very good grasp on what students are thinking or responding. It shows you are good leaders. Second, I think a lot of this is productive feedback.

8:06 // Special Elections

OPERATIONS: Basically we held an emergency council meeting to vote on a time line for special elections. People have raised some concerns throughout the week.

2016: So everyone has the time line that we approved. I have a couple of concerns. One, the time line said that any student who holds a VSA postion or a judicial board postion is ineligible to run. I hope we can address some concerns that I have with how we choose to follow the by-laws. This is the election we approved, but I don’t feel the eligibility requirements meet the standards we approved. I understand there are things in the bylaws, but this is what we approved. I think the bylaws are confusing in regards to who can and cannot run given the applications to these rules.

OPERATIONS: The bylaw in question is on page 30 of the governing documents. Section 6 of Article 10, specifically subpoint e.
House team and class council reps are eligible to run for committee positions, whereas exec board members cannot. The bylaw here is fairly straightforward here. We are not telling people they cannot run for this position, but they would just have to resign their other position.

AT LARGE: The Jud Board was called in for an emergency meeting to review the VSA bylaws. Within the same day, we were informed that the VSA made a decision without our help. We are just a bit confused.
2014: There was confusion about student fellow eligibility for the position. We met with Luis Inoa to discuss the issue. The situation in specific was resolved earlier so there was no reason to have the emergency meeting.

FINANCE: Can I look at the emergency council meeting minutes?

AT LARGE: What is the protocol about resigning a VSA position before running?
OPERATIONS: You cannot run for more than one council position at more than one time. The exception is in the Spring Semester. There should never be overlapping terms, so that was the problem in this special election scenario.
PRESIDENT: Because special elections are special, the protocol is more subjectively decided. The Student Life position sits on various committees and that would impact the eligibility of individuals.

JEWETT: Can there be something written down about our procedure so that it is made clear?

FIANCE: My question is, does the approving of this time line trump the bylaw?
PRESIDENT: There is no conflict. It is simply additionally true.

2015: I think that the subsection E is very confusing and being interpreted in a variety of ways. I think that the context is not the context of how other people are thinking about it. Now it seems to mean that you can’t apply to two positions, but not run for one and holding another. It is additionally confusing given our Spring elections. So maybe we should re-write this bylaw.

OPERATIONS: Operations Committee is currently reviewing the bylaws; we do know that they are confusing. We appoint board of elections co-chairs, so they should also be getting feedback. People should remember that we had no more preparation for this surprise resignation than anyone else. We met the same day as we found out to make this election as equitable as possible. It should be remembered we tried very hard and we did our best.

RAYMOND: I know that some people were not thrilled with this process but I want to thank Operations, 2014, and Zach Struver for their work.

PRESIDENT: This didn’t happen in a vacuum. There were emotions and other situations going on, so this was more complicated. Also, thank you for your feedback.

2016: I am still confused. What the bylaws said is that all VSA Council members were not eligible. But the email from BOE said that any VSA elected member is not eligible to run, which includes members of committees.
2014: Yes that is true and they do contradict, but that is the way we conducted this election. This information has come up too late now. I am not sure what you want.
OPERATIONS: In terms of this document, I made a mistake. I sent out a clarification email as soon as I could.

MAIN: At which point did we decide to choose to do a special election?
PRESIDENT: We decided to do so at the emergency meeting.

FINANCE: I want to look at what can we do moving forward. Can we motion this discuss this in a committee so that the bylaw can be reviewed. Maybe we could send it to the board of elections.


2016: My problem with this isn’t the rule itself but the procedure behind this. What I felt is that we have a Council that could control what happened here. I feel like the BOE told us what was going to happen and we didn’t discuss it. We didn’t even receive an email explaining where the error was made. I apologize if I came off as agressive or making demands.

PRESIDENT: I think it would have been great that more people knew/reviewed the bylaws. In the future, I will send the bylaws in question before the meeting.

SOCOS: FINANCE moved to table this bylaw. I don’t understand why.
PRESIDENT: The wording is somewhat confusing in terms of how to hold one position and run for another.

2014: I think we will codify a set protocol for special elections. As far as I know, no special elections have taken place while we have been at Vassar.

NOYES: I think it is worth considering changing the bylaw rather than simply amending it.
PRESIDENT: I had a lot of concerns about committee members and their level of eligibility.

VOTE: Table this bylaw to the Board of Elections and Operations Committee.
Opposed: None
Abstentions: None


8:33 // Open Discussion

2014: I’m just going to tell you how many days left. There are 181 days 13 hours 26 minutes and 20 seconds…until graduation.

2016: So my class council met this past week and we talked about a bunch of different things. One thing we talked about is the blast email that gets sent out covering the bias incidents. I know we talked about this last week and about whether or not it gives power to the people doing these things. The consensus was there should still be a way for students to have access to this information. It’s naive to believe that just because an email isn’t sent out it means that students aren’t going to find out about this information.

PRESIDENT: That’s what I was saying about the Moodle Post. When something happens on campus, how many of you check SayAnything or Facebook…that’s all gossip.

JOHNSON: I wanted to let you know that I am going abroad next semester and Gonzalez will take over. But feel free to email questions to Gonzalez and myself.

OPERATIONS: I move to open secretary 2016 until Monday, Dec. 2 at noon. Council will vote on the recommendations on Sunday, Dec. 8. Interview dates will be announced later.


2015: There is a concern that juniors abroad right now can’t vote. According to the bylaws they should be able to vote.

JOHNSON: I know you’re reviewing for those who are coming back, what about those are leaving?

OPERATION: Because this is a decision that will affect everyone who will be here next semester, I will email CIS to make sure everyone can be eligible to vote.

RAYMOND: We talked to Inoa about dorm damages. So, I think we’re going to end up drafting a letter to Reslife to spread out the dorm damages. That’s in the works. Also, VHP threw together ver quickly….so tomorrow there’s going to be a Feeling Session for everyone who wants to talk about how they were affected by the hate speech.

JEWETT: I just want to say that we have our VPs and they have their own special thing they are for. So if something is already happening due to time or whatever the situation is, I feel like we should just say this is a thing, we made a mistake, it’s happening, come to this meeting if you have any concerns. I think one of the things we’re trying to do is be more efficient as a council.

MAIN: I think OPERATIONS, THE PRESIDENT AND 2014 and AT LARGE member have done a good job.

AT LARGE: As the only student fellow running, I wanted to show my appreciation. I also wanted to show appreciation to whoever on VSA backed me up because there was hate speech against me on SayAnything saying I was abandoning my fellow group.

TOWNHOUSES: I sent out a smoking ban survey, out of 250 surveys I got 3 responses. I did want to address this issue that e-cigarettes are covered under the ban.

2015: I think Renee Pabst was adamant about ecigarettes not being a thing.

OPERATIONS: I think it said nonFDA approved ecigarettes.

ACADEMICS: We’re trying to bring the New york Times to the campus, but I was wondering if there are other publications people wanted to come to the campus. If there are any news sources not available you would like to see on campus, please let me know.

STRONG: Hello. I made a list of people I want to give knocks to. To Deb, you never get any knocks and you deserve them. To Zach and Connor, for putting this election together. And Ali, you get a special one because you’re the best. Stephanie, because I heard your recital was great. 2015 and 2017, way to put on a Mug Night inspired by Google. And to my House Team for putting on an event last night.

OPERATIONS: You can’t forget to knock for the fantastic Strong.

RAYMOND: So it’s been a stressful semester and week, so I hope everyone enjoys their Thanksgiving. I move to adjourn.


8:50 // Meeting adjourned.