VSA Debate

Welcome to the 2014 VSA Debate! Our Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Gonzalez will be moderating the discussion.

We begin with opening remarks.

The following are candidates for VSA President.

Regina Krawiec: “As president I hope to bring a fresh perspective to the VSA…I want to focus on bringing strong morale support to VSA council and its respective constituencies to have a student government that runs effectively and efficiently.”

Carolina Gustafon. “Through the experience of being Strong President I got to be on the VSA and I noticed that there wasn’t the same kind of community and empowerment that there is on House Team. I was disappointed to see that because I think the best progress and the best growth can come from environments where people work together instead of simply trying to force their own agendas. We should be reaching out to hear a variety of perspectives and we know that VSA is not a completely representative body right now and that’s not how a student government should be. I want to bring new ideas to create an effective body to move things like social justice and awareness that the students have pushed the VSA to recognize while the VSA has continued to make bylaws that haven’t effected any change.”

Ali Ehrlich: “I would really love to serve as your 2014/2015 President. I think that student government can have a purpose and do something well, and we only do a few things well. I love Vassar, I love Vassar students, and I love the Vassar Student Association. Student government can do something. I don’t think the VSA is what it can be or what it should be and I think we’ve lost the purpose of it a little bit. The VSA isn’t something that we join because we think we’re going to have a ton of fun doing it, though it will also be fun–but we do it because we want to serve the student body and offer them change and empowerment. I would like to see a VSA that doesn’t focus on itself, but on the students.”

Vice President for Student Life candidates make their statements:

Hannah Matsunaga:  I’d just like to list 3 things most important to me: accessibility. I was shocked to learn that the majority of residence halls are not wheelchair accessible. This affects families and students. Access to mental health services: increasing number of counselors at Metcalf is good–making the position 11 rather than 10 months. We can’t have counselors over spring break. Institutional memory: lots of great projects have been started and I do respect that.”

Iyana Shelby: “For some of though who might be asking ‘Who am I?’ as I often ask myself, I like to align myself as a black woman from a low-income background. I have found that while this school claims to be open and diverse, it often doesn’t offer me security and a place on campus. Simply, I am running for your VP for Student Life because, as my statement says, ‘I care.’ I want to reach those who feel unprotected and unhappy and give them a sense of security.”

Adit Vaddi: “I’ve been on he executive board of the South Asian Students Allianc where I have been able to collaborate with ALANA orgs. Working with these people, in addition to working on Cushing House Team, has exposed me to a lot of problems on campus. I would like to create a more accessible and inclusive VSA by incorporating more classes of the community. This extends to adding resources in Metcalf, supporting the LGBTQ community, athletes, and our beloved workers. I feel like I could represent your ideas, hopes, and opinions as a successful VP for Student Life.”

Marcos Vargas: “I personally think right now there isn’t enough support for certain groups of intersectionality. There isn’t enough being done there. In my opinion, I think orgs like the Woman of Color Alliance is a great initiative to give students a voice. This extends a lot in academic situations where often we deal with some classes in which you feel like your voice is unheard even if you’re discussing topics that have to do with who you are. Recently there has been the problem of no representation of Asian women in the women’s studies department. There are different areas where these issues come up in the every day.”

Open statements for Vice President for Operations.

Josh Tempo: I have noticed there are some areas on campus where the VSA isn’t as present as it should be. As VP for Operations my goal would be to make it an obligation to be absolutely present. I would like the VSA to have a better reach on campus.

Ramy Abbady: I’m a sophomore physics major. This year I’ve been Raymond House President, I’ve led house team and served on council. Because of my involvement I feel i’m qualified for the position. The position involves reaching out to student body. The two biggest issues I see are inclusion and accessibility. I feel the VSA needs to increase its social consciousness. I’ve attended dialogues regarding issues students of specific identities have faced. As VP ops I would work to improve VSA training because it caters to only certain students. As student leaders we need to be versed in these issues to better understand the work ahead. I have more ideas I hope to talk about.

Logan Hill: I’m unopposed but passionate. In terms of what I’d like to do, lots of suggestions have come up such as things that are very basic such as releasing syllabuses online earlier. They weren’t accepted by faculty but I want to work collaboratively with students and faculty to find solutions. The academics committee has put out newsletter, it hasn’t happened but I want to work more on it. I think this is an opportunity to showcase work that students do. I would like most things other people have suggested so far.

Opening statements for Vice President for Activities.

Reuban Monocada: In the past I’ve been house VP and am currently house pres, working in SARC. I’ve eitnessed problems that occur with events planning. I watn to improve programming overall by reaching out to student body. Better representing the student body especially those silenced.

I want to run for VP for Activities because, having been Noyes President this year, we’ve had a lot of difficulties doing programming, and that isn’t something that’s specific to Noyes. For example, we were just notified that we had to postpone the Noyes Soiree for three weeks. We put a lot of work into that event and it’s too bad that it had to be postponed. I want to promote new organizations like club sports so students who might not have the time to play on a team have the opportunity to play.

Ashley Forjoe: “I believe I’m the best candidate. I bring experience as an intern for the Women’s Center, I’ve worked with lowest budget campus organizations. This has taught me how to organize activities on campus. I’ve learned how to serve others and organize successful events and work with SARC office to adhere to Vassar rules. I bring diversity open mindedness and an empathetic year. I am confident in the value I can ad I want to be a resource for the people and make sure everything on campus runs smoothly and is successful.

Opening statements for Vice President for Finance.

Max Moran: “I remember when I was running for my first position at Vassar and everyone kept telling me that it goes by so quickly and to make sure you enjoy it, and here we are, almost halfway done. Working on the VSA, is about serving the itnerests of the student bodies. I have a bunch of ideas about what we could do, but none of that matters because it’s about you. This is my second term as class president and I really love the position. I have also been org treasurer for a couple years.”

Kain Smith: “I learned early on, and have been continuously reminded since then, that the VSA is a bureaucratic institution within an even larger institution. I learned most of my academic year learning how to operate within a relatively static beuaracracy. Being a treasurer within the context of working outside of the VSA, those sorts of things are what’s propelling me to run for this position as VP of Finance. As treasurer for VPL I’ve been affected by VSA’s decisions and their general impressions. I’ve learned how to navigate within static and permanent beuracracy. Being an outsider of VSA but sitting through 2 leadership conferences as well as wanting to provide great programming, this has made me want to run for the position and expand on social consciousness funds.”

Chris Gonzalez: How do you plan on garnering interest in student government from an apathetic student body?

Caroline Gustafon, Presidential candidate: I would like to first get VSA more involved in House Team. I know that I had no idea what the VSA did before I served on council. I would like to incorporate the VSA more into house team training. I had the idea to make a VSA study break where we bring VSA council into houses so that students who are generally interested but might not want to reach out to us directly, can begin to understand the issues we deal with. Also right now the VSA is very closed off. I want a VSA that goes out of its way to be friendly. I think right now the structure we have prevents our council from talking to the students at large. I would like there to be more presence and let students know that we actually want to hear their opinions. We say that we do that right now, but students know that isn’t true. Students aren’t apathetic, the VSA is just incredibly closed off.”

Ali Ehrlich: I thought Carolina’s answer was fantastic. I think calling students apathetic is an insult to the student body. I think that impression very much has to do with the fact that they don’t know what the VSA issues are, and that’s our fault. They do great things on campus. They might not vote in student elections, but they aren’t apathetic.

Regina Krawiec: I think we should allow students to speak directly to administrators and the Board of Trustees by allowing them to send the president questions. You can send these questions in via email and it’s a way to ensure that your opinions are reaching the people you want to reach.

Chris Gonzalez: How do you plan on balancing responsibilities and facilitating communication among campus centers?

