Priorities and Initiatives
About the Proposal
The Senate is required to establish a Priorities and Initiatives Proposal at the beginning of each academic year consistent with the mission statement of the Association and the Strategic Plan of the Association. The Proposal consists of a series of student concerns to be advocated for by the Senate for the academic year.
A mid-year and annual report are conducted to review the progress of the Association’s efforts to advocate for the student concerns established in the Proposal. These reports are publicized to the student community to facilitate accountability and improve student relations.
Please note that the number assigned to each priority and initiative is administrative in nature and does not reflect the importance of said priority or initiative.
Thriving at Vassar
Promoting Equity and Inclusion and Health and Wellness
Priority 1: Intentional and Effective Student Governance
Currently, the VSA has several, unorganized methods of communication which include emails, social media posts, and website pages. These channels do not have clear distinctions between them with respect to the types of information they contain. This makes it more difficult for Vassar students to quickly find VSA information that they are looking for. By focusing on fewer channels of communication and giving each of these channels a unique way of communicating information, students will know where they can find particular information. In addition, setting up these channels will better meet the varying communication preferences that students have.
Creating rules and guidelines for when to email, post on social media, or update the website would support the clarification of the use of channels of communication. Increasing the use of style guidelines in emails and website updates would provide constituents digestible content and ensure that social media content consistently creates posts with a professional appearance. Efforts should also be made to amplify the reach of the VSA social media accounts by increasing followers on Instagram. The Technology Coordinator should also create pages on the website dedicated to new information that may be relevant to students.
Contact: Olir Eswaramoorthy, Chair of Communications (email@example.com)
VSA officials should be able to take initiative to pinpoint issues that students are facing without having to be directly told by students. However, this is often difficult for first-time officials or VSA members in new roles, as they are not acquainted with the systems in place. Productivity is often hindered by a lack of direction, preventing newer officials from pursuing the projects they believe will help the community. To ease this learning process in some way, VSA officials should have resources that they can consult to find out methods for communicating with their constituents and accomplishing their goals.
The Communications Committee should establish guides for common methods of communications. This may include guides for setting up Town Halls and creating and sending polls. Consolidating practices about where to spread new information in easy-to-use references should also be clarified. This may include references regarding the VSA social media and who to contact for making new posts and organizations that officials may want to collaborate with. Additional documents for training first-year positions and establishing processes for going through this training should be initiated.
Contact: Olir Eswaramoorthy, Chair of Communications (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Aside from email, there are relatively few ways for students to get connected with their class senators or other relevant officials to discuss particular academic issues that they are facing. A proposal for an official casework system was passed in Fall 2021. It outlined the creation of an official VSA casework system that would allow students to easily get in contact with their respective senators and house team. The system used a form on the website to create cases that would automatically be forwarded to relevant officials who could work with the individual to solve their issue. In Spring 2022, a beta version was created but not implemented. Students do not have as many resources as they possibly could have.
As a result, it is important to implement the casework system as quickly as possible and to look into other possible mechanisms to facilitate communication between students and VSA officials. Upon implementation, the Operations Committee, with the support of the Communications Committee, should monitor the casework system by communicating with senators and students and utilizing that feedback to improve the system. Additional methods for student and senator communication should be investigated.
If you were to ask yourself how useful and effective surveys are amongst the Vassar community on a scale of 1-10 what would you rate them? Think engagement and responses, action taken following that engagement, follow ups from the survey or on that action, etc. In such a technologically oriented world with incredible resources for communication, outreach, and action, we ought to be able to refine our methods of surveying the community and increase community engagement. This could extend beyond surveys… think emails, newsletters, social media, posters, automated mailing list sign-ups, etc. If executed well, outreach that sparks engagement could be incredibly useful in bringing student groups together and connecting a greater community to tackle and more collaboratively and collectively address constituent concerns.
Collaboration between committees, especially with support of the Communications Committee, to brainstorm potential methods that would increase constituent engagement is vital to the success of not only the individual committee initiatives but also the confidence in the VSA. Potential topics of discussion include a greater social media presence to advertise surveys, announcements, results, resources, etc. Exploring alternative surveying sites, or offering incentives for participation such as being entered into a raffle upon survey completion should be evaluated. Similarly, adoption of Softwares-as-a-Service (SaaS) should be investigated.
Contact: Julián Aguilar, President (email@example.com), Joe Mangan, Vice President (firstname.lastname@example.org), Olir Eswaramoorthy, Chair of Communications (email@example.com), and the Executive Board and Committee Chairs.
A 2021 VSA referendum revealed 95.4 percent support for a student vote on the Board of Trustees. Such a proposal is meager and largely symbolic: one student vote would rarely carry significant, tie-breaking weight. Nevertheless, the spirit of shared governance lays bare the logic behind such a proposal: arguably the most powerful body on campus must have at least one meaningful student vote if we are to ever claim shared governance truly exists on this campus. The VSA thus pledges to continue previous lobbying efforts to secure a vote for our President on the Board of Trustees.
