LARSON: For a grounded YCC

Nothing in Particular

Now that John Gonzalez ’14 has won the run-off for the Yale College Council presidency, all the vestiges of election season — countless emails from the candidates and their friends, fliers in the dining halls and filmed debates — will give way to his agenda.

Certain students want that agenda to be bolder than it has been this year. They seem to think that the YCC shies away from advocating a transformational agenda. The story goes like this: The council focuses on small, limited changes that barely affect the average student’s life. On more controversial issues, the YCC defers to Yale’s administration and sells out its constituency.

Yalies seem to believe much of this baloney. According to a recent News survey, only 36 percent of students say that the YCC represents them. I’m guessing the number simply means that most students don’t feel connected to student government. Still, some have seized upon the number to conclude that the YCC exists as a student branch of the Yale Corporation, representing the administration’s interests rather than our own.

Complaining about this conflict of interests allows students who generally couldn’t care less about student government — and believe me, I count myself as one of these — to hide our apathy behind a veil of cynicism.

This conflict is largely non-existent. I would hope that, in cases of a direct conflict between administrators and students, our representatives would advocate for us. Still, it is telling that for all the bluster of some student leaders, the actual issues the YCC has purportedly sold us out on seem rather contrived.

Take, for instance, the council’s failure to come out in favor of gender-neutral housing for all students. It is true that half of Yale still doesn’t have gender-neutral housing, and it may be that most Yale students support its expansion to sophomores. Still, the YCC is the student voice that was most responsible for the expansion of gender-neutral housing to juniors.

Its accomplishment was due to a carefully calibrated strategy to convince the administration. The council showed the administration that the vast majority of students were demanding gender-neutral housing for juniors. The YCC might be able to effect similar changes for future sophomore classes if it were backed up by strong student consensus. The way for students to achieve that change would be to persuade their peers, not lambast the YCC.

But it isn’t the criticism of the YCC’s lack of accomplishments that is the most troublesome. Students who feel offended or mistreated by Yale’s housing policies or any other issue — from Yale’s reinstatement of ROTC to its lack of coverage of certain health benefits for transgender students – have every right to voice their complaints. They have the right to — misguidedly, in my opinion — blame the YCC for their grievances.

No, what is truly upsetting is the criticism that the YCC’s actual accomplishments are too pedestrian. As Jimmy Murphy ’13, who opposed outgoing YCC President Brandon Levin ’13 in last year’s election, told the News last week, “summer storage is not a philosophical change, it doesn’t question values.”

True, summer storage doesn’t question values. It does, however, allow me to store possessions that I would otherwise have had to get rid of, convey home or pay to store in New Haven. That seems like exactly the sort of thing student government should focus on.

Whether we’re talking about summer storage, sophomore seminars, clearer emails or extended lunch hours at Durfee’s, the YCC has found tangible ways to improve our Yale experience. Some changes have been significant, and some, admittedly, have been small.

But Yale’s administration doesn’t always know what small, annoying things in our lives we would like changed. Even if it does, it knows students will apply to Yale regardless of our storage policies. It’s the YCC that can and should be taking on such issues.

When we speak of our national government, we remember its concrete accomplishments — the Interstate Highway system, the railroads — almost as much as we remember its more ideologically significant moments. The more local you get, the more you are bound to care about concrete things: your child’s school, the snow blocking your car. This is not to say that local governments must avoid all controversy.

But let’s not criticize our local government precisely because it is so good at meeting our day-to-day needs. Let’s ask it to keep meeting them.

Harry Larson is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at harry.larson@yale.edu.

Comments

  • Yale_14Bro

    If Harry Larson wants to celebrate his ability to store an extra lamp in his residential college over the summer, it is his prerogative to do so. However, I disagree that it is wrong for students to expect something more from their student government. In fact, I believe that as a member of a student body at one of the greatest educational institutions in the world, we deserve actual representation, i.e. a student-led organization to represent my opinions in conversations with the Administration on contentious issues. While I trust the Administration to watch out for me on day-to-day “tangible” issues as Harry refers to them, I do not necessarily trust them to take into consideration, or even know, my interests on more contentious issues- that is where YCC is truly needed, and should act.

    Also, I want to take offense with Harry’s characterization of gender neutral housing as outside of the YCC’s mandate. If it is “misguided” for students to take their concerns to the YCC on this issue, then to whom ought they go? Most Yale students I know uniformly praise Gender Neutral Housing as the most important recent achievement of YCC. Without the YCC’s help putting together a report, galvanizing student opinion, and pushing the Administration on the issue, it is unlikely that gender neutral housing would exist today. It seems odd for Harry to attack the YCC for working on gender neutral housing- as it is one that clearly IS tangible and meaningful for a significant proportion of our population. We should all be able to agree that discrimination against transgendered students is a far greater issue than lamp storage or durfees swipes.

    The YCC Harry proposes for next year at best is uninspired and dull. At the worst it represents a huge step in the wrong direction in a time when the Administration increasingly seeks to insert itself into campus life, making YCC’s mandate to represent student interests more important than ever.

    • Stephanie_Nichole

      I believe Mr. Larson’s point on gender neutral housing was that we should be grateful YCC was able to extend it to juniors, not griping that sophomores and freshman still aren’t included. It is likely that the administration wouldn’t have approved an initiative to extend gender-neutral housing to all classes this year.

      As for storage, the initiative he refers to is not the additional storage options in the college (though I, for one am glad to be able to store a bookcase now) but the summer storage program. They subsidize storage for $12.50 a box. Other options like the student storage company cost $50 a box. How is saving me (and others) a couple hundred dollars not a big change?

  • ihaveahammer

    “trans-gendered,” for serious?

  • seriousssam

    ^ I have to say I agree with the bro upstairs. The scope of things student government should be involved in or at least should seek to involve itself in should be much broader than the number of lamps students are allowed to store.

    I agree that more “tangible” issues are important in terms of our daily lives as students, but it’s about time we start seeing a student government that does not shy away from representing student opinion on more contentious issues like Yale-NUS, what kind of contracts Yale has with different companies and whether these contracts should be in place, you name it.

    Shying away from the “political” is a political stance in itself, and it’s one that I am ashamed of as a Yalie when I look at places like the UCs. Of course, they have a very very different structure by virtue of the nature of the place, and students have much more ‘power’, but not having this power formally shouldn’t lead us to relinquish the power of having an opinion about these things and expressing it.

  • DarkHandYCC

    As long as the Dark Hand continues to run things – there is little hope for change. Just remember what PK used to say – only he knows the truth of the YCC