Two years ago I arrived at Yale full of visions. I was excited to be going to such a great university, a place where the opinions of the students would be known and acted upon, where the students would have a role in forming university policy, policy that in the end affects our lives the most. Freshman year I was surprised to find this wasn’t true.
On every issue, from licensing policy to professor tenure, students were being ignored. I thought the best way to address this problem was to get involved in the “legitimate” forums for student voice, the Yale College Council or the standing committees. Sophomore year I resolved to use these channels, the channels provided by the administration, to get the concerns of the student body addressed. I served as a representative to the YCC from Branford College. My experience on the council made me even more frustrated. Yes, I could set up meetings with top University officials and talk for hours, but when the final decision was made, no member of the student body was present.
Standing committees are equally ineffective. Only some committees have student representatives. These students go through an interview process with the YCC but are selected by Dean Brodhead. Not even the student representatives are actually chosen by the students. Most standing committees meet infrequently and oftentimes the students have no vote.
The problem became clear. Students aren’t at the table when final decisions are made, and even the “legitimate” forms of student input muffle the very voice that they are designed to amplify. I don’t claim to have a complete understanding of how a university is run, but a current student might have a different perspective from President Levin or the members of the Yale Corporation.
Is it too much to ask that a student be present when the final decision about student life policy is made? Sure we are only here for four years, but as current students we could clearly give useful insight into how policy changes will affect our lives. Although I hold true to the belief of reform from within, thus staying involved with and encouraging others to become involved in the YCC and standing committees, I think there is a way to get our voices heard when these avenues fall short.
A coalition of students has formed a group to help address our concerns, United Students At Yale. We came together under the shared belief that increased student input would make a place we love even better. The coalition has taken up a wide variety of issues: financial aid reform; environmental policy; dance space; mental health; and many more. Although these issues might not seem related, they are connected by students’ current inability to address them.
We realize that our strongest allies are other groups that are working to address the issue of voice at Yale. USAY has aligned with the graduate teachers, hospital workers and members of Locals 34 and 35 who are all fighting for increased democracy. If the Yale and New Haven communities speak with a unified voice and demand real democracy, Yale will have to listen.
If students truly want a voice on this campus, they must look beyond the established forums and take the next step to ensure that Yale lives up to its potential.
Abbey Hudson ’03 was Branford’s representative to Yale College COuncil. She is an organizer for United Students at Yale, Yale’s student union.