Contact: Julián Aguilar, President (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Currently, the programming and traditions committee is isolated from individual clubs and house teams that often host events for the entire campus. This separation prevents other facets of the student body from capitalizing on the resources and knowledge of the Programming and Traditions Committee. On the other hand, it limits the extent of work that can be done by the committee to reach as many students as possible. There needs to be an increased communication and involvement of the committee in efforts to plan all campus events.
The Chair of Programming and Traditions, with the support and liaising of the Programming and Traditions Committee, should hold office hours for student leaders should they require help planning their events. A collective calendar of all campus events should be created to prevent simultaneous event planning. Bimonthly check-ins should also be held with Chair of Residential Affairs and Chair of Organizations to understand how best to support these teams.
Contact: Dhriti Seth, Chair of Programming and Traditions (email@example.com)
Of the students who indicated that they are informed of the VSA’s structure in the Annual Comprehensive Survey, approximately 80 percent also indicated trust in the VSA (figure 90). This is a drastic increase of support as compared to the broad 60 percent of students indicating trust in the VSA (figure 83) which clearly demonstrates a positive connection between trust in the VSA and knowledge of the VSA structure. The VSA will thus operate an awareness campaign, spearheaded by the Chair of Communications, to inform the campus of VSA’s structure, services, and accomplishments.
Last year’s Senate passed numerous bills. Topics addressed included the removal of mandatory minimum sanctioning parameters in student conduct cases and the adjustment of the existing language graduation requirement to a “language and culture requirement.”
The Vassar Student Association will follow through on the bills previously passed in two ways: first, through requesting notice from the College on the status of these points of advocacy; and secondarily, through additional advocacy, if needed.
Priority 2: Survivor Support and Violence Prevention and Accountability
The language in the Student Athlete Handbook and Title IX, which are followed by Vassar, contain contradicting statements when it comes to holding student athletes accountable for their actions. Student athletes being investigated, and even found guilty of sexual assault, are allowed to continue playing their sport and serve an active role in the Vassar athletic community. This is the case despite the fact that being an assaulter goes against a clear code of conduct found in the Vassar Student Athlete Handbook; “If your behavior or actions as a Vassar College student-athlete do not reflect the values of the College and the Department, your athletic participation may be compromised." Many athletes have spoken out against this issue, trying to find a way to create a safer athletic environment, yet the lack of accountability continues.
Peer institutions like Williams (see Williams Student Athlete Handbook, Code of Conduct under 'Repercussions') and Amherst (see Amherst Student Athlete Handbook, page 13 under ‘Consequences’) have rules in their student athlete handbook granting the athletic department separate disciplinary authority from the school administration’s punishment. This means even if a student athlete carries out a punishment set by administration, they could still lose their privilege to play on an athletic team or receive athletic suspension if the athletic department rules the infraction indictable. At this point, it is unclear what Vassar can do to truly hold student athletes accountable beyond the administration's decisions. Meeting with the athletic directors to continue this conversation would allow for transparency and action to be taken.
Contact: Traci Francis, Chair of Equity and Inclusion (firstname.lastname@example.org); Faye Stevens, Chair of Health and Wellness (email@example.com); and Kyle Flynn, Chair of Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A pilot Health and Wellness Liaison program was initiated in the Fall semester of 2021. This program was designed to introduce a new support system within student organizations with respect to interpersonal violence. The program was only in effect for the 153rd Session, and training and support for Health and Wellness liaisons concluded at the start of this session.
The Chairs of Equity and Inclusion and Health and Wellness should conduct a thorough evaluation of the Health and Wellness Liaison program and determine appropriate steps and support necessary to implement the program, both in an interim pilot program adoption and beyond a pilot.
Contact: Traci Francis, Chair of Equity and Inclusion (email@example.com); Faye Stevens, Chair of Health and Wellness (firstname.lastname@example.org); and John Wapner, Chair of Organizations (email@example.com)
The Annual Comprehensive Survey demonstrates that an alarming percentage of students – 40.8 percent – feel the Blue Light System is not distributed with enough frequency to elevate their feeling of safety on campus (figure 26). Notably, demographic information was not collected in this survey and it is possible that the numbers may be even more alarming if a focus was able to be placed towards the responses of particularly vulnerable or historically marginalized students. Nevertheless, with 40.8 percent of students reporting that they feel a service does not effectively do its job (which is to enhance their safety) it is clear that the system’s frequency must be increased.
The Vassar Student Association will thus work to obtain a commitment from the College to install additional Blue Light boxes on campus.
Priority 3: Mental Wellbeing and Accessibility
Many students have spoken out about concerns surrounding Vassar counseling services. The minimal appointment opportunities or the wait in order to speak with counselors, or simply the uncertainty around scheduling anything at all due to the reputation. While the intentions of VCCS is assuredly positive, their impact could be even more significant than it currently is. In addition to seeking improvement for all Vassar students, an expanded counseling service for LGBTQIA+ students and students of color centered around the mental health needs of these individuals would assure the health and well-being of all community members are equitably and inclusively prioritized and met.
Expansion initiatives could start with mental health training through Metcalf (with the help of SAVP, Health Promotion and Education, and Title IX) for organizations, clubs, and athletic teams. Orgs and clubs could choose individuals in leadership positions similar to athletic teams and captains in order for these individuals to skillfully, actively and confidently support their peers through any mental health difficulties they face. This would be a yearly occurrence as leadership shifted. Continuing that conversation with Metcalf, an important expansion to their authority would include an added ability to issue accommodations (mental health accommodations) like Baldwin's physical health accommodations. Additionally, a more simple but still important step could include surveying mental health needs of students, collaborating with affinity groups, and increased advertising of important initiatives by the counseling service (such as expanded counseling services for minority groups).
Contact: Faye Stevens, Chair of Health and Wellness (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A lot of campus-wide events involve activities that require individuals to navigate large areas, be exposed to potentially overstimulating noises, and stand for long amounts of time. Amidst all the stupor, there may be a neglect of safety and comfort at times, especially for those of us with disabilities. Going forward, there should be a greater emphasis on inclusion and comfort of all individuals within the college community.
Thus, the Programming and Traditions Committee should collaborate with the Equity and Inclusion Committee to identify how activities can be more inclusive of people from all walks of life (ex- having halal food options, pricing of tickets, potentially ignorant traditions). Project proposals should also be evaluated with the AEO to make spaces and activities more accessible. All-campus events should include a designated ‘safe space’ at crowded events where people can retreat if they feel uncomfortable being pushed around and need some space.
“We, the Vassar Student Association, are disheartened and outraged by the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn the longstanding constitutional right to an abortion established by Roe v Wade. As a governing body committed to combating systems of oppression and dedicated to serving, representing, promoting the interests of and improving the welfare of the undergraduate students of Vassar College, we wholeheartedly condemn this dangerous attack on the rights of women, transgender, gender nonconforming, non-binary, and intersex people.
We recognize that abortion bans disproportionately impact historically marginalized people and exacerbate the racialized health inequalities we must so urgently work to overcome. They elevate poverty and establish barriers to educational and career fulfillment for those who may become pregnant. And, research conclusively indicates that the overturn of Roe v. Wade will lead to increases in pregnancy-related deaths and harmful health, economic, social, and psychological effects.
While we are but one student government, we will use all available levers to defend our peers’ rights to their own bodies, lives, and futures,” on and off campus.
Priority 4: Student Labor
Last year's Senate implemented the Raise the Wage Act, the result of negotiations with College officials culminating in an immediate wage increase and expedited timeline for a campus-wide $15/hour minimum wage. Subsequent actions included a survey of student workers to gather information about working conditions on campus and feelings about the campus wage.
The Vassar Student Association recognizes the inherently unfair stress placed upon students on the Federal Work-Study Program and pledges to work towards reduced hours and higher wages to bridge disparities between those that do not have to hold a campus job and those that do.
Contact: Noon Elmostafa, Chair of Student Labor (email@example.com)
Students on the Work-Study program should not feel stressed to find and land a job on campus. As many of our officials are themselves working students, the Vassar Student Association recognizes the inherent stress that working students often feel during the campus job search process. We also recognize that difficulty finding and landing a job early in the semester can contribute to later stress about gathering the entirety of one’s Work-Study allotment. The Vassar Student Association will thus work to investigate the sufficiency of quantity of jobs available to student workers, to ensure everyone is guaranteed stress-free access to employment. We will also work to commit the College to a job guarantee, to ensure future on-campus employment opportunities for all.
Contact: Noon Elmostafa, Chair of Student Labor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vassar’s employment policies currently prohibit student workers from gathering a sum equivalent to or greater than $1,500 over the course of one semester. Those that meet or surpass $1,500 – as they are supposed to, given that students are allotted $3,000 a year, or $1,500 a semester – are immediately fired, a practice which is both bizarre and unfair. The Vassar Student Association will lobby the College to change these practices, to protect students from these types of unfair firing practices.
Contact: Noon Elmostafa, Chair of Student Labor (email@example.com)
Living at Vassar
Residential Experience and Community Engagement
Priority 5: Strengthening Climate-Positive Commitments
Vassar prides itself on being a sustainable campus and having a conscious student body, thus it is essential to establish expectations and cultivate a campus climate that promotes individual action. According to AASHE, campus engagement is an essential component of a sustainable campus (see 2021 Sustainable Campus Index). Vassar has eliminated compostable containers and utensils due to contamination, so individual action needs to be taken to better manage waste and allow for the maximum recycling and composting from our institution. Vassar also has a large percentage of the student body who call the northeast or midwest home, but students may not know all their options for getting home including the train, bus or car-pooling.
A brief, mandatory introduction to sustainability at Vassar including how to manage waste, individual expectations, transportation options and campus resources will be led by a peer during orientation to encourage questions and mutual respect for our campus. Another component of this program could include the incorporation of the Dutchess County Bus System into the Arlington Amble to both encourage interaction with the Poughkeepsie community and display the ease with which students can use the bus.
