ACKERMAN: Fight for campus vibrancy

I am the type of person who loves to say “yes.” Whether I am asked to complete a task or help a friend, I always find myself answering in the affirmative. Upon further reflection, however, it is apparent that I don’t enjoy saying “yes” as much as I disdain letting someone down by saying “no.”

Since August, I have had to tell a great many of my peers “no” with more frequency than in any time previously. I have not had a change of heart about saying “no.” Rather, student organizations have asked my team and me to meet expectations we simply do not have the resources to fulfill.

As the Yale College Council’s student organizations director and chair of the Undergraduate Organizations Committee, I receive and process the grant requests of the nearly 400 officially registered student organizations each week. At the start of this academic year, there were more than 500 officially registered organizations. Whether Yalies are asking for funds to bring revered academics and celebrities to campus, or petitioning for financing to allow others to experience their culture and understand their ideas, the activities represented by these applications are nothing short of incredible.

These undertakings by our student organizations are what make being an undergraduate at Yale so very special. Our campus is vibrant and diverse because students here are excited to open their minds and hearts to others; our school is celebrated and distinguished because students here excel inside and outside of the classroom.

I fear, however, that the state of student organizations at Yale is in decline. Even though the ambition and zeal of students is as strong as ever, the University simply does not provide sufficient funding to student organizations in order to preserve their vitality on campus.

Annually, the Student Activities Fee, Yale College Dean’s Office and President’s Office contribute a total of approximately $205,000 to student organizations via the UOC. When we look to distribute these funds, we see that a completely equitable distribution would yield around $410 per student organization. With the Dean’s Office’s exacting registration policies and procedures this semester, this distribution rose to around $530 per student organization.

But whatever numbers you choose to calculate the most equitable distribution of funds, it is apparent that student organizations simply do not have enough to operate the way that they wish. The more than 500 grant applications from student organizations this semester have requested a total of $355,673.79. If this trend continues, student organizations will request almost 350% of the University’s allocation of funds. This means the UOC will only be able to meet fewer than three out of every 10 dollars requested.

I am, frankly, embarrassed to share these numbers with my peers. The pain I feel each week, however, in sending out dozens of denied grant requests has simply become too great; in every “no” that I communicate to a student group, I am acutely aware of the event that is canceled or the dollar that students needs to contribute directly in lieu of a UOC grant.

In a university that prides itself on its undergraduates and the activities they pursue, there is no reason why the UOC should have to turn down more legitimate grant requests than it accepts. There is no reason that student organizations need to struggle in order to keep our vibrant and diverse campus alive.

In underfunding student organizations, Yale has failed to meet one of the student body’s most essential needs.

So the next time student leaders receive notice of a grant request that has not been accepted, I ask they take into consideration the challenges the UOC faces in allocating the limited funds reserved for student organizations. Even though we work to adjudicate applications as fairly as possible, looking for those that have the highest utility to campus life, it is impossible to make everyone happy. For that, I am sincerely sorry.

Moving forward, I am hopeful that University administrators, alumni and students themselves will be able to work together with the goal of ameliorating the significant financial problems that confront student organizations today. Together we can preserve the diversity and vibrancy of the campus that we all know and love.

Ben Ackerman is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College and is the Student Organizations Director for the Yale College Council. Contact him at ben.ackerman@yale.edu.

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