VSA Council Meeting—April 13, 2014

Hey, everyone! We should be getting started soon. First, I wanted to make a note. This will be the last time that I will liveblog the council meetings as Editor-in-Chief. Let’s get started.

7:00 // Attendance…. President
PROXIES: Town Students, 2014, Cushing, Davison
ABSENT: 2016, 2017, Town Houses, Finance, Operations

7:03 // Consent Agenda

a. Gabe Ross(Disc).………………………….……………………………………………..(0/1500)
b. SJP (Pre-org)..…………………….……………………………………………….(175/175)
c. Phil Majors (Disc)……………………………….……….…………….………..…(550/600)
d. WVKR (Collab)……………………………….……….…………….………(2000/2000
e. CHOICE (Speakers)……………….…………….……….………………….…(1200/2500)

Council consents to the agenda.

7:04 // Forum with Ben Lotto

LOTTO: Deb asked me to come and talk to you guys; I’m starting as Dean of Studies July 1st, I’m replacing Joanne Long, it’s a position I’m excited about. I worked as the Dean of Freshmen for 4 years, and have been on lots of committees; it’s a vital office for students. To remind you, the Dean of Studies Office consists of the Main Office with class advisors and transfer credits, domestic programs; it oversees 4 offices: Study Away, Fellowships, Accessibility, and oversees many committees—student records. I’ll be chair of the academic panel, I’m on a bunch of other things, most important is the curricular committee. I watch lots of students going through the curriculum. It’s always been a well-functioning office that was visible from the moment I walked on campus, and I’m honored to take on this role. I’m here to talk about what I’m interested in doing. I also want to hear what you guys are interested in, and I’ll make it open to anyone who has concerns about the office or committees.

TAs: What sorts of problems have you heard of that the Dean of Studies has had, how can that be changed?

LOTT: It seems to me that the volume of students that come through the Career Development Office and JYA and Accessibility, those offices seem to have gotten busier in my time, so I want to take a look at those offices, I want to hear from them how thy’re doing and what kind of solutions I can bring, it’s the main thing. Within the office itself, I’m walking into an office with a great reputation, it’s a privileged position, and I want to continue to nurture that relationship and be as open and transparent as possible, the conversations we’ve had when applying a rule need to be more transparent. The student might not walk away happy but will understand.

2015: Often there can be rumors about offices; I’ve heard the office has been intimidating or insensitive, for me that’s important, do you have plans for student feedback?

LOTTO: My door is open to anyone who wants to talk about any concerns, if there is this perception that the office is not fair or is being inconsistent I want to know about them, this goes back to the transparency issue: students don’t always come away happy, they often ask for an exception and often we say no. The language I always use is that we weigh the needs of one against the needs of many—if I say yes to everything I’m being unfair to everyone, and there are cases where there is an exception. I make sure the student is heard and that either the advisor meets with us once a week. We get back to the student with whatever the decision, we want them to feel heard, even when I make the decision in favor of the student I say I’m doing this but it was a close call. That’s how I address someone who comes to me with those complaints.

PRESIDENT: I want to follow up on that. I think generally it’s what you’re staying that students may feel heard but they don’t feel listened to, if that difference means anything, especially those who have had a triggering experience with films they’ve watched or panic attacks in class. It’s frustrating for them. My interpretation of it is that the policies in place are great for dealing with death in family, but with regard to trigger warnings and such the Dean of Studies is behind. There’s a request for more interaction with counseling services; TLC has training every week, maybe there’s a disconnect between Administration and students.

LOTTO: The Dean of Studies sits on the Student Support Network. I know it has a mixed review but it’s a point of contact, if there is an issue with a student or someone has heard something, every week I and others sit in room with director of counseling. When I was the Dean of Freshmen the counselors knew me better than maybe they wanted—it’s a funny relationship with privacy, it’s an unequal relationship for the generic student, and I can tell counselors about student or review them. The counselors can’t tell me if a conversation with a student has happened. I tell the student if I’m going to talk to counselor, and I’ve gone through many trainings with different people. One helpful group has been the consultant about Title IX training, those are the contacts we’ve had. When I go back to my room I keep a bullet point list; so I’ll put these concerns on there, what conversations might we have not about specific students but about the impact of mental health issues, it came up in my years so there aren’t maybe best practices out there.

PRESIDENT: Well our country doesn’t have the best grasp. On another note, I’ve worked with the dean of studies, how can you better acknowledge the good things your office does like fellowships so that it’s less intimidating?

LOTTO: I don’t have a handle on all of these resources. July 1st I’ll learn more. I do think Lisa Cooperman in the Fellowships Office does a great job at identifying them and promoting them. It’s overwhelming at this point. I was on the fellowship committee 15 years ago, and the amount they handle is probably double; she works to make sure students know about them and helps with applications so they can go through process. The Dean of Studies has funds, like the academic enrichment fund to support an academic project. “Navigating Vassar” was a publication meant to provide a list of all resources, but there are so many that it is overwhelming.

PRESIDENT: May I make a suggestion? I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Our generation likes Buzzfeed quizzes so maybe something set up like that, they’re bunched up together so it’s hard to read.

LOTTO: Dean of Studies just went through a website overall that’s better but not there yet, so making that better could be good. The IGF is well publicized, so there are some resources everyone knows about and some nobody knows about, and everything in between; it’s been true of many things for a long time.

AT LARGE—JOSHUA SHERMAN ’15: I recently went through the academic enrichment fund, and in that process I learned that it’s through the dean of studies. Some others are similar like transfer credits like AP’s and coursework taken in high school—these are all things floating under the dean of studies office, but is not well publicized. My professors didn’t know about grants that existed.

LOTTO: The academic enrichment fund has a funny history: it used to be under the President’s Office then moved. I don’t understand the history but I’m going to learn so I’ll take a look at that; we all know each other, Fellowship knows all the funds.

SHERMAN: The grants are very vague because they’ve been pushed around.

LOTTO: I think two or three others I don’t know much about because I haven’t interacted with them personally, so I’ll take a look at that and why these funds are administered directly. I should get some more concrete examples on there. Transfer policy is written down explicitly in catalogue, which no one reads, and there is a point person in the Dean of Studies Office; it would be great if you told me how to smooth that process. I’m more familiar with that from being the Dean of Freshmen; I’d love to hear what you’ve struggled with.

SHERMAN: It’s more about the publicity of it all.

ACADEMICS: Generally I’ve heard there could be more sexual assault sensitivity, how can offices deal with more diverse student body, and what sort of training do you see to better foresee that?

LOTTO: We receive regular training on sexual assault. I strongly encourage and require certain people to get that training regularly; having Lisa Cooperman as an in-house resource is good. I feel like we have good training. There’s been a lot of legal issues and that’s a shifting landscape too, and it’s my job to keep on top of that, as things evolve we need to adapt our rules. We want to be ahead of the curve
with regard to shifting demographics. Our challenge is the entire faculty and administration—it’s our job to meet students where they come from. I don’t know what specific training would cover it. I think listening carefully, hearing, understanding other factors at play, and hitting the pause button to consult with expertise and be very deliberate so that any student who comes no matter their background feels like we gave them a fair decision. We want to communicate that in a sensitive way.

SoCos: One of the things when people have complaints, some people don’t have the follow up they thought they should have, someone was told to make an appointment, they didn’t and they had no follow up. At a small school it would be good to follow up to make sure things are OK if a student hasn’t gotten back. We talked about “Navigating Vassar” as being a great resource, but we’re here 4 years only, so it would be a great project for the Offices to work on if they had the time.

LOTTO: The idea of the publication was to be a student-to-student thing. There is a lot of truth that information is not uniformly available and accessible to every student. It’s on my mind all the time, so figuring exactly how to do this comes to uneven information, its vital. I know I’m manic about follow up and details to figure out how to loop back to student with balance. I reach out to a student who’s not going to class, I reach out and I don’t hear back, and I reach out to the student fellow if it’s freshman. Navigating that with emerging adults is a hard balance to find.

PRESIDENT: Thank you for coming in. Thee criticisms aren’t all addressed to you since you haven’t started yet.

LOTTO: That’s the beauty of coming here. The interactions we have are high stakes; it’s important to get the feedback especially when it’s vague so it’s on my mind and so I can pass it on and make sure other offices know that this is the reputation that’s out there so they can be more inclusive and accessible. Feel free to come to talk to me anytime.

7:34 // Activities Reports

ACTIVITIES: The storage space project is complete; we’re still looking at spaces especially for free market, we’re trying to find them a permanent location, VSA org yard sale was a success yesterday. Founder’s Day is approaching—those committees are in good standing. Merch has arrived—merch like hats and sweaters will be sold starting soon in College Center. VCash will be accepted. Pre-org apps are open until 4/20. The Activities Committee and I have talked about getting a drum set for org usage. The one in the Mug is not useful. We’re looking at the idea of a recording studio.

7:36 // Finance Reports

2015: Activities and finance committee have access to see everything that’s been done with annual budgeting.

7:37 // Constituent Concerns

PRESIDENT: I will start with YOU *points to 2015* There is a new fro yo place across from Barnes and Noble on Route 9, all you can eat for $3.50 on Mondays.

2015: There was a bathroom sign hung on the LGBTQ center over the sign, we should say something about that.

STUDENT LIFE: The Joss laundry room is still not fixed. It sucks.

7:38 // Campaign Funds Amendment

SoCos: When we had candidates speeches, we were supposed to say we could help funding for campaigning. I wrote this amendment so that you contact the chair of board of elections for that to avoid conflict of interests.

7:40 // Decertifications

ACTIVITIES: 3 orgs that we recommend to be decertified. The Nordic Team has been inactive for 3 semesters, Vassar public art and polo team has mismanaged funds for several semesters.

JEWETT: Some have been inactive, does polo know about this?

ACTIVITIES: They do, some orgs have tried to get it going, polo team has told me that they are done.

Nordic Team: All in favor.
Polo Team: Noyes abstains. All in favor.
Vassar Public Art: All in favor.

7:42 // Open Discussions

JEWETT: 4/19—spring concert, please come on time and show support.

STUDENT LIFE: Student Life committee is doing an all-campus study break on 4/21 for “Munchie Study Break” unofficially. We’re baking chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes, and crepes. Hopefully it will be held in the Rose Parlor at 9 p.m. We’re planning a forum to open dialogue on the Title IX process, and the training IVP’s go through. People feel like the process has not represented them well enough. On 4/24 we’re working out room reservations.

SoCos: Elections are this week so if you’re campaigning, posters must be down on noon, April 15, Tuesday. Voting begins that day and ends April 17. Seniors can vote in exec positions. Elections results are Thursday, midnight in the Retreat.

JEWETT: Why are seniors are allowed to vote?

PRESIDENT: They’re proxies for freshmen.

SoCos: We kind of get to choose who we want as we leave.

RAYMOND: Mr. Vassar on Thursday, 8 p.m. in UpC.

TAs: This is in response to the quasi-cyber bullying that happened during exec debates. I respect those putting themselves out there in running for exec position.

7:48 // Council Adjourns.