Vassar Today

Student Politics: Inside Main Gate

By Lindsay Dawson ’05

The enduring image of the campus activist has been one of an independent, forward-thinking individual striving to change an unjust world. Harrison Kell ’05 certainly possesses the qualities one associates with a young activist: clarity of vision, an enviable energy level, and passion. Kell, the president of Vassar’s new Moderate, Independent, and Conservative Alliance (MICA), is working to ensure that politically minded students of every inclination feel at home in Poughkeepsie. “I’m not going to forget conservatism,” he said. “That sort of attitude stifles debate, and that’s damaging to everyone.”

Instead of coasting through four years as a silent minority, Kell, an Independent who describes himself as a social moderate and fiscal conservative, set out to inject some spice into Vassar’s political scene. Last year, he and Kelly Barsan ’04 and several other students founded MICA, and the organization has grown to be a prominent force in campus politics. In 2003 the group hosted a panel on economic policy featuring professors of various political stripes, and debate was so heated that the discussion endured for three hours. The next semester, MICA sponsored a lecture by Republican Colette Mericle LaFuente ’63, former mayor of Poughkeepsie and current Dutchess County clerk. Kell’s main interest is to expose the Vassar community to a wider range of views, he said. “Even if we don’t change people’s minds, at least we allow them to solidify their own opinions.” By giving voice to a dissenting group of people, MICA seeks to enhance political debate at Vassar.

MICA’s ethos is that of an open forum, not an exclusive club. Anyone is welcome at their meetings and events, including more liberally minded students. Kell remarked: “Personally, I’m just interested in all issues and being informed, so I can make up my own mind. We represent the Vassar ideal: diversity.” MICA did not endorse a presidential candidate in the 2004 election, and instead sold campaign gear from both parties, as a fundraiser. They planned on organizing a student debate to encourage independent thought about the election.

Kell and his colleagues have had an infectious effect on Vassar life, earning official recognition unanimously from the Vassar Student Association and stirring up campus activism. “The reactions to our group were pretty positive,” said Kell. “A lot of people say, ’I’m liberal. I disagree with what you say, but I agree with what you’re doing.’” One professor, once she heard about MICA, apologized to Kell after a class in which she made an anti-conservative remark. Kell urges everyone, whatever his or her political inclination, to act on it: “Talk is cheap. If you’re dedicated to change, you should do something about it.”