Most Yalies seem to fall into one of two categories: Those for whom “student voice” has become a catch phrase nearly devoid of true meaning and separate from the reality of campus life, and those who could care less what “student voice” means and whether or not we have an institutionalized voice as undergraduates.
To the first category: I am tired of Yalies who pledge allegiance to the student voice flag without first becoming educated about the current options; standing committees are largely ignored, but they are a significant and legitimate form of institutionalized voice for undergraduates. Your efforts and passions are invaluable, but before you march on Beinecke Plaza or spend hours of your time hashing out ideas on how to influence University decisions and policies, stop by the Dean’s Office — the standing committee applications are there waiting for you. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what avenues are already available.
To the second category of students: the next time you have complaints about Yale, I challenge you to step up and put action behind your words. If you don’t like the dining hall food, apply to be a member of the Dining Hall Advisory Committee. If you think library hours should be extended on weekends or that club sports should have more funding, apply to those committees. If you’re too busy to sit on a committee, talk to your Yale College Council representatives (that’s their job, after all), but if you choose this route, don’t beg for help from the YCC with one breath and disrespect it with the next.
While we are not using the YCC and standing committees to their fullest potential, the current system itself is far from perfect. The financial aid committee has been nonexistent for years, and sadly, the YCC had to hound the Athletic Department repeatedly before it would even contact its appointed student representatives this year. The President’s and Dean’s Offices should consider methods of accountability for standing committees to ensure that crucial groups such as the security committee do not go another year without convening.
Unfortunately, certain key issues such as licensing policies are cursorily or not at all addressed by standing committees; on these issues, SSS 110 and Woodbridge Hall must step up and work with students to create formal channels for student input in decisions.
To President Richard Levin: I wonder why you have been so slow to schedule an open forum with students this semester? You may be an unbelievably busy man, but experience says you are generally willing to engage with students, so why is it not a higher priority? What kind of example are you setting for your administrators, faculty and staff? When you are reticent to carve out two hours of your schedule for a forum, it is not surprising some of your administrators and staff are equally reticent to meet with students.
I know and understand my place as a student; I am a transient figure in a 300-year-old institution with a multi-billion dollar endowment. But sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to see possible changes in a system mired by layers of bureaucracy. Besides, Yale’s current undergraduates will one day soon be trusted with the direction of the University; it only makes sense to begin involving us now. I realize tuition from my pocket is not all that important in the grand scheme of Yale University, but maybe that says more about tuition bills and financial aid policies than the value of my student voice.
Leah Zimmerman is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. She is vice president of the Yale College Council.