Hannah Matsunaga, candidate for VP for Student Life: I feel like a lot of centers on campus are under utilized. I think that my way of reaching out to various centers–which I think those channels are in place, we just need to use them–would be to reach out to actual students with actual voices and not just relying on committees. We need something that goes beyond the official bureaucracy that exists now. If we can change the culture, that’s great, but if we can’t we need to start reaching out to the student body as whole.

Iyana Shelby, candidate for VP for Student Life: It’s not only working with these organizations but directing them to who can effect that change. It’s about working together and collaborating and creating a sense of solidarity among students on campus.

Adit Vaddi: I think hearing those voices are the most important thing. We need to have representatives from every single facet of our community, whether it be student life or campus in general. I’d invite representatives from the food community, for example, or an individual from Res Life, to talk to student life so we can communicate our concerns. We can change the culture, but changing that and the attitude of individuals takes a long time. I’d like to start off with inviting representatives and gradually we would start to see larger change.

Marcos Vargas: You can invite all of the identity orgs, but some of those people in those orgs might not feel comfortable expressing their opinions. I would like to try to explain that I want to be there to listen and hear anyone’s concerns and talk to them about it and make as much of a safe space for everyone as possible.

Chris Gonzalez: One of the things that came up this year was the VSA audit–do you think that would be something to pursue next year? What do you think happened with it this year?

Josh Tempro, candidate for VP Ops: I was aware of it and I thought it was a good idea because it was trying to address issues within the VSA. The audit should be something that’s pursued next year. It’s concerned with representation and that’s something we do care about.

Ramy Abbady: This year I also sat on Operations committee. I think it’s very important to pursue this because we were really trying to work on what issues matter to students. We will definitely be pursuing it next year and hopefully we’ll be able to make some changes within VSA.

What’s one of the first things you hope to accomplish if elected VP of Academics?

Logan Hill: I think things aren’t always clear. People are always posting, ‘How do I declare a major?’ and things like that. There is a lack of information there about things like what courses you can NRO or how to fulfill the Quantitative Analysis requirement. I think accessibility is a very important thing.

Why do you have the desire for club sports to exist and do you think this issue is present within the Vassar community as a whole?

Raph Korine: In terms of intramurals, they only meet once a week. Sports are a wonderful and important aspect of education. But for a lot of people that time commitment of varsity sports is too much. The idea behind club sports is to open it up to people who want to be involved with other things like theater, and allow them to set aside time for all of those things. Club sports meet twice a week and have an actual coach and have the opportunity to compete against other schools and in terms of commitment fall in between intramurals and varsity sports.

Deb Steinberg: I was wondering if you could speak to how you plan on filling the gap in 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. programming?

Reuben Monacada: People don’t really know how to proceed with events, oftentimes. Making these resources more accessible to students will be a huge help.

Ashley Forjoe: It doesn’t take a rocket science to program anything–you just have to have an idea about what you want to do. Most people just need a little guidance. I feel like the principle goal of the Vp for Activities is to help people and guide their ideas to ensure that they have achieve their goals for a successful event. I think there’s a big issue with incoming exec board leaders. The spring preparation, though to some extent effective, you leave without a lot of the working knowledge about how to submit things to the SARC office and work with them. Many groups don’t realize they don’t have priority for certain events and they turn out poorly. There should be a more interactive interface thing so that they can send in a request to SARC.

Raph Korine: I think the way you can promote events during the day–there are some orgs that are specifically catered to having events during the day. I would strongly urge orgs to collaborate with other orgs so that a whole variety of programming could fill in the 10 to 2 timeline.

Can you speak to the way Finance is run–what work does it need and how would you address those problems next year?