Though land use and methane from food waste continue to become a greater concern for many (see Food Waste Research in College and University Settings: An Overview), Vassar has reduced its composting options due to cross-contamination. Making compost a part of all residential life at Vassar will help to create students more conscious of their waste and ideally willing to continue these practices in the future. Annual Comprehensive Survey results demonstrate broad student support for in-dorm composting and a general student willingness to properly manage waste.
In an effort to both make composting more accessible and commonplace for all students, a pilot program in two dorms and both apartment areas should be implemented to determine feasibility with sustainability peer educators managing the bin(s). The success of the pilot will be determined through waste audits and bin monitoring. If successful, the program will be expanded to all dormitories.
Vassar currently uses single-use products for all beverages at to-go dining and all containers for hot beverages are not recyclable. Providing an alternative reusable cup or container option for beverages could reduce the amount of single-use waste we produce and encourage conscious consumption by students that they can bring into their lives outside of campus. (see University of Tennessee at Knoxville's The Mug Project)
A pilot program should be explored to implement a beverage-specific Green2Go Program at the Bridge Cafe and success could be measured by random audits during lunch hours to see the percentage of students who bring a reusable container. Implementing a punch card program could encourage students to bring a reusable container for a reward of a discounted or free drink. Promotion of this program would be essential to its success.
Vassar currently operates an on-campus, public access nine hole golf course. In the face of past, present and future ecological catastrophes and given the urgent need to conserve resources and slash greenhouse gas emissions, the golf course must be repurposed for new uses. The ecological damages of golf courses is abundantly clear.
While serving only a small portion of a community’s population, golf courses consume dozens of acres of land with water, energy and pesticide-intensive grass maintenance regimes. Repurposing even a portion of Vassar’s golf course for solar energy and/or revegetation would allow Vassar to more rapidly transition away from dirty fuels towards its climate positive commitments, while also contributing to carbon sequestration. Recent Annual Comprehensive Survey data reveals that 81.5 percent of Vassar students support repurposing the golf course (figure 2). As the representatives of the student body, the Vassar Student Association does, too.
Contact: Izzy Rico, Chair of Environmental Action (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In recent years, the College has faced scrutiny from faculty, students, alumni, and community members over the now-ongoing Inn and Institute project. The College recently broke ground on new faculty housing and is currently in the final planning stages of a new Admission and Career Education Center. While the College adapted designs for the Inn and Institute to ensure carbon neutrality in its long-term operations, there are those – 87.4 percent of students, in fact (figure 3) – who question the ecological logic of constructing new buildings in favor of remodeling and adapting existing structures.
The Vassar Student Association shares the opposition of students and community members to the unfettered construction of new buildings and pledges to lobby the College to commit to more stringent adaptive reuse policies.
Contact: Izzy Rico, Chair of Environmental Action (email@example.com); Jyotsna Naidu, Chair of Community Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org); Joe Mangan, Vice President (email@example.com); and Julián Aguilar, President (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Roughly 67 percent of Vassar students have never owned a bike on campus (figure 6). Of students surveyed, 95 percent were unaware that the Vassar Safety Department operated, whether currently or in recent years, a fleet of 40 bikes to be loaned out to students (figure 4). Despite the low bike-ownership rates on campus, 50.9 percent surveyed indicated interest in receiving a bike from the Safety Department, demonstrating that more students desire access to bicycles on campus (figure 5). When students were asked if they would use a V-Card operated short-term rental bike share system, as seen in increasing frequency across cities in the United States, the Annual Comprehensive Survey found that 48.7 percent of students would use such a system while 35.3% of students were interested (figure 7).
The Vassar Student Association thus pledges to investigate and lobby for programs to expand bike access and use on campus, including awareness campaigns of Campus Safety’s bike loan program, lobbying for a campus bike share system, and expanded bike parking access – which 32.4 percent of current or previous bike-owners say is insufficient (figure 6).
Contact: Izzy Rico, Chair of Environmental Action (email@example.com), Max Bergman, Chair of Residential Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Olir Eswaramoorthy, Chair of Communications (email@example.com)
Almost 85 percent of Vassar students have never used the Green2Go program (figure 15). When asked, survey data demonstrated strong support for expanding the program: 87 percent, for example, wanted to see Green2Go implemented in all dining spaces on campus (figure 16). Feedback was also submitted indicating that some had never heard of this green dining take-out option. The Vassar Student Association will thus work to expand awareness of the program, and lobby to expand the capacity and availability of Green2Go on campus.
Contact: Izzy Rico, Chair of Environmental Action (firstname.lastname@example.org); Olir Eswaramoorthy, Chair of Communications (email@example.com); and Max Bergman, Chair of Residential Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To reduce waste and conserve funds long-term, the Vassar Student Association should seek to develop and implement a program of rentable plates, cups and cutlery for VSA Organization-sponsored events – a proposal supported by 71 percent of students (figure 17).
