When United Students at Yale began last spring as a coalition of campus activists committed to improving communication between students and administration, the organization seemed to have considerable potential. Both its interest in tackling issues like financial aid reform through open forums and petitions and its ability to rally students positioned it to become a viable and important student organization.
But USAY’s conduct over the past year has muddied its stated mission and sapped it of organizing power. Not surprisingly, it has been reduced to a small group of die-hard members desperately struggling to revive its appeal. In spite of such efforts — indeed, in many ways because of them — USAY now appears to be an organization doing more harm than good.
At best, USAY seems merely redundant. At least four of the group’s main organizers — which number no more than a dozen — are already on the Yale College Council, a body elected by undergraduates to express student opinion. If USAY is going to overlap with YCC — both in terms of members and issues — then it is pointless and potentially deceptive for USAY to exist as a separate organization, especially considering that it lacks the electoral mandate YCC possesses.
USAY’s larger problem, however, it is that it professes to stand for students, but acts on a different basis. The organization’s opaque relationship with Yale’s unions is particularly troubling. USAY members admit that the two groups frequently communicate, although they deny that unions have control over the organization. But many longtime campus activists allege that USAY’s union ties run far deeper, a belief supported by the fact that several of USAY’s founding members have become union employees after graduation.
While it is perfectly acceptable for an undergraduate organization to form with the goal of supporting Yale’s unions, the organization owes it to the public and its recruits to be honest about its background and its aspirations. USAY fails to do this — many have complained that the organization’s petitions are hopelessly vague and misleading — and it rightly loses legitimacy as a result.
This is not to say the idea of an issues-focused student organization is without merit. Two years after the failure of Students Against Sweatshops, many still feel the need for a cohesive association to vocalize student grievances. But without openly asserting a concrete agenda or issue to rally around and backing it up with deliberate actions — something SAS clearly did — USAY appears either rudderless or disingenous.
For the campus as a whole, the biggest problem with USAY is its potential to detract energy from better-defined and more active forms of community involvement. USAY seems woefully disorganized in comparison to other groups in Dwight Hall, and its latest moves seem to be in the wrong direction.
Given their current options, students genuinely interested in improving New Haven and Yale should take more active steps, like participating in community service or serving on University committees. USAY risks wasting time and effort better spent doing real good, not just talking about it.