 Kain Smith, candidate for VP for Finance: One of the first things i’d like to change is the image that embodies the position. Going to five different meetings I’ve spent time outside before and after and people enter that space with apprehension and leave with disappointment. They might feel like the VSA has their grips on this money and they have to coerce them to give it up. I’d like to talk about the ways we’re carrying ourselves, because body language does have a big impact on how comfortable people feel. . also make sure fin com members are aware of what orgs are doing. I had to fill out funding out and had to reiterate what it was that my org is

Max Moran: Sometimes I lack the insight on what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table. I think that Finance has been having a big problem with its image. Every time we bring people into the room I feel that people are scared or apprehensive and they might feel like the VSA is keeping a hold on all of the money and keeping the $750,000 for itself. I’d like to have finance committee members designated for specific orgs–attend meetings and find out more information about how they operate. If people feel they are being advocated for and they know someone on the committee knows their org well, it will ease some of this tension.

Deb Steinberg: If there’s a bias incident on campus, how would you respond to it?

Ali Ehlrich: One of the primary jobs of a president or leader is to recognize when there’s a crisis. That requires us to stop and make that a priority. The first step is to talk to the people who are affected. I don’t think there’s ever a way to understand how someone is affected by a bias incident unless we ask them and show we care. I believe the most important thing we can do is try to emphasize a community and a restorative justice practice where we focus in on the people who are directly affected and follow up their wishes. Every bias incident is different and you can’t treat it in the same systematic way.

Carolina Gustafon: It’s important for me to first recognize that I do have a lot of privilege and we should be listening and not telling. On house Team we dealt with bias incidents this year and I can speak to how it feels to have someone tell you how you feel about an incident and what you should do. Strong has taken it upon themselves this year to move away from house team to tell people ‘this is how you should feel.’ We’ve tried to open up spaces where people can share their positive and negative experiences. I would like to take an approach of listening first and ask them how they would like to move forward.

Hannah Matsunga: Student life has a unique relationship with Res Life and Security. The first response to a bias incident should be making people feel safe, because that’s what bias incidents do–rob people of their security. Would more security make people feel safe or is that part of the problem? I also think smaller more closed-off groups of people directly affected by the bias incidents are more effective so that, for example, people of color don’t feel like they need to explain why they are upset.

Marcos Vargas: After a bias incident one of the most important things is that we create a healing system. As much as last year when Jewett dealt with bias incidents in our house, we opened up spaces for discussion. However, a lot of people don’t feel comfortable speaking in that space. Part of my position would be recognizing that I can’t always help someone cope and recover from a bias incident. I would then direct them to campus support systems who could help them.

Iyana Shelby: I think something that would really be important is moving forward from the bias incident. I feel as if, at least in my history, when bias incident do happen there is some transparency that comes along, but not much. However, after that it’s kind of swept under the rug and we forget about them. There is something to learn from these events and we should remember them. I would like to make sure that of course people feel comfortable and there is a sense of transparency, but I think the most improtant thing is to take a chance, take a pause, and see what happened, why it happened, and give people the opportinity to be upset about it. A lot of voices were silenced when it came to bias incidents this year. Simply, as VP for Student Life I would want to make sure that those who felt unprotected have the chance to feel heard and heal in the way they wish.

Regina Krawiec: As a president it’s important to first make sure that you’re not biased. For example, I’m a person of color. If it’s a racially charged bias incident, I too would be upset. I also think that it’s important to figure out why these incidents are happening which is difficult, because even though you want to inform people, the people creating these incidents don’t care and many people aren’t receptive. I think that’s something that needs to be discussed among council members and in the Vassar community at large. I think it’s important for people to have support systems. It’s not the responsibility of the people offended to inform other people and fix the problem, but I think it’s the council’s responsibility to keep people informed.

Adit Vaddi: If people are educated about the nature of the incident rather than just getting an email, it would promote an environment in which

Closing statements:

Regina Krawiec: If elected president I would like to form a student government that we are happy with. Currently the VSA isn’t viewed in the best light, and I would like to change that. We need to promote environment where community is supporting them and they feel comfortable.

Carolina: Students care and it’s time that the VSA starts respecting that. As VSA President, I would want to emphasize that I’m in no way of knowing every student’s view, opinion, experience, but I would hope to reach out to enough groups on campus to begin to understand and represent those experiences. I think I’m ready to begin to change the culture of the VSA.