Contact: Izzy Rico, Chair of Environmental Action (email@example.com); John Wapner, Chair of Organizations (firstname.lastname@example.org); Max Bergman, Chair of Residential Affairs (email@example.com)
In the wake of Vassar’s recent Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) Policy announcement – which nearly 23 percent of students found unsatisfactory (figure 20) – it is critical that steps are taken to ensure immediate and future transparency in Vassar’s investments. Such steps would both hold Vassar to account of its new quasi-divestment policy regime while also enabling watchdog practices to ensure Vassar’s investments do not support other dirty industries – such as private prisons or companies involved in the military-industrial complex. Simple steps to ensure such transparency include lobbying for a dashboard which routinely publicizes the core industries and companies in which Vassar is invested.
Chase Bank is the largest funder of fossil fuel infrastructure in the world, contributing $268 billion dollars towards coal, oil, and so-called natural gas infrastructure projects since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (see JPMorgan Chase Tops Dirty List Of 35 Fossil Fuel-Funding Banks). These projects include those proposed or currently underway upon Native lands, such as the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline set to cross the lands of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, large swaths of which remain unceded (see The Wet’suwet’en and the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline). It is a simple and indisputable fact that conducting business with Chase Bank is not in compliance with Vassar’s Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) commitments, educational mission, nor the spirit of Vassar’s commitments to Native communities and climate-positive action. Chase Bank currently provides the P-Cards used by VSA organizations. Such a reality is not the choice of the VSA: we are disheartened and outraged that our funded organizations must daily see the outcomes of the College’s arrangements with J.P. Morgan Chase. It is for reasons such as these that an overwhelming majority of students – 82.1 percent – feel Vassar is not responding to the climate crisis with sufficient urgency (figure 21).
We therefore commit to lobbying the College to (1) immediately begin a coordinated push with peer institutions to confront Chase Bank over its business practices; and (2) immediately begin the process of finding and establishing business relations with a bank better aligning with the College’s various ethical and environmental commitments.
Priority 6: Community Relations
According to Annual Comprehensive Survey data, the frequency of student interaction with the larger Poughkeepsie community is staggeringly limited: 11 percent of Vassar students reported that they “never” travel into parts of Poughkeepsie outside of Arlington; 31.9 percent of students reported that they “rarely” travel outside of Arlington and Vassar’s campus; and 29.5 percent said they “sometimes” journey into the larger City or Town of Poughkeepsie. Only 15.5 percent said they “often” visit parts of the larger Poughkeepsie area while a small 11.4 percent said they do “very often” (figure 91).
Additional data reveals clearly that the limited off-campus travel undertaken by Vassar students is not a fixture of our attitudes towards Poughkeepsie broadly, but rather a result of transportation barriers. For example, 63 percent of Vassar students report that accessing the Poughkeepsie train station is not convenient (figure 17). Of those who had used a bike both on and off campus, roughly 50 percent noted that their experience felt neither safe nor comfortable (figure 8). And, while students broadly noted that free bus access made them more likely to use the Poughkeepsie bus (figure 11), 70 percent indicated that they never use the bus system in a typical week at Vassar (figure 104).
It is thus clear that lobbying for safer bike routes and more effective public transportation throughout the City and Town of Poughkeepsie must be undertaken. Steps should also be implemented to increase student awareness of bus routes and timetables. An enhanced bike and bus network is of benefit to all the residents of Poughkeepsie, not just Vassar students. For example, 27 percent of households in the City of Poughkeepsie have no access to a car, and such access is a primary contributor to food insecurity in the City (see Poughkeepsie Plenty: A Community Food Survey). Advancing car-free transport alternatives would reduce the economic burden on households to buy and maintain vehicles and vehicle insurance; cut air and noise pollution; improve public health outcomes through additional walking and biking; and slash carbon emissions. The Vassar Student Association thus pledges to throw our weight behind ongoing efforts to redesign the Poughkeepsie Arterials (see Arlington Main Street Redesign Initiative) and will, where appropriate, work with local governments in the City and Town of Poughkeepsie to push forward enhanced bike and bus connections near and around Vassar’s campus and within Poughkeepsie itself.
“We acknowledge that Vassar stands upon the homelands of the Munsee Lenape, Indigenous peoples who have an enduring connection to this place despite being forcibly displaced by European colonization.
Munsee Lenape peoples continue today as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Wisconsin, the Delaware Tribe and the Delaware Nation in Oklahoma, and the Munsee Delaware Nation in Ontario. This acknowledgment, however, is insufficient without our reckoning with the reality that every member of the Vassar community since 1861 has benefited from these Native peoples’ displacement, and it is hollow without our efforts to counter the effects of structures that have long enabled—and that still perpetuate—injustice against Indigenous Americans. To that end, we commit to build and sustain relationships with Native communities; to expand opportunities at Vassar for Native students, as well as Native faculty and other employees; and to collaborate with Native nations to know better the Indigenous peoples, past and present, who care for this land.”
Priority 7: Residential Affairs
It is common sentiment and knowledge across the student body that Vassar’s campus is widely inaccessible, with buildings lacking both basic and detailed accessibility features. Over half of student responses to the Annual Comprehensive survey indicated a belief that Vassar takes accessibility in its buildings either not at all seriously or somewhat unseriously (figure 99).
A common refrain is that ramps must be installed to provide access to buildings. The reality is that all building entrances should and must be accessible entrances – justice is not served when people with disabilities are confined to finding far-away ramps and elevators to access the same spaces as their peers. This means that we must make accessible all building entrances currently serviced by staircases, while also implementing doorways that are universally accessible – not too heavy, and able to be operated by electrical push-buttons or other means. Campus classrooms must contain furniture which is comfortable for all users and the campus landscape must be shaded, speckled with adequate seating areas, and navigable by well-maintained and smooth pathway surfaces. Buildings must be cooled with central air conditioning and adequately heated in the winter. We note that over a quarter of students currently report feeling uncomfortable or very uncomfortable in their housing for reasons related to temperature control (figure 97), and that accommodations for air conditioning units currently can take long, hot weeks of time before those accommodations are realized. Tap card readers must continue to be implemented over swipe card readers and elevators must be improved for reliability, speed, and ease-of-use.
The Vassar Student Association will thus, through our power on the Campus Master Planning Committee (CMPC), various Building committees, and Accessibility Committee, hold the College to account on its commitments under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the recently-adopted 2022-2024 Vassar College Accessibility Plan, while pushing past these very basic obligations to ensure a campus with truly universal access for all. Efforts will also be taken by the Chair of Communication to ensure campus awareness of the Vassar College Accessibility Plan and its contents, which is currently lacking (figure 32).
Contact: Traci Francis, Chair of Equity and Inclusion (firstname.lastname@example.org); Max Bergman, Chair of Residential Affairs (email@example.com); Jyotsna Naiudu, Chair of Community Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org); and Izzy Rico, Chair of Environmental Action (email@example.com).
81 percent of Vassar students believe that “Vassar's dining services [should] be obligated to fully and clearly label the ingredients of all menu options” (figure 42). Of students with food allergies or intolerances, 26.5 percent report having consumed, inadvertently due to Vassar’s current system of labeling, an ingredient which may pose a risk to their health and/or comfort (figure 43). Such a reality is unacceptable and steps must thus be taken to do what is obvious: properly inform students as to what ingredients they are putting into their bodies. The Vassar Student Association thus commits to lobbying for more stringent labeling practices in all dining areas.
While Vassar students broadly feel safe in their housing assignments (figure 96), Vassar’s apartment areas have been regularly targeted for break-ins over the past several years. Approximately 72 percent of students who have lived or currently live in these apartment areas feel that Vassar’s response has not adequately improved safety and security (figure 27). Moreover, 67.6 percent of such students feel that additional safety patrols would not improve their feeling of security in the apartment areas (figure 28). Notably, a substantial minority – 16 percent – report that the presence of safety and security officers make them feel less, not more, safe (figure 98). Rather, approximately half of students who have lived or currently live in the apartment areas report that main entrance locks on doorways feel insufficient for security (figure 29). The Vassar Student Association will thus lobby the College to implement plans for, or expedite existing plans for, improvements to apartment area building security features. Steps will also be taken to develop a broader safety approach for these areas that does not depend heavily upon sporadic and reactive increases in security patrolling.
Contact: Max Bergman, Chair of Residential Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the Annual Comprehensive Survey, 44 percent of Vassar students report feeling that the room draw system is neither effective nor fair (figure 30). And, 46 percent of students who have received housing accommodations from the AEO office report that these accommodations were not immediately honored during the housing draw – additional advocacy by themselves or the AEO office was required for those accommodations to be fulfilled (figure 31). The Vassar Student Association will thus investigate, develop, and implement a proposal to ensure housing accommodations are honored during the housing draw process in collaboration with the College.
Precisely 87 percent of Vassar students indicated in the Annual Comprehensive Survey that they would use a drinking fountain if one were provided in their residential house (figure 95). Installing drinking fountains is a basic step Vassar could take to encourage reusable water bottle use and would enhance the lives of students in a basic, but tangible, way. Existing water fountains, furthermore, must be retrofitted to fit a water bottle and enhanced with new filters to ensure the cleanliness of water supplied. The Vassar Student Association will thus work to enhance and install water fountains across campus, especially in residential houses.
Approximately a quarter of Vassar students report that, when considering a typical meal, they feel the food is never or rarely tasty or nutritious (figure 102). Conversely, a quarter of students feel the opposite, while a substantial middle ground feel the food is “sometimes” tasty and nutritious (figure 102) – dining is hit or miss! Furthermore, 56 percent of students feel dining does not provide an adequately diverse range of options. About 60 percent feel the range of Kosher and Halal choices is insufficient (figure 37), and 53 percent feel similarly about the availability of vegan and vegetarian options (figure 38). Among vegans and vegetarians, half feel the range of options is balanced adequately, while a quarter feel there are too many vegan options and insufficient vegetarian options and a separate quarter feel the reverse (figure 39). The Vassar Student Association’s Dining Committee will thus continue efforts to ensure high-quality, tasty, nutritious, diverse and pleasing food options across Vassar’s dining areas.
Contact: Max Bergman, Chair of Residential Affairs (email@example.com)
57 percent of Vassar students have remained on campus over a break, intersession or during the COVID-19 closure (figure 44). Of these students, 23.3 percent have remained during the summer, 10 percent have remained during the winter, 28.3 percent have remained during the spring, 30 percent have remained during October break, and 8.3 percent have stayed during the COVID-19 closure (figure 45). A third of these students reported insufficient food options during their stay; just over a quarter reported dining hours conflicting with their athletic or work commitments; 13 percent reported an inadequate range of vegan and vegetarian options; 7.3 percent felt the meal plan was unaffordable; 5.7 percent faced difficulties finding safe food options due to allergies or intolerances; 4.1 percent felt the options for Kosher and Halal foods was insufficient; and only 9 percent face no such issues (figure 46). The Vassar Student Association will thus work to provide institutional support and continuity behind the efforts of the Break Advisory Group (BAG) and lobby to rectify these issues for those who may in the future choose or have no other option but to remain on campus for a break, intersession, or otherwise unpredictable closure.
According to Annual Comprehensive Survey data, 41 percent of students report that a typical load of laundry only “sometimes” results in their clothing being properly washed and dried, and without any damage. Approximately 30 percent, furthermore, say that Vassar’s washing machines work “rarely” or “never” (figure 103). Moreover, students broadly indicated that the recently won VWash stipend should be expanded to encompass more students and include greater funds (figure 50). The Vassar Student Association will thus work to develop and implement, in cooperation with administrators, a plan to improve the quality of campus laundry machines and a program for laundry refunds in the event that a machine does not wash or dry clothing as it is supposed to. Efforts will also be made to expand upon the existing VWash scheme.
Contact: Max Bergman, Chair of Residential Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As mentioned in Initiative 7.3, Vassar students broadly feel safe in their housing assignments (figure 96). Despite this, approximately 72 percent of students who have lived or currently live in the apartment areas feel that Vassar’s response to frequent break-ins has not adequately improved safety and security (figure 27). Vassar’s response has largely depended on increasing Safety patrols in these areas, which 67.6 percent of such students indicated do not improve their feeling of security in the apartment areas (figure 28). A stunning 30 percent of students, furthermore, say they feel Campus Safety officers are not effectively completing their job. And, a substantial minority – 16 percent – report that the presence of Campus Safety officers make them feel less, not more, safe (figure 98). Of those who had interacted with a Safety officer before, 85 percent had a positive experience – but a notable 15 percent report feeling that the officer was neither respectful nor fair (figure 25).
The Vassar Student Association will work to improve the effectiveness of Safety patrols while also establishing plans to improve student relations with Campus Safety. Such plans may include shifting the language used to refer to Campus Safety away from topics of “security” and titles of “officer” or “lieutenant.”
Contact: Max Bergman, Chair of Residential Affairs (email@example.com)
Priority 8: Student Engagement and Activities
The main goal of the Athletics Committee is to help foster a greater relationship between athletes and non-athletes in the Vassar community. Based on the opinions of Vassar students, the current student body experiences a large divide between these two groups, resulting in a lack of support and so-called “school spirit” for our Vassar Brewers. As a committee, it is one of our ambitions to increase the student support for our athletic teams, as well as our non-athletic organizations and clubs, in order to create a better campus environment for all.
As such, the committee should consider supporting the Increase school-spirit through merchandise giveaways at sporting events. There is a potential for increase in student attendance at sporting events through pre-game/mid-game performances and through presence of food/beverage vendors at games (ex. The Brew)
Contact: Kyle Flynn, Chair of Athletics (firstname.lastname@example.org)
While student organizations do host their own all-campus events where they get to display their talents, it would be encouraging to involve different orgs in campus traditions. This has been done at some scale through performances by student bands and DJing by VCDJ. It could be interesting to further incorporate student talent rather than outsourcing responsibilities.
All-campus programming should integrate and feature performances by dance/music groups. Traditions events should employ student artists to design and produce merchandise and student volunteers to help run Traditions, such as booths during the Halloween trail or setting up activities during Founder’s Day.
Contact: Dhriti Seth, Chair of Programming and Traditions (email@example.com)
Learning at Vassar
Academic Expectations and Support
Priority 9: Integrating Sustainability and Academics
Though there is limited quantitative data on laboratory plastic waste, it has been estimated that research laboratories dispose of 5.5 million tons of plastic per year. Vassar as a research institution is culpable in this massive contribution to land use and plastic pollution.
In an effort to reduce this waste and create informed scientists, audits will be performed for the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences and Olmsted Hall to determine the greatest source of plastic waste. Sustainable practices will be suggested based on these findings, including glove recycling and container cleaning and reuse. Students can take these practices to their next institutions and help create new expectations around laboratory plastic waste.
Priority 10: Enhancing Academic Support Resources
It’s a big deal to adjust to your first year at college; braving a whole new life with copious unknowns. That’s why many institutions have support systems for first years; like Vassar has our Dean of First Year Students, a first year experience and first year programming org, freshman orientation, student fellows, etc. These resources are utilized and appreciated, but there’s always room for improvement. Along with expanding support for the first year transition, stepping out of the supported position as a first year and into the supporting position as a sophomore is no simple feat. Thus, an expansion to our underclassmen resources as a whole would bode well for first and second year students needing/seeking additional support.
