They belonged to groups ranging from the Yale Coalition for Peace to the Yale Political Union, but the 45 students forming a large circle in the Woolsey Hall rotunda Wednesday night all said they had one thing in common: They wanted to speak, and they wanted someone to listen.
At Wednesday night’s informal speakout, the students had a forum and an audience. Discussing everything from tenure for female faculty to unions to New Haven’s public schools, the students spent nearly an hour describing what organizer Zach Schwartz-Weinstein ’04 termed their “visions for change at Yale.”
The Undergraduate Organizing Committee, which has held teach-ins about labor issues and meetings to support Yale’s unions, organized the speakout.
Schwartz-Weinstein, who moderated the event, said organizers held the speakout so members of different campus organizations could discuss how the University administration has dealt with their groups’ concerns.
“Free speech and the oppression of free speech is becoming a central issue on this campus,” he said. “A lot of different groups on campus have an issue with the way the administration has addressed their concerns [and] we thought it would be very powerful if we could come together and share that.”
Many students in attendance said they wanted more communication between undergraduates and administrators — particularly a more meaningful dialogue with Yale President Richard Levin. Others said the University needs to facilitate free speech among its students.
“President Levin talked about representation at the open forum — well, this is representation,” Abbey Hudson ’03 said. “Students on campus do care about the community, do care about workers, do care about Yale — The Party of the Right, the YPU [and other organizations] should stand with us and make sure everyone, no matter what their opinions, can say it on our campus.”
Other students described concerns about the University’s relationship with New Haven, saying Yale should exert a “more positive influence” on the surrounding community. Echoing many in the rotunda, Amelia Frank-Vitale ’05 said she was upset about the disparity between “what goes on inside and outside” the University’s gates.
But others said the only way for Yale to change that disparity is by becoming more than just a philanthropic organization.
One of the ways the University can do that, other students said, is by changing its relationship with its employees.
“[There needs to be] more money — for the people who I work with, the people who I live with, the people who sweep this floor, the people who make up this community,” Alek Felstiner ’04 said. Felstiner was one of two students detained during parents’ weekend for handing out union pamphlets in the rotunda.
Yevgeny Vilensky ’03, who introduced himself by saying that he had come to challenge other students’ viewpoints, said the University already does enough for New Haven and cannot take responsibility for all of the city’s problems.
“Yale’s primary obligation is to its students,” he said.
But others at the speakout said Yale’s interactions with the community and its employees make a difference in its relationship with its students.
Schwartz-Weinstein said that all the assembled students’ concerns were important in improving the University.
“What we expressed today was really powerful,” he said after the speakout. “We need to come together and shape a Yale where there are Native American ethnic counselors, where workers get paid more than $7 an hour, where students are not threatened with arrest, where employees are not arrested, and where New Haven is — a partner.”