April 20, 2011

Meet The Candidates: Mariah Minigan '13

Our third interview is with Mariah Minigan '13, who is running for VSA Vice President for Academics. She is the current Jewett House President.

Mads Vassar: What experience qualifies you for the position?

Mariah Minigan: I've been the president of Jewett this year, which is an experience that I've absolutely loved. Working with a house team has been incredibly rewarding in and of itself, but my presidency also brought me into our student government in a way I never expected to be involved. I was totally captivated by it. I joined every committee I could and never missed a meeting. I'm currently on the Academics, Operations, and Finance committees (which are all internal VSA committees) as well as the Library committee, where I am one of two student reps along with Laura, the current VP for Academics. As a result of this, I have a lot of experience working both within VSA Council and with faculty and administrators in the pursuit of student interests. On the Academics committee, I've been a part of event-planning and the student seminar selection process. On the Library committee, I have pushed for an extension of the loan period for both feature films and documentaries, as well as browsable shelving of our DVD/film collection. On the Academics end, I'm very academically invested. I'm a philosophy major and I'm reviving the majors committee in my department. I want to be a teacher or possibly a college librarian when I'm older. Academics are and have always been a huge part of my life. I also understand what it's like to be a student with other time-consuming commitments. Being Jewett president this year has of course been hugely demanding, but I've also stage managed and production managed a number of student theater shows over the past two years. I am in the position of many Vassar student; juggling a hefty academic workload along with a handful of extracurriculars.

MV: What campus issue matters most to you?

MM: I've been thinking a lot lately about the apathy issue, but as Jason has already addressed that, I have to say that another major problem is the accessibility of existing resources for students. What I mean is that there are an enormous number of resources that all students technically have available to them that have not been used or can not be used because they have not been made accessible. Much of this is the result, I think, of a VSA that can always work to be more transparent. For example, almost all of the internal committees of the VSA are and should be open to the entire student body, but no one knows when or where they happen because the VSA never publicizes it. Similarly, the VSA website page of organization meeting times is in a state of disarray. Peer advising is another resource with huge potential, but its recency means that many people don't know about it yet. As VP for Academics, I would work to change that. I also see a lot of potential in the majors committees. As it stands, many departments don't have them, but those that do could be using them as a way to bring department issues to light--some already are. Majors committees also have a number of privileges, all of which are described in the faculty handbook. It doesn't make sense for us as students not to make the most of that opportunity.

MV: If anything, what do you want to see changed about the VSA?

MM: I want to see more involvement from students who are not members of VSA Council. I see structural change as a part of this process, and I see this process as a part of structural change. This year, there were a few very committed students who stepped up and participated in the effort to change the structure of our student government. However, the process was ultimately limited to the people who were already student leaders in a way that was clearly unfair to the student body as a whole. I think that some of the changes had merit, but the process was all wrong. One of the goals of the changes was actually to get more student involvement with the VSA, by turning VSA Council into an issue-driven body. The idea had been that if Council was made up of people who ran on issues, other students who had a passion for those same issues would be able to be a part of Council's initiatives. I hope that as the conversation about structural change continues next year, it will include multiple town halls and meetings that involve not just VSA Council members or members of VSA Exec, but also any and all interested students.

MV: Describe your platform in 140 characters.

MM: I want to create a system for mediation between faculty and students, utilize majors committees, and work together to make a better VSA.

MV: Ok, now you can elaborate...

MM: Something that I've noticed in my academic experience, in the stories my friends tell me and now, as I'm campaigning, from people I've just met, is that students and faculty are often not on the same page. We want to get grades back in each of our classes before the NRO deadline, but may not get a single one until weeks later. We want to use our study period to study, but we end up with classes scheduled in the middle of it. When things like this happen, we have no choice but to either confront the teacher (and risk a strange or hostile interaction that we feel could impact our grade) or to just cope. I want to develop a system for mediation between faculty and students when issues like these come up. There should be a single person we can turn to who can handle these problems delicately and clear up miscommunications between faculty and students, or enforce policy set forth in the faculty handbook. This position exists at many larger instituions, and it seems clear to me from the sheer volume of concerns like these that exist that we need one, too.

As I discuss in my candidate statement, I would also want to create a committee made up of representatives from each of the majors committees. This committee would meet several times each year with the VP for Academics. Students would be able to bring their academic concerns to the majors committees, who would in turn bring them to this larger body. The VP for Academics would then be able to work with the faculty and administration to effect change in the relevant departments or divisions. Majors committees are supposed to have the power to help choose faculty and to bring the majors closer together. I think they also deserve the power to be a part of making changes to Vassar's academics as a whole.

As I discussed before, I think many of us can see that VSA needs change. I agree wholeheartedly, and while I am committed to being a part of this change myself, I also want every student to have the opportunity to be as much a part of this process as any member of VSA Council.

Something else that I'm passionate about is accessibility in the classroom. As a someone with a relatively significant hearing loss, I'm aware from personal experience of the difference it makes when a professor goes beyond a simple lecture and uses multiple methods of conveying information. There have already been efforts to prioritize accessibility in this way, and I would work to discover how the needs of students both with and without disabilities could be better met in the classroom. I have met with the president of ACCESS, a new student group, to discuss these issues and begin the proces of figuring out exactly what can and should be done. I would, if elected, continue to meet with the students and faculty who have already begun working to solve the many problems present in this area.

There are a number of other things that the VP for Academics will inevitably address, such as pushing to finally get credit for labs, continuing to run student seminars, and promoting peer advising. As VP for Academics, I would of course work to ensure the success of all of these initiates, as well as any that come up as students come forward with more concerns about our academics. I would be committed to doing whatever it takes to address these issues and to overcome any challenges they pose.

MV: What is your favorite Vassar memory or moment?

MM: Wow. It's really hard to pick just one. I think I'll side with Jason and say freshman move-in this year, but I think I actually liked the night and morning right before everyone got here the best. My house team and I were all so excited and all so close, and we had been working for so long to make that day perfect. All the last minute decorations, buying umbrellas in case it rained, putting out coffee and muffins for the parents and generally freaking out together because we were so excited to welcome them in to our home; that was awesome. I had never been more excited about my house team and about my house than I was at that moment.

MV: Anything you want to add?

MM: I'm completely prepared to throw everything I have into this position, if I'm elected. I want to work as hard as I possibly can to make next year's VSA Council do what the students want it to do, and be what the students want it to be. My experience on Council this past year means that I know how to get things done, and I will be absolutely committed to representing the needs of all students both in our academics and in our governance. Please email me at maminigan[at]vassar.edu with any questions or comments!