Starting the conversation with the Dean of First Year Students which discusses the possible routes of support to supply them with the necessary resources to tend to the needs of all the first years reaching out to them. In addition to that, a conversation with the Writing and Quantitative Reasoning Centers that could result in an extension to more personalized 1-1 support for students. Major declaration support possibly through the Career Development Office to provide for sophomores struggling with career-oriented decisions. Then overall increased advertising of resources for students struggling with asking for help.
Contact: Faye Stevens, Chair of Health and Wellness (firstname.lastname@example.org), Emily Doucet, Chair of Academics (email@example.com) and Dan Kuruvila, Chair of First-Year Programs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vassar College’s Accessibility and Educational Opportunity Office provides many accommodations to support its students, but currently does not have an accommodation that many other accredited colleges and universities have – excused absences. Attendance is an individual student’s responsibility, and many professors use attendance in their courses to contribute to final grades. Yet students with disabilities, whether physical, chronic, or mental disabilities, deal with hardships which may cause difficulty with regular class attendance.
Having an allotted number of excused absences per semester would promote inclusion in classroom spaces as well as conceal private information about their condition that they may not feel comfortable sharing with professors if a class is missed. When a student is absent due to their disability, they are responsible for obtaining course content, lecture notes and information presented that day. In requesting this accommodation through the Office of Accessibility and Educational Opportunity, staff will work with students to ensure they have a plan to arrange how they will obtain this information. Students with this accommodation are held to the same standards as their peers in regards to grades and regular attendance in order to meet course requirements. For example, an excused absence accommodation would allow a student to miss 3 classes per semester. The number of excused absences would be allotted to a student after discussing their needs with AEO. If the number of excused absences exceeds the allotted number given, the student may face academic consequences (ie. missed classes may affect a student's final grade if a professor states attendance is mandatory in their course).
Priority 11: Curricular Choice and Enhancement
All Vassar students must either enroll in one year of language or demonstrate proficiency in a language via AP scores. While this currently stands as a requirement for all Vassar students, the Academics committee proposes modifying the language requirement to ease the strain languages have on student performance at Vassar. Languages typically require a large amount of responsibility, both inside and outside of the classroom. Classes generally meet every Monday-Friday for 50 minutes at either 9:30 am or 12:00, and require attending both language drills weekly, and interdepartmental events multiple times a semester. This is an enormous commitment for a course that is, for most Vassar students, outside of their major or correlate.
Thus, the Academics Committee proposes to request a modification of the language requirement, so that it is less of a burden upon Vassar students. This will either be through ensuring that all 100-level languages are NROable or through extending the Foreign Language Culture Substitution to all students.
This past year, Vassar extended the NRO period from 6 weeks, to 9 weeks. While that extension surely made the process more convenient for students, it did not account for the emergencies that may occur later in the semester. As an example, in the Spring semester of the 2022 school year, a minor plague of gastrointestinal issues affected over 150 Vassar students from April 25 to May 13th. Due to these complications, some students ran into obstacles in completing their finals and were unable to account for the severe GPA drop that was affected by these illnesses. In situations such as these, students have limited options, all of which result in either dropping a class or having to accept a hit to their academic standing.
Given that emergencies do often occur outside of the 9-week NRO period, the Academics Committee proposes to allow students to NRO a course during finals week at their request, and with the permission of the Dean of Studies.
As it currently stands, the course load requirements for Vassar are 3.5 credits at a minimum, and 4.5 at a maximum. If a student requests to overload to take more classes than the 4.5, they are often rejected. The ability to more easily overload is imperative for many students depending on their major, especially students in varsity athletics and the Music Department. Students in the music department who are enrolled in lessons are required to take them for credit if they either want to major in music or receive financial compensation to cover their lesson fees. Additionally, students enrolled in lessons are required to take at least one and a half credits of music courses to maintain their scholarships. This essentially means that these students are required to take up to 9.5 extra credits while they are enrolled at Vassar, which may not apply to their Majors or Correlates. While this is only one example, students in multiple departments are negatively affected by the 4.5-load limit.
Thus, the Academics Committee proposes to make a formal request to the administration so that students are allotted two semesters to extend their credit load to 5.0 units.
Contact: Emily Doucet, Chair of Academics (email@example.com)
Community-Engaged Learning is a program at Vassar that allows students to combine work in a non-profit organization, a government agency, or a business with academic work under the guidance of a faculty sponsor. CEL occurs both during the academic school year and over the summer. Despite the valuable opportunity CEL offers to the student body, it isn’t pushed as an option and many students are unaware of its existence. It already stands as a requirement for some students, like Education majors, it is still a valuable resource that should be advertised more.
Thus, the Academics Committee proposes to organize a CEL information event for the student body, and to push for the recommendation that CEL is required for certain majors in the humanities.