STERN: Our opportunity

A Stern Perspective

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Yale College Council. And that’s not entirely warranted. The YCC has accomplished a lot this year, most notably restructuring itself, implementing a referendum and pushing through several key financial aid reforms. Yet it’s also important to be frank about the mistakes.

scott_stern_headshot_peter_tianThe YCC should acknowledge its mistake in the condescending and misguided manner in which it selected the hard-won student representative to that committee. We, as Yalies, should also acknowledge our mistake in electing — or, more accurately, allowing to run often uncontested — a YCC that is sometimes so condescending and misguided.

Luckily, we have the chance to fix that last mistake.

Today, students’ confidence in the YCC is at an all-time low, even as many YCC members’ confidence in themselves has never been higher. The YCC just released a creepy, grating YouTube video and distributed pamphlets across campus touting its own accomplishments. This year’s YCC’s legacy will be its many undemocratic decisions — people have joked about ineffectiveness for years, but the word “dictatorial” never came up before. And when it comes to the most important issues affecting student lives, things may actually be getting worse; the Corporation just quietly tabled the issue of divestment, the administration delayed yet again a decision on sophomore gender-neutral housing, and countless students may lose their on-campus jobs. If you want a sense of the immense dissatisfaction with the YCC, just ask the candidates running to be its next president.

Today’s YCC, wrote one candidate in the News last week, “has no authority now to foster any real change on campus.” Another commented, “I have recognized an extreme chasm between student perception of Yale and our perceptions of YCC.” Yet another recalled being spurred to run after she was “appalled” by a YCC maneuver. The fourth reflected, “After two years, I have come to realize that YCC is not the organization I want it to be — not yet, at least.”

It is time for a change. But who should lead the charge?

There are some obvious things we should all seek in a YCC president: someone who is intelligent, informed, passionate and open-minded. This bill, of course, could fit all of the candidates. Yet I’ve recently come to doubt whether we can handle someone who is merely smart, capable and well intentioned. We need someone who is smart, capable, well intentioned and not part of the establishment.

The ultimate weakness of student government — especially at Yale — is its lack of bargaining power. Each iteration of the YCC is only around for a year, and it must spend part of that time learning the ropes. The remaining few months are hardly enough time to accomplish any significant changes, especially with an administration that is trenchantly opposed to altering the status quo. And, of course, there is no recourse for the administration’s intransigence. If they wanted to simply stop meeting with the YCC, or to ignore its every demand, they probably could.

How can we change this? Well, for the most part, we can’t. As students, we are only here for four years, and that is hardly enough time to change anything structural. They hold all the cards; we do not. Yet they are scared of us. They are terrified. What if a policy of theirs backfires and many students decide not to attend, as has happened at grade-deflating Princeton? What if students decide to stand up, to speak out? I suspect the administration has decided not to announce a rejection of divestment until over the summer because it wants to avoid vocal student dissent. I suspect the faculty declined to support grade deflation here because of vocal protests, and the administration put a student on the dean’s search advisory committee because of the threat of protest.

Loud student voices penetrate even the thickest ivy-coated walls. And the YCC could be the embodiment of our sole power — our ability to vocally demand the changes we know to be necessary. Students are not so young and ignorant that the grownups should completely ignore our opinions. And a student government need not be weak, disconnected and defensive.

We have the chance to elect someone who will channel our voices and refuse to be satisfied with half-measures. I am not pushing, here, for a particular presidential candidate. I am asking you to look to the candidate who you believe will best advocate for you, in spite of setbacks — someone who will not be afraid to tell the administration, “This isn’t enough.”

It is time for a change.

Scott Stern is a junior in Branford College. His columns run on Wednesdays. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .

Comments