In about a week, the deluge of the Yale College Council elections will begin. April is a flood for everyone at Yale as our performances, practices and exams sweep away our free time and demand our attention. But nothing insists we care as doggedly as the YCC elections do.
On Monday the News published what is likely to be the first of many editorials critical of the YCC (“News’ View: Legitimizing student government,” March 25). Unlike many of the editorials on the YCC that I’ve read at Yale, it seemed like the intention was to look forward rather than just throw mud. But the piece largely made suggestions for President-elect Peter Salovey.
I think YCC elections, specifically, could use some reconsideration. Officially, the elections last the course of a week (though if this year, they are anything like every student council election ever, they started months ago). Candidates scurry to and from endorsement meetings, debates, interviews and student dorms. Invitations to “Vote for Me!” saturate Facebook news feeds. Brightly-colored, large-fonted, poly-exclamatory emails sprout in our inboxes like April flowers. After a semester and a half of relative anonymity, the YCC is all over campus. This visibility does few favors.
This was my experience from both a personal and institutional perspective. Last year, I ran for YCC treasurer. I wrote a policy platform, made posters and came up with a slogan. (“Money in the BaNK,” the posters read. The NK in “bank” superimposed my initials — a mediocre slogan inspired by the lyrics of an equally mediocre Spring Fling performer.) At the best of times it felt like season 7 of “The West Wing” — exhilarating but clunky. At the worst of times it was soul-sucking.
I could feel people getting tired of me, almost see it on their faces. My classmates and acquaintances listened to me with raised eyebrows as I waxed on about YCC’s summer storage program. My friends did too many of the favors I asked of them. I sent more inane, beseeching messages in that week than I ever care to in my life — all to people I barely knew, and for a position they barely cared about. I got crushed in the election, but when I look back on that week now, I’m more embarrassed by the emails I sent than by having lost.
The week was harrowing, but I signed up for it. The entire campus, however, did not. I think that the YCC elections can and should be condensed, both for the sake of the YCC’s legitimacy and for the inboxes across our entire campus. Having an election cycle as long as it is now does not reflect the student body’s feelings toward the YCC. Conventional attitudes toward student government, particularly student government at Yale, think that elections do not demand a week of campus time.
From an outside perspective, it seems as if a week would be necessary. It gives candidates enough time for knocking on doors to get their message out, and gives the student body a week of dialogue. But this doesn’t hold up. You don’t need a whole lot of time to get your name out there. You can send a panlist-wide email in minutes. Knocking on doors and shaking hands is more personable, but is no longer the best way to reach voters. Why would anyone go to the endorsement meeting if they can read about the candidates on Facebook? Yale students are capable of educating themselves about student government. I just don’t think they care to do so.
When I began knocking on doors last year, people were pleasantly surprised to see someone asking them to spare a few moments “to hear a YCC spiel.” But by the fifth day, most people had seen “a million YCC candidates” and weren’t interested, if they had even been interested in the first place. While I think many Yale students vote based on what they have learned about the candidates’ policies, many more vote based on less concrete criteria (e.g., who they know, who their friends know, who is better-looking, who emailed them, who didn’t email them, etc.).
I believe a two- or three-day election cycle is both feasible and necessary. One day for campaigning and educating, and two days for voting. If people see the YCC as an irrelevant organization, the YCC should spend less time demanding attention for its candidates. It would be a step toward self-awareness in a largely self-indulgent process.
In the end, this change could be the most popular result of the campaign season.
Nathan Kohrman is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .