When I joined the Yale College Council as a bright-eyed, first-semester freshman, many laughed. They chuckled not that I was a freshman interested in making a difference, but rather that student government was the means by which I expected to improve campus life.
At the time I was quite hurt, but in hindsight they were right to laugh.
They were correct because the YCC had no authority then and has no authority now to foster any real change on campus. Even after a year filled with many successes, our undergraduate student government today still lacks the influence it requires in order to enact policies, even if ubiquitously popular amongst students.
This lack of authority is largely correlated to the decision-making paradigms of the University.
Presently, when students seek to change policies or programs, we must make a formal recommendation to administrators. Any recommendation, for the most part, will only be seriously considered if accompanied by extensive survey data and pages of reasoning. When these proposals are finally presented to the University, administrators are not compelled to act in any way; they can “consider” a proposal for any period of time, sometimes weeks, but often for months or even years at a time.
Conversely, administrators currently need not consult with students when making changes to policies or programs. For instance, when alterations were made to the academic calendar, administrators were not required to have the approval of the student body, despite its obvious effects on all aspects of campus life. Although they might be well intentioned, administrators can sometimes make decisions that inadvertently harm students.
It is this asymmetrical decision-making, among other things, that I seek to change as president of the Yale College Council.
By incorporating student government into the decision-making process, the 24 elected Council representatives can be given the authority they require to not only engage with administrators on important decisions, but also to quickly and effectively enact the policy and program changes that we all seek. Without this empowerment of students, it will be impossible for any student body president to accomplish his or her largest goals.
Although all of the candidates have good ideas, it is unlikely that many, including my own, will become a reality without the increased authority of students. As academic minors, for instance, have been placed on (and then swiftly removed from) the desks of administrators in the past, we will likely not see any reasonable discussion without a shift in the decision-making paradigm. Previous attempts to reform our Credit/D/Fail program have failed similarly, indicating a need for a new approach.
Without the ability of our student government to achieve the objectives of the student body, I certainly understand now why my peers laughed when I told them about my involvement in the YCC.
The process of empowering students will be filled with challenges; it certainly won’t be easy. Without this effort, however, undergraduates will never have the ability to impact Yale as they seek. I am hopeful that one day, another bright-eyed freshman will not be laughed at when he or she looks to improve the vibrancy and diversity of campus life through our student government.
Please visit http://ben4ycc.com to learn more about my candidacy, my experience, and my vision.
Ben Ackerman is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .