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 email@example.com.