To say that last year was not the best year for the Yale College Council would be a vast understatement. Two members of the executive board stepped down at the start of the spring semester. Survey after survey was sent out to the student body, yet the only tangible result most students can cite is the infamous salad report. When elections for the 2013–’14 executive board rolled around, three of the six positions were uncontested, even after the date for submitting a candidacy was extended. No candidate received more than 725 votes, with hundreds of students putting in the extra effort to vote “abstain” in multiple categories.
Clearly the YCC needs to redeem itself. There are issues that Yale students care deeply about that the YCC can, and should, be addressing with more than just surveys. Fossil Free Yale sprung up to demand that the University follow in the footsteps of colleges around the country and divest from fossil fuels. The student contribution for financial aid rose again, leading a group of students to march on the financial aid office and demand reform. This past summer, the sexual misconduct report spurred a petition asking for stronger preferred disciplinary sanctions that garnered over 1000 signatures.
Judging from campus discourse regarding these issues and many more, it is evident that Yale students are not apathetic regarding University policy and campus life. Yet it appears that the majority of them do not feel that their representative body will do much to address any of these problems. And given the YCC’s recent track record, this outlook does not seem unwarranted. Many have resigned themselves to the belief that our student government exists for the sole purpose of planning events like Spring Fling. Up until 2009, however, event planning was not even part of the YCC’s agenda — the Yale Student Activities Committee existed as its own separate entity.
At points in its history, the YCC has been successful in putting serious pressure on the university to enact policy change. In 2011, the council petitioned the administration to extend gender-neutral housing to juniors, a measure that was implemented in 2012. In 2005, the YCC passed resolutions demanding financial aid reform. This, combined with student protests by the now-extinct Undergraduate Organizing Committee, led to the announcement of huge aid reform in 2008. The student contribution was lowered from $4,400 to $2,500 per year and the range of family incomes that qualified for financial aid was extended. Since then, the student contribution has climbed back up to $3,300, almost completely undoing the hard work students put in eight years ago. The YCC has failed to prevent the steep increase in student aid contribution.
Still, the YCC’s new leadership has the opportunity to shift direction and tackle more substantive issues than last year’s council. Although the group has not substantively addressed financial aid for several years, a committee has recently been formed to begin looking into YCC action on the issue. The council created an events committee in order to prevent event-planning from being the sole focus of the organization. YCC leadership sent out emails encouraging students to apply for a new Title IX Student Advisory Board. The YCC is planning on holding a campus-wide referendun on fossil fuel divestment in November. And the push for transparency with the updated YCC website is an excellent step towards ensuring that our elected representatives are doing more than just collecting data on salad bar ingredients.
I find it hard to imagine that YCC members are content with the group’s current reputation. They too are students on this campus and are affected by the same issues as the rest of the student body. Two of my suitemates are newly elected YCC representatives and they both hope to enact substantial change from their positions. Many students seem to have given up hope for an active YCC, as evidenced by the low voter turnout in the spring. But I am hopeful that the council’s leadership can learn from their predecessors, taking on the sort of issues that YCC has tackled in its history.
The YCC is taking steps to reestablish its legitimacy on campus, but our representatives cannot do this on their own. It is our responsibility as students to get involved in some capacity — the council cannot lead unless it understands the issues that concern the student body. Getting involved can mean joining a committee, having conversations with your representatives or simply taking the time to vote during elections. YCC reform has been needed for several years now. It is up to us to push them to achieve it.
Diana Rosen is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.