VSA Council | December 7, 2014
Hey, everyone! Marie here, outgoing Editor-in-Chief, liveblogging the final VSA meeting of the semester! We’ll be getting started shortly.
7:02 p.m.//Call to Order, Attendance
Proxy: Noyes, SoCos
7:03 p.m.//Judicial Board appointment
Jewett: We interviewed six people. All of them were pretty qualified. We decided to go with Leah Brown. She had done her research and had some concrete ideas she would like to implement moving forward, so we are recommending here.
7:04 p.m.//Consensus Agenda
a. Generation (PreOrg) $200/$200
b. VCLU (Speakers) Tabled/$5000
c. SJP (PreOrg) $90/$200
d. VARC (Capital) $119.85/$119.85
e. UNICEF (Speakers) $3000/$3000
f. ViCE Film (Social Consciousness) $4000/$8000
g. Shiva Theater (Capital) Tabled/$7800
h. Minutes From 11/30/14
7:04 p.m.//CCL forum
Casey Hancock: Our purview of the past has been to make policy changes to the college regulations. In the past we’ve discussed things such as the keg ban, the transition to a smoke and tobacco-free campus and issues of that kind. We’re comprised of six students and about six faculty members. The six students include class reps, the three of us and one who isn’t here, as well as Hannah and the BHP co-chair, Drew. We’ve had three meetings; we usually meet monthly. During the first meeting we discussed the situation with off-campus parties as well as the security audit. We also discussed moving the student handbook online. The November meeting we looked at the draft video surveillance policy that has to do with under what circumstances security would use video surveillance. We talked about places that have card-swipe access or places that have hazardous materials or information. We then spent 45 minutes going through the Title IX presentation and talked about specific changes that are new this year. Worth noting: Julian [Williams] did think we’re ahead of the curve nationally. We can do better, but policy-wise we’re not behind. We also met with the committee in charge of the smoking ban. They gave us a timeline and told what their plans are.
Other CCL rep: They already have a plan in place for faculty and staff if they violate the ban, but they don’t know what they’ll do about students.
Hancock: You can possess tobacco, but you can’t consume it. Faculty housing is a smoke-exempt zone. Then we had a looser discussion about what the role of the committee was.
Other CCL rep: Chris Roellke was not at this meeting.
Hancock: It was also under-attended by high-level administrators. We also talked about, for example, Res Life should pass things through this committee or another committee for shared governance. Basically the attendance agenda for the rest of the year has to do with safety and security. I haven’t seen a lot of regulations in that study. One of the members in our committee is the head of the Safety and Security committee whose purview is so broad that it’s impossible for them to be effective. I think that’s where CCL might come in to help out.
Main: I thought it was interesting that there was a lack of administrative attendance and input. This committee has the potential to effect change on campus, but it’s not doing anything right now. We should push it that way.
Other CCL rep: It might be that the meetings were scheduled without any of the administrators’ input. So that might be a reason for the low attendance.
President: You mentioned the changes in sexual assault policy. Specifically incapacitation. What are those changes?
Hancock: My freshman year, it was sort of marketed as incapacitation being about someone not being able to give consent under any circumstances under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Now the policy determines the question of reasonability. There wasn’t a lot of comparison to the past, so I’m not sure.
Cushing: Doesn’t consent have to be sober?
Hancock: That’s not what the Vassar policy is and that’s not a legal standard. But that’s what our policy is saying now. I don’t think this was well-covered in orientation.
Cushing: So the policy is that consent doesn’t have to be sober?
Hancock: On the books, it says that they know how, what, when, where and why they’re doing what they’re doing then they can give consent. People have sex all the time drunk and would consider it consensual.
Cushing: I think consensual sex is whatever the person deems it is consensual. You can have consensual sex while you’re drunk if you think you want to have sex while drunk.
Hancock: Our policy as it was before made it so that by our standards, even if two people consented to sex but we’re drunk they would have both committed sexual assault.
2018: How did they come up with this and make it a solid thing when it was so vague?
Hancock: I can look up what it says exactly, if you give me a couple seconds.
Other CCL rep: We did discuss at our most recent meeting that CCL should push for more education to get the campus to understand that this is what the policy really is. None of us knew that and I don’t think the faculty knew either.
Hancock: The admin. who consistently shows up has been through sexual assault training and interpersonal violence training.
Other CCL rep: It’s changed since Casey has been here and it needs to be put out there as information.
Hancock: We talked about a lot of things we could be doing at the last meeting. Here’s what the policy says [paraphrased]: “Incapacitation is when someone cannot make reasonable decisions and cannot give consent. Someone may be incapacitated by alcohol, drug use or disability…When alcohol or other drugs are being used the person is considered incapacitated if they cannot recall the circumstances of the situation. I.e. the who, what, when, where, why or how.”
Finance: When did the policy change?
Hancock: I assume it was over the summer. Since Julian came–previously the other person we had in that position wasn’t amazing at their job. Julian is sort of an expert in this field and his work before dealt specifically with this kind of law in higher education institution.
Finance: Given that none of us knew that this policy was changed…it doesn’t seem there was a lot of student input in this policy change. What’s the process for changing something in the student handbook? Since we’re not involved, I assumed CCL was the group responsible for this.
Hancock: We recommend changes to Cappy. Sometimes it’s respected and sometimes it never hits our committee. Technically, Cappy can change whatever she wants. Historically, if there’s a change in state law there will be a change.
Student Life: A lot of our college policies, especially related to Title IX, are designed so we will not get sued. Any policy that says “the presence of alcohol means sexual assault” would make for some kind of lawsuit. Especially considering Vassar is currently being sued by someone who was expelled for assault. I think remembering the legal context is important. Julian has a law degree.
SoCos: I’m flabbergasted right now. Frankly, Julian made this change to make our policies worse. There is definitely a space for figuring out how to address that. It sounds like CCL wants to send out an email and make this policy clear. Is there a method by which CCL can make a push for this to change to when it was a better policy? I don’t feel good about us just letting it sit there and then making sure people know it.
Hancock: We could put it back on the agenda and discuss it. To be honest, we’re not a representative group. It might be more effective for VSA to write a letter, resolution and make a recommendation for how the College should move forward. I don’t think the group of people CCL has can effect that change and I don’t think we would be able to represent everyone correctly.
President: When was this discussed?
Cushing: Does this mean that if policy changes happen that no one’s going to know about them?
Other CCL rep: We didn’t come to a conclusion about that, just that we need to publicize them.
Hancock: One of the admins. talked about how when they go through orientations–they have to go through and read things and take a test on it like alcohol edu and that was talked about a way of making sure students know about these policy changes.
Cushing: You said this would be a case-by-case process. Will this be a victim-centered approach like people claim? Is there a statement about that?
Other CCL rep: I don’t remember that ever being mentioned.
Cushing: We can’t let this go because I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I can be the point person for talking about this on VSA.
Finance: As horrified as I am by the current policy, I don’t feel qualified to speak on this matter because I’m not a sexual assault advocate or lawyer. What does concern me is that it seems to be a unilateral move by the admins. who are supposed to be working in our best interest. I feel like I don’t have to know everything about sexual assault because I trust that there is a process that functions. We’re supposed to be student leaders but none of us even knew about this policy change. It was my experience as house president that people would ask me questions unrelated to what I do on VSA because people do look to us as leaders on this campus. But now I don’t feel comfortable talking about a lot of these policies, not just because I’m not qualified to talk about them but because I don’t even know about them. This represents a major change in our sexual assault policy and it’s December and none of us knew about it. There’s a problem with how CCL was viewed: I was always under the assumption that even though Cappy and the President’s Office all had final say, that things were run by us. Given all of the atrocious stuff that’s happened this semester, the institution is to blame. I feel powerless to combat that without being treated like a student leader or at least someone who is trusted with that information. I admire Essie’s comment that this is not something we should let go.
Raymond: Orientation has already been planned, so that’s not a space where that can happen.
Joss: First off, thanks for coming in and dealing with delivering this administrative news. The policy became effective the beginning of this school year?
Hancock: The only thing I can say is that every year at the beginning of the year I check the links between our website and the admin. website. I can check the last time they updated it, but they don’t have a date on this one. At the beginning of the year we talked about how these changes didn’t make it into this year’s print copy.
Finance: So the copy that was given to students has all of the incorrect information?
President: It was also presented to us that changes had been made but that Julian was going to oversee everything. But there was no mention of changing the standards of what would constitute incapacitation. It was presented as being purely procedural.
Joss: Do the people that make out the changes and the people who dish out the punishments know that freshmen are being presented with the wrong information?
Hancock: I would venture to guess no. I think when Julian makes these changes he assumes that the College is going to recognize these things and represent them properly. But the person who oversees Res Life hasn’t shown up at all this year. The governance of the College specifies: Dean of the College, Dean of Students, Chris Roellke’s intern, Class reps, a faculty rep, the VP for Student Life, Assistant Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity. There are 13 people.
Finance: Is there published attendance?
Hancock: It’s a closed committee. You could email and ask about it. There’s a faculty person, Jane Parker who hasn’t been coming. DB Brown hasn’t been coming at all.
President: We’ll be meeting with Chris Roellke tomorrow, so we’ll talk to him about this. I’ll be sure to update you all on that. Unfortunately, this is our last VSA meeting of the year, but I’ll send out an email letting everyone know what comes out of this conversation. This is a huge change and people need to know about it and we need to do something about it.
7:36 p.m.// Forum with ViCE
Maya: I’m Maya and I’m the director of Vice.
Jason: I’m Jason and I’m the assistance director.
Maya: ViCE has done a lot this semester–at least one event per week. We did Student Music’s Halloween Showcase. We had students show up and do imitations of their favorite artists in the Shiva. For film we did a screening of Chef that was really great. No-ViCE and ViCE jazz have had a couple great shows this semester and they had their last one last night which was really successful. We did fall fest on the library lawn, which was fun.
Jason: ViCE music had serenading, which was underattended.
Hancock: That was mostly because of the weather and location change.
Maya: Looking to the future, we’re thinking about making the serenade concert smaller.
Hancock: There’s a lot of stuff coming next semester. We don’t want to say names of specific change, but we have a big speaker coming in February.
Maya: We also have a big screening coming.
Hancock: There will be a screening and very large speaker. Since we decided not to have a big fall concert, they’re instead using their funds to have a large spring concert which will be in collaboration with Chris Roellke to have an art thing during the day. We’re already trying to lock down a few artists for that. That’ll be really exciting.
President: A lot of the focus for ViCE in the past has been on music and concerts. I know there’s been talk of moving it to general campus events.
Maya: The other chair of special events is Sarah King and she wants to make the silent disco happen. We’re possibly going to have that at the end of the semester. Those events are more expensive so we can’t do as much, but we’re trying to do a lot of other little things. We also tried to get Instagram dogs–we tried to get Marnie, but her fee is $1500, so we couldn’t do that. But we’re going to try to bring dogs.
Hancock: There are certain acts that bring a lot of people, but those costs have been rising. There’s a balancing act that we’ve been doing all year long, finance-wise.
Ops: My favorite ViCE special event last year was the hypnotist, so if you could bring that back, that’d be great.
Maya: Yeah, we’ve been talking about that. Thanks for your input. Another thing we’d like the VSA’s input on is on the bigger acts we bring. The people who usually join the general body of ViCE are really into music so they’ll talk to a DJ who probably no one’s ever heard of. We’re trying to decide whether we want to do polling or focus groups, but it would be helpful in the future if you could be representatives of the campus to get that input. Last year was cool.
7:44 p.m.//Exec Reports
Student Life: There’s a lot happening in campus climate, but there’s a lot happening there and maybe an update isn’t the right format to talk about those things. So, Charlotte is our new SAVP coordinator. She has enough of a background in data analysis that transitioning into the campus climate survey has gone smoothly. It’s pretty much done and so we’ve been working with that and trying to make that version of the survey better than our peer institutions while still being able to compare the data. One, we have to check, legally, what questions we can and can’t ask about perpetration. The survey is supposed to be anonymous, but if they College has a certain amount of information about sexual assault they are legally required to investigate. So if someone reveals a lot of information about themselves and says they have perpetrated sexual assault, they’ll have to look into it. We have to figure out what those implications are. We’re also going to craft questions about stalking and domestic violence. That might take a little longer as the peer institutions we’re working with aren’t asking these questions on their surveys. We’re hoping to get hype around this survey to get good data and get a feel for what’s happening on this campus. We’re going to start reaching out to student groups after we come back from break. Second, is anyone here van-certified and here tomorrow between 12 and 2 p.m.? The VSA is renting two vans to help the BSU go to another protest. I can only drive one of them, so we’re looking for another driver. Third, there’s a letter from DB Brown that contained an apology and stated change of policy in response to the Boilerplate article. Basically DB Brown who is not part of the Title IX process–so he’s not legally allowed to know the details of the situation–is allowed to know about whether or not a no-contact order has been filed. However, he was going to send an apology to us in writing about his inappropriate and triggering behavior. He wants to make it so that if someone is in the process of a Title IX investigation they will never have to go see him. There’s no reason someone really should. When you’re in the process of an investigation all of your interactions with admins. are colored by that. We’re going to disseminate the letter when we get it. Most students don’t totally understand the structure of the College, so most people don’t understand that DB has nothing to do with Title IX. It looks defensive if he says that, so it’s going to come from us. I’m on the CIE subcommittee for faculty training. We’re going to meet in the coming weeks. Our intention is to refine the faculty training recommendation put forward by CIE last year. We’re also talking about the mental health petition. It is the recommendation of the Student Life committee that these four things should happen: 1. We secure the post-doc position for another year 2. We hire another full time staff member 3. We get more hours for someone who can prescribe drugs 4. Vassar College insure another practitioner, because right now we only have one. Next thing: A lot of the campus climate conversations haven’t been held through the committee structure. Lastly, what we as the VSA can do: We care about our constituents and I’ve been thinking about how we can better serve those populations. The best thing we can do know is provide people with resources and information, specifically about the structure of the College. In one of my classes my professor let me go up to the board and explain the administrative structure. That can be really helpful because knowing that Bob Walton is the person to talk to about the early buyout incentive, or Roellke is DB’s boss, Julian Williams’ work is informed by the legal obligations of Title IX. He kind of works for the law more than he works for us. Sharing that information–why isn’t the College disseminating that info is what people ask, but I’m beginning to think that’s one of the best things we can do to get involved with activism on campus. We can use what we know from VSA to help people effect change. We can explain how everything works. We should be making a better effort to go out into the community and empower the people we’re supposed to be representing.
2015: I definitely agree about our role in disseminating info. In order to do that, we need to make sure the info we’re disseminating is correct. I would like guidance in terms of disseminating.
Student Life: It sounds super boring, but reading parts of the handbook–the information in the handbook is pretty much everything you need to know. The version online is correct. Often we talk about activism on campus and pretend it’s not people we’re in classes with and friends with, so even if it’s just you as a person helping someone out who’s not specifically your constituent, that’s helpful.
Finance: I’m going to go through the consensus agenda. Generation asked for $200 so they could buy materials for crafts. VSU requested $5000 to bring in a Vassar alum who’s a speech writer for the second Bush administration. We asked to table it because they had no cosponsors. SJP asked for $200–pre-orgs are entitled to operating budgets. We gave them $90 because it’s December. VARC requested $119.85 for heated water bowls for feral cats. Unicef requested $3000 to bring in a speaker who speaks on sex-trafficking. ViCE’s fund app was approves: They requested $8000 that I thought was too much and I think they are underestimating the amount of money they can get from Chris and Cappy’s office. We gave them $4000. Shiva wants to buy equipment. Because Finance meets on Wednesdays we had to have everyone submit their fund apps before Thanksgiving for up to next semester. So I made it so that you can still submit fund apps and we’ll have a meeting this Wednesday too. It’s what’s best for the students. I’ll email everything out as a consensus agenda. We conducted three audits this semester, all of them should be completed. What will come out of those audits is a one-page report of the orgs that were audited. The idea is that we spend a lot of money on these orgs, so everyone should be very aware of how these orgs operate and what they spend money on. We’ll conduct three more next semester. I’m not sure which ones we’ll audit, Hip Hop 101 will be one of them. This semester we did The Misc, WVKR and ViCE. I will continue to approve reimbursement and direct-pay requests sporadically. If you have stuff you haven’t been reimbursed for, you need to do it before the end of this week. This semester the new structure of Finance committee really worked. We’re going to continue it next semester. If you’re a VSA council member you can still join. CIRC is meeting on Tuesday to discuss divestment proposals.
