My student government experience at Yale has been a far cry from the prom-planning days of my high school student council back in Michigan. I served as the vice president of the Yale College Council this year, and for the first time administrators respect and consider my thoughts and opinions.
No matter how well-meaning YCC representatives may be, the YCC sometimes struggles with its image when the student body at large discounts the possibility for effective student voice at Yale. I’m sometimes surprised and saddened by people’s apathy toward my involvement in the YCC.
It’s rare for someone to come up to me and voice a concern, but I overhear informal complaints constantly. Many students say they are sick of the quality of the dining hall food and disappointed Yale did not promptly respond to improved financial aid at Harvard and Princeton universities this year.
Most Yalies outside the YCC seem to fall into one of two categories: those who couldn’t care less what “student voice” means and whether we have institutionalized voice as undergraduates — and those for whom “student voice” has become a catchphrase nearly devoid of true meaning and separate from the reality of campus life.
Students in the first category, the apathetic crowd, need to step up and put action behind their complaints. Apply for a position on a University standing committee! 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 for those committees. If you’re too busy to actually sit on a committee, talk to your Yale College Council representatives — that’s their job, after all.
The second category of students has become increasingly vocal and increasingly organized on campus after a 16-day sleep-out outside the president’s office in the spring of 2000, protesting unfair working conditions in factories where Yale merchandise is produced. They’ve spent the past year cultivating a new group of followers. This year many of those same students rallied for the administration to cancel classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in future years. I respect the passion and energy of these students, but I cringe at their newest idea of forming a “student union” — yet another group for student voice at Yale. The student union lacks the institutionalized legitimacy of the YCC and standing committees.
Standing committees are organized by the Yale College Dean’s Office and address every area of Yale life. Committees include the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing, the disciplinary Executive Committee, the Library Policy Committee and many more. Most committees meet several times each semester and include a variety of faculty, staff, administrators and students. The student representatives are appointed by the YCC in the spring semester through an application and interview process. Committees advise the University on policy matters and are often instrumental in creating crucial proposals.
Unfortunately, University standing committees and the YCC are ignored by many students and are not used to their fullest potential. I’ve seen first-hand that students can be heard by administrators and can effect positive change. The opportunity for great student impact on University decisions is there for the taking.
Leah Zimmerman ’02 served as Yale College Council vice president last year.