By Thursday, the candidates for the new Yale College Council executive board will have submitted their petitions to enter the race for next year’s council. The following Thursday marks the beginning of elections for this new board — and also signals the end of the 2011–’12 board’s tenure.
Though current board members, led by YCC President Brandon Levin ’13, do not officially step down from their positions until the end of the year, their work is largely done.
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With a new logo, a weekly newsletter and a new website, this year’s council has worked to become a more transparent and well-known body among the student population, YCC Representative Bryan Epps ’14 said.
“Maybe YCCs in the past have done just as much, but the newsletter and promotion in general [and] cooperating with various groups on campus to put the YCC logo on everything they can has made people more aware of YCC,” he said.
In its first-ever mid-year report emailed to the student body in January, this year’s YCC listed more than 10 policy improvements it had achieved, such as sending students email notifications when their final grades have been posted, extending residential college dining hours over Thanksgiving break and bringing mixed-gender housing options to juniors.
Levin said one of his goals for the year was to create “a more visible and present YCC that is more reactive to student needs.” He added that one of his “metrics of success” is receiving a few emails a week from students raising concerns or offering suggestions about particular issues.
Still, while YCC’s weekly meeting is open to all Yale undergraduates, YCC member Josh Ackerman ’14 said few ever attend. In a survey distributed by the News to randomly selected Yale undergraduates, 51 percent of the 740 respondents said this year’s YCC Executive Board has had a “moderate” effect on student life at Yale.
Of the 157 seniors who participated in the survey, 71 said they did not know which of the past four Councils was most effective both in generating and implementing initiatives. Of those who did have an opinion, a majority classified this year’s YCC board as the most effective group.
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But because the term of a YCC member lasts only a year, passing major initiatives within that year can be difficult, Levin said.
This year’s YCC, for example, struggled to achieve results in two main areas of focus: mental health and Credit/D/Fail reform.
In September, the YCC announced the creation of a mental health fellows program, which places mental health professionals from Yale Health in each of the residential colleges to meet with students and host workshops. Names of the mental health fellows were announced in January, and the event did not take place until March.
“We spoke to the right people, but it took too long for us to work with Yale Health’s Mental Health & Counseling Department to achieve the goals we wanted,” Ackerman said of the time frame.
The Credit/D/Fail proposal has been put on hold by the Yale College Dean’s Office. By the time the YCC Academics Committee finalized its proposal for Credit/D/Fail reform in November, the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing, based in the Dean’s Office, had already set its agenda for the year. As such, the Committee could not consider the proposal, Levin said.
Levin said he and Yale College Dean Mary Miller have discussed holding a joint meeting between the Dean’s Office committee and the new YCC committee members to discuss the issue at the beginning of next year.
YCC Vice President Omar Njie ’13, who chairs the YCC mental health committee, said the council’s inability to implement the mental health fellows program quickly points to a larger issue the YCC faces each year: Though the YCC operates on a one-year basis, the University is often much slower to adapt to change.
“YCC has long suffered from a lack of institutional memory,” Njie said.
Former YCC President Jeff Gordon ’12 said he found the “short-term mindset” to be a major obstacle for the efficiency of the organization, since many members tend to start work at “square one” rather than pick up where the Council before left off.
Gordon said his executive board and council from 2010-’11 were unable to see their efforts to push the University to offer language certificates through to completion. While the initiative made traction last spring, shortly before Gordon left his position, Levin said it was ultimately “not the priority” for this year’s YCC, and has not been acted upon this year.
Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, who meets with the YCC president and vice president weekly, said the extension of mixed-gender housing privileges to juniors, announced on Feb. 26, is an example of multiple YCC executive boards working together successfully. For the last four years, he said, each consecutive YCC has worked toward that common, concrete goal.
Some current YCC members also expressed frustration that they could not see the results of their work sooner.
“I felt like this year we were in one of two places: We were either finishing projects that had already been started from years past,” Ackerman said, “Or we were starting brand new initiatives that we couldn’t bring to fruition.”
Rustin Fakheri ’12, who was a YCC member for three years and opposed Levin for President, said the passage of multi-year initiatives like gender-neutral housing may be a result of campus-wide sentiment rather than the work of YCC members.
“Sometimes you wonder if the YCC hadn’t been there, would it have happened anyway?” Fakheri said.
The entire Council meets for an hour once a week, and executive members also gather twice weekly to discuss ongoing projects. Levin said he thinks the YCC’s increased “transparency” about these discussions is successfully engaging more students in YCC affairs and allowing the Council to better understand student needs.
As a result of these promotional efforts, Njie said the YCC has collaborated with more student groups.
“I think people noticed those smaller differences coupled with the work we’ve been doing, and students felt more confidence in our ability to change things, and to accurately represent the sentiment of the student body,” he said.
But according to the News’ survey, only three students ranked the revamped YCC website as one of the three most important YCC initiatives to them personally. The most popular of the YCC’s efforts were email grade notifications and the online bluebook app.
Of five undergraduates interviewed, all said while they felt the YCC has communicated well with students this year, it has not increased their interest in the organization’s activities.
“It’s nice because students can figure out what’s going on. I’m just not involved,” Keilor Gilbert ’14 said. “If they could get rid of my midterms, maybe I would be.”
A current associate member, Eli Rivkin ’15, said his decision to join the Council was not influenced by outreach tools like the YCC newsletter. Instead, he said that because he had several friends on the Council and was interested in several YCC initiatives, he decided to get involved.
Seventy-seven percent of the students surveyed reported no communication via email or in person about student life, student government or campus-wide initiatives with members of the YCC executive board in the last six months.
Whether or not students become engaged, Levin said he remains optimistic that the body of YCC is adapting to a structure with more long-term goals in mind, as evidenced by the campaign strategies of the new YCC candidates.
“This year, more than most, we’re seeing in the campaigns less reinventing the wheel and more continuing the projects that have generated some pretty substantial traction,” Levin said.