President: I just want to encourage everyone to use our resources on campus: CARES, TLC, Metcalf. This week has been really heated on campus. It’s a tough time in general but all of this can be triggering.
Ops: I had a Google hangout with the Seven Sisters’ student governments today. I think it would be good if the administration held a space for healing on campus. Eve Dunbar was there and it was really good because it gave people a chance to talk about their feelings and it helped admins. make an action plan for the spring. The VSA is going to try to provide resources to orgs: Like renting vans for BSU and things like that. Other schools suggested we outlined a memorandum for admin or we can provide support for other students who are already working on these issues. One thing Bryn Mawr does after their meetings is hold a hot topic forum and they bring in students to facilitate discussion. People here have talked about how we don’t discuss big issues on the council floor and that might be a way for us to combat that. Another thing: Other schools already have diversity training for administration, faculty and students and that might bolster our case for that. Bryn Mawr has a position for a diversity assistant. We could look into that. People here have been pushing for our orientations to be focused on social justice and identity. Right now at Smith their entire orientation is social justice themed. We like to copy our peer institutions, so we can look into that too.
Student Life: Our committee isn’t meeting for the rest of the year, but I wonder how we can use our positions to support people for the rest of the semester. I’m curious about what you all think that should look like.
President: I also want to say that I’ve been meeting throughout the last week with numerous administrators, alums, trustees, faculty to talk about these issues and solutions. There are clear recommendations and plans coming out of the administration. That list should be coming out soon. When I do get it I’ll let you all know. There are some short-term actions that can be implemented immediately. Coming back from break, the goal is for this campus to look different and for students to see change while we look at long-term action. If any of you have ideas, please come to me as I speak to them almost every day. They’re looking for clear solutions and idea. A lot of people don’t know what to do, but there will be concrete things coming in the future.
TAs: If any of us wants to support different action, rallies, things like that, we should acknowledge that we on this council have privilege others don’t have. I can only speak for myself but don’t forget that when we enter a space and you’re invited into that space, recognize that even if it helps for you to step up, also remember to step back.
Finance: I think that what we need to be doing as a student government right now is re-establishing our lines of communication with the powers that be at this institution because we are failing to disseminate information. This school has a lot of “sometimes” procedures. Sometimes things go to the VSA, but not always. Sometimes things go to CCL, but not always. Students need to know how decisions are being made. But I think we really dropped the ball this semester because we’re only realizing now the shit has hit the fan and we’re really not able to hold people responsible for these issues because we don’t understand the College’s structures well enough to help. While a lot of that is the admins.’ fault, we need to stop focusing on things that don’t matter and aren’t important to students at this school. For example, that our sexual assault policies have changes over the summer and our student handbook has the wrong info. A lot of the stuff we do is just gravy. Maybe doing resolution amending isn’t as important as our sexual assault policies. We need to acknowledge the limited of information we have in this room. Every person on this campus is represented by someone in this room, but I don’t think we’re doing enough to represent them. Exec needs to bring up in every meeting from now on that our lines of communication are failing and we need to establish who are in these committees, who’s not showing up. We also need to make an apology: I’m horrified at our level of misrepresentation. I think that we’ve done students an injustice and we need to do everything to rectify that, but I think we need to apologize.
Student Life: Do people think a BIRT forum would be productive? One problem with BIRT is that things only go to them if they’re reported. We can ask them to talk about things, but it’s being tossed around as a solution to a lot of things that are happening. The people that are on it are probably the best people on campus to work on those issues. But it was heartbreaking to me to be at a forum to have a student ask who they’re supposed to talk to about this shit and they didn’t know BIRT was that body. Are we giving students false hope in BIRT, though? BIRT can act as a mediator and communicate and isn’t a punitive body. But maybe a forum with them would be too hostile. I feel like any forums with admin. right now have the potential to get unproductive really fast, so I’m wondering if this is something worth pursuing.
Strong: I think it’s something that we need, but this isn’t the best time. Everyone’s going into finals, it’s a tense time. But it could be very beneficial at the beginning of next semester.
TAs: Reaching out to different groups to see what they think and if this is what they want could be good.
Student Life: It wouldn’t be a VSA thing, it would be a BIRT thing.
Maddy (at-large): I disagree with Strong–this could be very stressful for people. Going into finals with all of this on their mind, it might be nice for people to get this information and it could relieve some stress.
Joss: Admin. can’t just expect us to forget about it. Throw a bunch of papers at us and then just deal with it.
Activities: I agree that we should do it this semester because the people who it’s affecting most so need this. It should cross over with next semester: Maybe have a forum now and then next semester make a quick how-to sheet for BIRT. It could be maybe given out at the beginning of next semester. We need to show them that after break we’re not forgetting that these things are happening.
President: The administration is willing to do these things. There was an email set out by Ed Pittman about a space of healing. Admins. will not be in attendance for that because they want it to be a space to heal. I will bring this idea to them.
2018: Maybe we need a place that has a how-to for everything, where it’s one screen and it can say like “what happened?” and they just click through. There are so many active ways to disseminate info, but there are so many different places. We should have one page that’s just like, “how-to anything,” that would be helpful for students.
Student Life: I think that’s dope. Each committee should collect all of that info and we could probably put it up before spring break. When we talk about the College I think we do an active disservice to dialogue when we say “the Administration.” If we are in a position where we can name names–this office or this person is doing this–by framing things as “the Administration wants to” we gloss over the people who are administrators at Vassar who have good politics and are working to make progress. We give students a bad model for dialogue when we say everything is “the Administration.” People don’t have anything against Wendy, the director of Metcalf. When people say “The Administration doesn’t want more Metcalf counselors” that’s wrong because Wendy does.
2017: I think we need to be careful in assuming that the frustration is that students don’t understand the structure. It could be that they understand the structure fine and see that it’s not working. I do think conversations with certain administrators in a forum with BIRT would be valuable. But we should also keep in mind that a forum and telling people more about the structure may not solve the frustration.
2015: We really need to start recognizing our own role in this. Because we’re representatives we have a different role than angry students. We need to stop talking about the admin. as the system because we are the system. We played a role in this this semester. We need to address that moving forward we need to talk about the way we disseminate info to the student body. When people go to forums, most of the people who attend are the people who are already interested in the issue and probably know the info. The recent campus climate issues are really upsetting because I don’t believe that anyone on this campus is intentionally trying to hurt anyone on this campus. But I strongly believe these are issues we’re all facing from a relatively more homogenous standpoint than in the country. Nobody wants to see sexual assault on campus. When we address these issues we need to try to work to try to solve these problems, recognize the holes in the system and actually take action.
Cushing: Hannah, thank you for your comment about the administration. I’ve talked to people who aren’t considered the administration: Luis, for example. A lot of them are hurt because we refer to the Administration as a whole. They expressed that they are trying so hard, but they aren’t getting any response. One really important thing is that I spoke to a lot of my professors: The faculty is not being respected at this college and it’s important to recognize that. The WMST department, for example, is willing to hold a talk about gender politics and sexual assault and then talk to the administration about these issues and be a bridge between the students and the Administration. They want to fill this gap because although the senior administrators don’t talk to us, they do respect that the faculty is getting angry as well. We should appreciate the fact that they’re actually open to talking about these issues and not use them as a resource, but bridge the gap through them. We talk about taking action a lot, which I appreciate; however, I still do not know what this action is. We need forums, but this is all conversation and we’ve been having conversations for such a long time. They don’t lead to anything. Right now we’re brainstorming for ways to take action, but there’s still nothing. These are small steps and all we can do, but it’s not leading together in my mind.
President: I think Essie brings up good points. Every person in this room was elected to be a leader for their constituency and every person in this room should be feel responsible for doing something. As far as I know–and I hold myself and everyone responsible–if you’re not concretely doing anything and not contributing to the solution don’t say other people aren’t doing anything. You can reach out to admins and take action yourself. Saying something needs to be done and not doing anything yourselves in inherently hypocritical. It’s easy to point out where other people are fucking up, but I think we all need to stop pointing fingers. We have a level of privilege to be here. I don’t think any person in this room likes what’s going on on campus. Your job is not just to plan a dorm event this semester.
