The USAY petition: a step toward meaningful change

As individuals who have spent the better part of our time working with administrators and representing the student body at Yale, we are among the 3,017 undergraduates who signed a petition asking for more meaningful input into the decisions that affect our lives.

The petition, which was submitted to University President Richard Levin on Friday, identified four areas of widespread concern — financial aid policy, Yale’s decision-making process, diversity on campus and Yale’s actions as a local and global citizen. Although United Students at Yale coordinated the petition effort, the success of the petition represents the hard work of numerous individuals and organizations on campus.

These four areas of concern are not simply chosen at random by a handful of individuals. Instead, the issues arose from literally thousands of individual conversations over the past two years with students who care about greater undergraduate involvement in policy-making at this University. Since there now exists an overwhelming mandate that students should be more constructively involved in how Yale addresses these areas of concern, it’s up to students to work together on what that specifically entails.

Unfortunately, many undergrads feel uninformed and alienated from Yale’s decision-making process, or have become cynical based on past difficulties in affecting change. However, student apathy and cynicism stem not only from the lack of valuable inclusion in Yale’s decision-making, but also from the way in which students address issues on this campus.

Our ability as students to create large, lasting coalitions, and form working partnerships for the greater good, has allowed a campus full of phenomenal and talented leaders to more effectively influence campus decision-making. Last year, coalitions around financial aid and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day demonstrated that students working together can produce change in Yale’s policies. The YCC and students on standing committees also played a large part in the victories on these issues, but what separates these successes from past defeats is the addition of a large, broad-based student coalition.

The four broad areas of concern highlighted in the petition supercede divisions between student organizations on campus. We need to continue our shift from a fractured campus to a more unified student body, intent on creating a better, more efficient forum for student voice. We hear too often that it’s not possible, especially among upperclassmen, who hang their heads and say that it can’t be done.

This petition with 3,017 signatures marks the beginning of a new era of student life. It contradicts the notion that we can’t agree on issues, and that we can’t work together. If we can agree on these issues in principle, we must work hard and commit ourselves to agreeing on specifics.

USAY is working to build this dialogue. We aim to create large coalitions among students and the New Haven community around the very issues the petition addresses. In no way do we aim to take away legitimacy from any standing committees or organizations on this campus, nor do we claim to be a representative body. Rather, we hope to facilitate the conversations among leaders on campus and create lasting coalitions that are better equipped to affect change.

As YCC representatives and students who attend this school, we have had meetings with the administration on many occasions. At times, we have been met with cooperation. However, we have also encountered stumbling blocks to our goals.

This petition only states that 3,017 students think Yale can be better, and that the administration should sit down and work more cooperatively with its undergraduates in search of solutions to these very complex issues. As undergrads we bring different perspectives to the table, and like Yale administrators, we cannot solve these problems alone.

We are delighted to hear that President Levin is “certainly open to finding other ways to get students involved,” (“Petition calls for more student input,” 2/25) for 3,017 students have now made it clear that they want more meaningful involvement in the Yale decision-making process. We look forward to a more concrete proposal from President Levin toward increased dialogue between students and the administration.

It is our privilege and duty to make Yale a better place during our stay here, and to create a system to more efficiently voice student opinion for all undergrads, present and future. Doing so will bring about change on large issues that affect the entire Yale community. Let’s create a better University by continuing to work together.



Ted Wittenstein is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Howard H. Han is a freshman in Silliman College. They are both representatives of the Yale College Council and members of United Students at Yale.

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