GUEST EDITORIAL: A new vision for VSG

Vanderbilt Student Government is the perfect forum for cooperation and creating change.

2022-2023+Vanderbilt+Student+Government+Vice+President+Ari+Sasson+pictured+in+front+of+Wyatt+Center

Ari Sasson

2022-2023 Vanderbilt Student Government Vice President Ari Sasson pictured in front of Wyatt Center. (Photo courtesy of Ari Sasson)

Ari Sasson, Guest Writer

The three core tenets of Vanderbilt students are that we work hard, play hard and criticize our university. Whether it be a lack of dining options, limited VandyRide (colloquially known as VandyVan) hours or public safety concerns, Vanderbilt is imperfect—and students are eager to let that be known. Much like the political environment around us, when we stand up and protest for something that matters to us, it sometimes seems that our concerns fall on deaf ears. In both American politics and in the relationship between the Vanderbilt administration and us students, it often feels like we are at the whim of those above us. Rather than feeling empowered to push for much-needed change, we can feel powerless in creating a better Vanderbilt. 

I believe that Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) is the perfect forum for cooperation between all students for the greater good of this dynamic community in which we spend four years living. 

We cannot address problems and we cannot enact change if we ignore perspectives that are different from ours.”

Yet, for much of the student body, VSG is visible just twice a year: during the student body senate and presidential elections. Aspiring office-seekers scurry around campus sharing their ambitious ideas to reinvent life at Vandy to anyone who dares to make eye contact. Elections are often a blur of stickers, posters, Rand tabling and divisive online behavior. During my two campaigns, the most common feedback I received from students was that VSG doesn’t seem to do much of anything outside of election season. Upon assuming office as VSG vice president in April, I was handed a binder full of ongoing initiatives and quickly learned how wrong that sentiment is. 

Over the past few years, VSG has quietly racked up a laundry list of accomplishments that affect every student on campus—whether they know it or not. Experience Vanderbilt, a program that gives students eligible for need-based financial aid up to $500 to fund extracurriculars, started as a VSG initiative back in 2015. VandyRide, a bus service that provides students rides to and from campus locations, was developed in partnership with the VUPD

More recently, VSG, alongside Vanderbilts’s Women’s Center and Plant Operations, helped install more than 100 dispensers for free menstrual products in on-campus bathrooms starting in Fall 2021. Last November, VSG opened a permanent, free thrift shop for students to minimize monetary hardships surrounding fashion. This summer, VSG proposed initiatives to ensure students’ right to reproductive care. And starting in Fall 2022, all students will receive up to 250 pages of free printing, fulfilling the average student’s needs, thanks to a collaboration between VSG and Card Services.

Despite these successful and important partnerships, VSG still falls short in facilitating active and intentional collaborations with all corners of campus—a problem that I am hoping to tackle as vice president. In my opinion, perhaps the most important function of any form of government is to represent all of its constituents. But in the past few years, VSG has embroiled itself in controversy, especially surrounding its divisive political stances. Large swaths of the student body have come to me expressing that they feel they have been ignored or alienated in the pursuit of appealing to certain political ideologies and segments of the population. 

In the end, we are all Vanderbilt students, here for the same reason: to learn.”

When I decided to run for vice president alongside Amisha Mittal, I was eager to grow as a leader and person and help VSG grow as well. During our campaign, we made a conscious and determined effort to speak with a myriad of campus organizations, reaching out with ears willing to listen. I am proud to have spoken at the Multicultural Leadership Council Caucus and with member organizations, listened to organizations founded in opposition to university actions and reached out to Greek chapters openly seeking to reestablish a relationship for the first time since the Abolish Greek Life movement

I was eager to form a communication bridge between these groups and other groups with a big impact on campus. As students, we often find ourselves at odds with organizations of conflicting natures or those with practices or values that have hurt us. I am guilty of this tendency, too. Yet, these broken links all have the capability to spark dialogues and be reforged into a shift in values that will take root and ultimately blossom into changed actions. In the end, we are all Vanderbilt students, here for the same reason: to learn. While this fact doesn’t take away or invalidate the frustration, or hurt we may have experienced due to the actions of other people or groups on campus, it reminds us that we have the power to incorporate new perspectives into our lives and the duty to seek understanding and sow compassion with our fellow students.  

It is my firm belief that VSG should connect with and support all students as well as exemplify cooperation. We cannot address problems and we cannot enact change if we ignore perspectives that are different from ours. This belief is the cornerstone of my leadership philosophy and will guide my actions as your vice president for the upcoming academic year. 

In my role, I oversee 11 committees that touch all aspects of campus life. Each committee’s main goal is to improve the Vanderbilt experience. These committees include Academic Affairs, Athletics, Campus Services (things like dining, the bookstore and our Commodore Cards), Public Safety & Transportation, Student Health & Wellness and many more. If you’re interested in making the Vanderbilt experience the best it can be, applications to join VSG committees will be open on AnchorLink from Sept. 2-18.

Vanderbilt Student Government’s mission statement. (Hustler Multimedia/Alexa White)

None of the things I’m hoping to do as vice president can happen without collaboration with and between students like you. To enable students of all economic backgrounds to maximize their connection with Nashville, I hope to see Vanderbilt’s partnership with the WeGo bus service expanded and the limits of VandyRide’s services redefined. To amplify all student voices and better direct VSG’s resources, I’m working to actively gather opinions through a student-run polling service and to create an activism fund. Additionally, I hope to support tailgate events run by non-Greek student organizations in the West End Neighborhood.

If you believe that change is needed in some aspect of campus life, are discontent with university inaction, or have a vision that enhances the Vanderbilt experience for fellow students, VSG has a place for you. The missing piece to energize a seemingly sleeping Vanderbilt bureaucracy is often one or two students initiating a dialogue. Vanderbilt administrators look toward VSG for student feedback and as a resource to instill change. Students who develop a clear vision and demonstrate passion and a commitment to detail are the cornerstone of creating real change on campus. VSG is made for harnessing your inner desire to evolve or establish a piece of life at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt needs dedicated, passionate students like you to make a change on campus. We may not agree with everything our fellow students say and stand for, but it is our duty to work with them in pursuit of the common good. To close gaps in understanding, improve our greater Nashville community and begin lifelong missions of service: I’m determined to ensure that Vanderbilt Student Government is here for all.