Ali Ehrlich: Everyone on this platform has something in common which is just that we want to serve the student body and help and whatever decision you make is going to be great. I’ve served on council for two years and I’ve sat on every single standing committee of the VSA. In past years since I’ve been on council we have been far from a perfect body. But we learn from our mistakes and I hope I can mold them into something that will make a better future. It means making yourself a resource, looking at what resources that exist, creating a community within council and with the student body.

Hannah Matsunaga: It feels good to know that pretty much we all have the same goals. We all want more transparency, we want more accountability and a more socially just VSA. Everyone in this room wants the same thing. Someone is going to occupy the position and make those things closer to a reality. But I feel really blessed to be among a group of students who care so much that they would sacrifice so much of their time to make these goals a reality. I want all of us to keep each other accountable because we have great goals and I don’t want anyone here to give up what they believe in.

Iyana Shelby: I care. Basically, I wish to offer all of those out there the ability to be heard and represented on campus, and to feel safe and protected. Last year as a freshman, I didn’t feel those things and I shouldn’t feel that way about the school I go to. It’s a process in getting these changes enacted and it won’t just happen with us, but it’s something that will happen within the years to come. I want to break down the sense of hierarchy that exists with the VSA. I want to be there for you and first and foremost I’m also a student.

Adit Vaddi: I feel like my ideas and experiences will allow me to be a successful VP. It’s most important though that you do vote, for whoever.

Marcos Vargas: I think I’d speak for everyone here when we say that, in trying to represent students, personally if elected for student life it’s important to make this a welcoming environment for everyone. That holds not only for big events and big things, but student life is something that happens day-by-day and includes all of the stuff of our everyday lives. The position is here to make every single day comfortable for everyone on this campus.

Josh Tempro: When it comes to VSA council and VSA as a machine, a lot of voices go unheard because it feels like an isolating presence. We are all individuals. I’ve been an observer and a participant. It’s been a good experience at times. I do have experience with a lot of areas on campus and I know a lot of people who have good things to say.

Logan Hill: I’m really passionate about this position, and I also really care about making our experience at Vassar the best it should be. I’d like to make the experience a great one for students to come as well.

Reuban Monocada: No one has to be in  VSA elected position to make changes.

Raph Korine: Ability isn’t enough, experience isn’t enough. You need a drive and passion and I really believe I have that. I’m an international student–I have families and friends across oceans and time zones. I’ve made Vassar my home away from home and I care a lo about making it the best it can be.

Ashley Forjoe: I’m the person not to half-ass anything. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to give it my all. With my friends, school work, everything I do–it’s all or nothing. I would like to lead you and serve you in terms of activities. In regards to experience I love to organize and program–It’s something I actually have a love for. As a president of a breast cancer charity, I organize events, I organized things in high school that are still happening today. If you want to organize an event, come to me. I’ll make it happen.

Max Moran: I think that change is really important, but you can’t change what you don’t know. And I know this position very well. This is what I’ve been passionate about since my third week at Vassar. It’s something I really care about doing and that Ic an do really well. I think you can read my statement for more information because there are some things that I’d like to change. If you have meal swipes left over at the end of the semester, you should be able to donate that food to a local shelter. I think there should be a student activities fund so that students with financial need can participate in all campus activities that they want to.

Kain Smith: I believe there are merits in not having an entity with a long leadership of those with experiences. the ability to take into account perceptions is important. I’ve realized that policy exists for a reason but institutions who are empathetic are important. being a member of the listening center that’s a component i can guarantee is elected. the position is here for student orgs i envision a space where orgs don’t have to I envision treasures to be as involved as possible with myself and the exec board of the previous year. I am prepared to make emotional and time commitment to the position. I would like to be one of the first working class person of color VP of Finance we’ve had in a long time.

7:30 p.m.// That concludes the debate. Vote!