Kudos to this year’s YCC. In my four years, the Yale College Council has steadily transformed itself from a student government mired in endless debate on issues it has little control over, to one focused on tangibly improving student life.
This year, it brought The New York Times to dining halls, posted record-high UOFC funding and convinced Dining Services to let students swipe twice for lunch when they miss breakfast. In terms of social justice causes, it persuaded Yale to introduce fair trade coffee and, last year, it convinced the University to compensate drug offenders who’ve been unfairly denied federal financial aid.
The council’s success is partly due to the fact that it has stayed away from the complex, divisive topics that have traditionally bogged down YCC proceedings. No longer does the YCC grace us with its insights on tenure reform, faculty diversity, or card-count neutrality. As important as these topics are, YCC officers — many of them sophomores and freshmen — are rarely the most qualified to deliberate on them. Even if they were, they would have little chance of influencing the University’s carefully considered stances on the subjects. Instead, the student government should focus on goals it can feasibly achieve.
Fortunately, this year’s council has kept that in mind. The outgoing executive ought to be commended. And it’s refreshing that in last week’s elections, candidates who focused on bread-and-butter issues were voted in, while those who campaigned on unrealistic platforms were penalized.
This brings up a broader point: There is something to be said about students who produce concrete, tangible results in their pursuit to make the world a better place. Of course, good intentions are an important starting point — and apathetic students who regularly criticize Dwight Hall often lack even that. As George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “There is an eternal war between those who are in the world for what they can get out of it and those who are in the world to make it a better place to live in.”
But plenty of times, campus organizers aim for targets that lie beyond their reach. It can be tempting to tackle broad issues like corporation reform or faculty diversity. But, for better or worse, the decision-making over these topics is firmly out of our hands. Protests, petitions and other forms of lobbying can pressure administrators to adopt certain standards, but often enough, the impact of the pressure is so small that it’s virtually negligible.
Indeed, student groups that have set their sights too high have often collapsed within a year or two. For instance, take the example of USAY, or United Students at Yale, an ambitious “student union” that formed two years ago as an umbrella group for social justice causes. Despite attracting many of Yale’s most talented organizers, the group eventually disbanded at the end of last year. Part of the problem was that their primary goals — such as financial aid reform, and faculty and student diversity –were simply too lofty to base an organization upon. In contrast, groups that have advocated specific, practical policy changes, such as canceling classes for Martin Luther King Day or introducing organic food to the dining halls, have been among the more successful.
When I was editorials editor for the Yale Daily News, we kept a tab on meaningless resolutions passed by New Haven’s Board of Aldermen. It might not surprise you to know that last October, the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution opposing the war on Iraq. What might surprise you is that the board’s resolution was the most recent in a long tradition of New Haven-based resolutions on U.S.-Iraq relations.
Indeed, it was only four years ago that our very own Yale College Council passed a resolution condemning the U.N. sanctions regime. If only the United Nations had listened, maybe rebuilding Iraq would not be so difficult.
Sahm Adrangi is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column appears regularly on alternate Wednesdays.