Bethan (at-large): I think it might be an important thing to talk to student groups and student leaders and admins. whose job it is to be trained in these issues before you take these actions. While you have a great sense of what the VSA can do, some of the best thing I see is talking to students first rather than taking a top-down approach. I just want to make sure that whatever actions you’re taking isn’t just one thing in one committee, talking to one tokenized person to get to these solutions. In my experience in past years, it happens quite often. Oftentimes the VSA falls all over themselves and try to take a bunch of action in a week without talking to students about whether that action is healthy or productive. The actions should be well considered and well timed. It’s also about the quality of the action. We have seen poor quality things happening from student leadership.
President: By “take action” I meant thinking critically about ways to support students more. I think a big part too is supporting students who are doing meaningful action.
Academics: In all of this I have yet to see any concrete things: The only concrete things I’ve seen is the letter from SART in The Misc that listed concrete actions to take. We’re meeting with Chris tomorrow and we could bring him a list of things we can do. I want to re-open the conversation about a social consciousness requirement. I’m going to advocate for proposals to encourage faculty to start asking people’s pronouns. Maybe we can use this space here right now to come up with ideas.
Main: One of my high school teachers is a sexual education teacher and it would be great if we brought him back. Hearing things about orientation this year, I think it would be good.
2017: Whenever there are decisions that Cappy and Chris are making that affect sexual assault victims, if we could set up some way so that we cut out of the middleman and facilitate them talking directly to students that’s not in a forum where people are just yelling back and forth.
2018: We’re talking about communication to the Administration better: No matter what type of situation it is–whether it’s the VSA as a whole asking them something or students crying at them at the Villard Room–they’re not listening, or at least not in an effective way. I’d like them to hear us and do something about it. I’d like to see money be spent in better ways. There’s so much money floating around and we’re asking for Metcalf counselors. I just see $200 going to an org for something and that could be going to Metcalf. I don’t understand how the money works, but I think it could be spent much better.
Lathrop: I support what Academics said about a social consciousness requirement.
Finance: I think we lost our seat at the table. I don’t know when that happened, but it did. And now all of these decisions are being made and there’s no student input. We have the structure that certain administrators, if not the entire Administration, refuses to work with. We’re supposed to be the students’ representatives, but there’s obviously a big miscommunication. Concretely, I’d like to see that when there are concrete changes that are going to be made that they ask us whether they’re a good idea. It’s really scary to me–I think there are a lot of people that understand the structure of the school and are frustrated by it, but there are other people who don’t understand the structure and that has scary implications for things like sexual assault. That affects the way people act in a terrifying way. The way we conceive of sexual assault doesn’t align with the rules. Especially since when I question whether something I’m doing is in violation of the rules I pick up the student handbook, which we just found out is wrong. I think that not publicizing changes to the student handbook is a stupid thing to do and it puts students in danger.
Activities: Problematic language from faculty–if a professor says something inappropriate, who do you talk to? I’d like to make those channels more clear.
President: I think in the short-term, there needs to be clear explanation for why the sexual assault policy has changed. I also think we need to address issues of language in classes, specifically the pronouns at the beginning of the semester. We need to advocate more effectively. Our seat at the table has been lost and there hasn’t been effective expressing of what’s happened. That needs to change.
Ops: Something that’s been on my mind since the Margolis Healy forum on Tuesday: The amount of pain for students of color on this campus–if some of us get hurt, we all hurt. This room is not diverse, we do not represent the student body. A lot of my issue has been grappling with how to deal with this as a student leader and personally. I think one thing I would like to see is that somehow our student orientation needs to teach how to treat students properly. There needs to be a tectonic shift on this campus.
Student Life: The gender-neutral bathroom committee is still happening. Driving students to and from protests on the VSA dime. Sitting on the faculty committee and advocating for faculty training. And promoting a culture of kindness on campus. It’s one thing to quote political theorists, but I’m getting really sick of the way we treat everyone on campus. People say the VSA isn’t doing their job, but this is the only forum where you can shame your peer for saying you’re not doing enough to fix racism, which is messed up. Not that we can’t do more, but at the end of the day this is an extracurricular activity we do. We’re all full-time students.
Cara: My friend says it’s frustrating for students who are trying to talk to faculty members–they want to make sure faculty isn’t overriding the work students have been doing all year. They can help the situation but there needs to be a more coordinated effort and meeting between those activist groups.
TAs: At the beginning of the semester, Student Life reached out to identity-based orgs about maintaining a clear and constant line of communication with those orgs. Reaching out to students is, if not the number-one priority, it should be. I don’t want to call anyone out, but this isn’t just an extracurricular thing, but it’s a student voice filtered through us. One action is the Vassar Transparency Coalition will be pushing just for transparency in the school’s investments, but from my view many of the issues of race, gender, interpersonal violence, they center around things not being clear.
Jewett: As leaders we often don’t know what the deal is–we need to gain a better understanding of how everything works and be better leaders.
Joss: We need to put pressure on administrators–better housing for trans* students, more sensitivity training, a dissemination of BIRT’s functioning.
Activities: A lot of themes that have been expressed is a lack of people of color on our council. There’s an ALANA council that meets every other week. I know being in a leadership circle that that conversations we have, if I’m not there, people don’t know what’s going on on council or with administration. There are a lot of policies that identity orgs aren’t aware of.
2018: Personally at the beginning of the year I wanted to go to the ALANA center, but I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable because it might not be appropriate for me to be in that space. How do you propose I reach out to them?
Activities: The question is whether they’re comfortable having you in spaces they need to make safe for themselves. We do need allies especially in times of crises…but if you ask and show a genuine interest and have worked to understand and know your space of privilege and don’t take the lead in these spaces, you’re generally welcome there. As long as you care.
2015: A lot of the advice I’ve gotten about that is that it’s about being there but not about controlling the situation in any way. You need to understand your privilege and have done your research so people aren’t trying to catch you up. If you have valuable information to offer, do so without redirecting the conversation.
Cushing: I do remember some talk about BIRT, but is it possible to create a database where we don’t breach confidentiality, but we talk about how BIRT has been responding historically? Giving examples for how to go through the process can be more comprehensive. There are a lot of things happening on Facebook that no one else other than the students actually see. We love writing things down online, but instead of going to a forum, using the Internet is very helpful because there are a lot of voices being expressed there. Another thing is where the College’s endowment is being spent–making that info more accessible to students rather than just making it for students who understand Finance. That’s a lot of money. We have a lot of money as the VSA and if the response is not coming from the senior administration we can allocate some of our budget to those things. Accessibility: I don’t know how much money it is to make one building accessible, but maybe we can give money to things like that. I’m willing to give money from our budgets. Another thing is a clear definition of consent. In CARES we think that it is informed consent, which means sober and verbal and all of that. We didn’t know that there was another definition coming from somewhere else. One definition of consent to be emailed to the student body is something we really need.
2017: This is getting back to orientation: One thing that would be great for us to push for–which I had a brief conversation about with DB Brown–is that we’re using a lot of words that we assume people know what we mean. There’s no vocabulary 101 seminar for words like “racism” or “privilege.” Because there’s not that, I think that leads to people hearing those words a lot without understanding the definition and then they tune out of the conversation. During my orientation it became apparent that when we talked about privilege, no two people had the same idea about what it meant. I think that would get students on the same page a lot earlier.
Ferry: This is for Academics: I think it needs to be clear what you can do when you’re in a classroom setting and your professor is disenfranchising students. What do you do when you have a sociology professor who can throw out the word “black privilege?” If you can’t get them fired you need to find a way to make sure students aren’t taking these same classes again. Professors need to know who in their own departments don’t know their subject matter. Students shouldn’t have to fight for their own identity.
Bethan (at-large): The other thing that maybe students don’t like hearing is that, while there are a huge amount of students who are upset, a lot of the issues we have are issues between students. I like the concept of doing things as orientation, but as a senior I vaguely remember what orientation is like, but there needs to be things done all four years. Gender pronouns is something that students mess up too. While we need to hold upper-level administrators responsible, you as student leaders should also be looking to encourage students to respect other students. The administration is mishandling what students are doing to each other.
President: For the library incident from last year, we all talk about Security but no one talks about the fact that it was a student who called Security.
TAs: Shout out to all the poets who were at the Wordsmiths poetry slam the other day. And a big shout out to the people who made it to the team.
Main: Big props to Cushing the Greens for their art event.
9:12 p.m.//Council adjourned