On Jan. 8 of this year, the Yale College Council sent out an email to the entire student body with a bold new mission: to “foster greater representation of the student body.”
As someone who both reads the YCC emails (crazy, I know) and cares quite a bit about University policy, I was ecstatic. This Council, known for its insular politics, would finally become the accessible, democratic organization students needed in order to have a collective voice in the University’s decision-making process.
But when the 24 voting members of the Council had the chance to put these democratic words into action, they reversed course.
This opportunity arose when the Council was charged with deciding whether or not to allow the student body to vote on their representative to the advisory committee that would help choose the next dean of Yale College.
As a refresher, after Dean Mary Miller announced in January she would step down from her position, students immediately launched a hard-fought campaign to ensure that we would have a voice in deciding her successor. And, despite much skepticism from the administration, we won. What’s more, President Salovey gave YCC President Danny Avraham complete discretion in how to choose our single vote on the advisory committee.
I thought the logical next step was obvious: Just as we elected so many people on YCC to serve on that council, we would also hold a campus-wide vote to choose this unprecedented position on one of the most important bodies at Yale.
But I was sorely disappointed.
The meeting itself took place in Phelps Hall on Saturday afternoon and featured nearly two hours of contentious debate, in which representatives discussed everything from the timing of the election to their role as representatives to Avraham’s qualifications as a leader.
Yet members of the student body, which this council claimed to represent, also showed up to express their concerns. Staff from publications, an administrator of Dwight Hall and members of campus fraternities took time to come to this meeting to show their support of a directly elected student representative to the advisory committee.
And for a brief moment, it almost looked like we had won. But when it came time to make a decision, only nine representatives ultimately voted to allow the student body to have a voice in this process.
Many on the council unfairly characterized my objections to unilaterally appointing Avraham to the committee as a criticism of the qualifications of the YCC as a whole or of Avraham in particular. To be clear, I have no personal grudge against Danny Avraham — and at least until Saturday, I respected his efforts throughout the year to plan activities in which I participate and advocate for issues that I support. Indeed, had Danny himself run for the position, he could have run on his qualifications as YCC president and won legitimately.
But Danny Avraham was not elected last April to help select the new dean of Yale College, for such a role was not even in the realm of possibility at the time of his uncontested election.
This is not the column I wanted to write.
The YCC has gone to great lengths to rebuild its sometimes tattered legitimacy on campus this year, revising their constitution, redesigning their graphics and proudly sporting a banner on their website reading, “Reinventing YCC.” And despite what others may think, I have been actively rooting for them to succeed.
But the YCC soiled both its rebranding process and its legitimacy with Yale undergraduate students when it made perhaps its most important decision of the year on Saturday.
Of course, it is important to give credit to the future of the YCC — namely, those nine individuals who, despite pressure from the Executive Board, cast a vote in favor of a direct election: Khalid Attalla ’16, Vicky Chou ’16, Yaphet Getachew ’16, Jaime Halberstam ’16, Richard Harris ’15, Allison Kolberg ’16, Kevin Kory ’15, Michael Leopold ’16 and Sara Miller ’16.
If any one of these nine chooses to run for Executive Board this spring, that person will have my full support.
Unfortunately, decisions like the one on Saturday help us set precedent for years to come. I know many of the members of the YCC personally, and I do not doubt that many on that Council thought they were making the right decision. But in ignoring the chorus of voices calling for a direct election, there is no doubt the YCC broke its pledge to “foster greater representation of the student body.”
To rebrand the YCC as a more democratic organization requires more than just a redesigned logo — it requires a fundamental shift in the way the council approaches difficult decisions.
Tyler Blackmon is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His columns run on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .