GREENBERG: Missing chances to make change

Last Wednesday, I went to the open forum held by the University Council Committee on Alcohol. I arrived late to the meeting, but my interruption was welcomed since I managed to double the student attendance at the meeting.

Staring at the empty room in Woodbridge Hall, it hit me that students seem to have given up their voice at this university.

The alcohol committee made student participation as convenient as possible: multiple campuswide emails announced two open forums the week after break, when students have minimal work. The other session drew only nine students, which seems like a crowd in comparison.

The committee asked for email comments from those who could not attend, yet few bothered to reply — when I walked in with a nametag labeled “Sam,” a committee member said, “Oh, you must be that student who emailed us!”

Despite being given a chance to influence policy, we failed to voice an opinion. Apathy seems to be the new norm with regard to how Yale is run. As Yalies we are admirably active on many causes, and feel we can make a difference in anything from state politics to global health — so why do my friends often feel that they have no chance of changing anything at Yale? Am I wrong in thinking that more than 11 students here care about alcohol policies?

Yale has become stricter in enforcing its alcohol and party regulations recently, and judging by comments from my friends, most students are concerned about the changes. Alcohol is one of the most important issues being considered at Yale right now, as it has such a large impact on student health, sexual assault and the campus social scene.

If the committee makes suggestions that upset the student body, there will probably be many complaints overheard in the dining halls, and many frustrated columns on this page. Yet no one will be able to accuse Yale of failing to solicit student input in the process.

“Activist” or “radical” is the last thing my friends would call me. And yet, I think it is critical that students speak out and step up to shape what kind of university Yale becomes.

Often, students can make changes without serious conflict with our administration. The people who run Yale generally work here because they care about students and want to make the Yale experience as enjoyable as possible. Students can find success by voicing frustrations, or presenting sound and well-researched arguments about why a certain policy is flawed.

And in cases when the administration is truly at odds with students, we must still find a voice on this campus. Student campaigns in recent years made Yale substantially expand its financial aid packages and pass gender-neutral housing. In previous generations, students advocated for the creation of the African American Studies Department and the cultural centers. Serious student campaigns can yield real results through public pressure and Yale’s concern for maintaining its image.

Successful campaigns require both good leadership and mass participation. We need more leaders who are willing to step up and put in the hard work required to lead campaigns — and that includes a Yale College Council that focuses more on serious policy changes. At the same time, the average student needs to become more involved in joining these efforts, which would often take relatively little time and energy.

In a time without organized student campaigns, we encourage our administration to take student voices less seriously. If I were the chair of the next alcohol committee, I wouldn’t bother soliciting student opinions. In keeping quiet, we show the administration that they can, in fact, get away with anything they want.

I know that my Yale experience has been made richer thanks to the work of students who came before me. And that is why I believe that even seniors, who will never benefit from any of the changes Yale is currently considering, should participate in the discussion over what our campus should look like.

As Yalies, we always believe we are able to make a difference. Helping Yale to continue being the best college in the country is, in my humble opinion, a cause worth fighting for.

Sam Greenberg is a senior in Saybrook College and a former associate editor for the News. Contact him at sam.greenberg@yale.edu .

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