It is time for Yale College Council representative elections again. But for most Yale students, this means very little. Last fall, exactly one-quarter of the Yale student body exercised its right to vote in YCC representative elections. The year before, the number was 24 percent. In campuswide spring officer elections, the number has not been much more impressive, as only a meager 37 percent of all students voted in 2002. Time and time again, students complain about the small and uninspiring candidate fields, and many choose not to realize the potential and influence that the YCC does and can have.
As a result of a more sustained effort to attract candidates, there is an unusually strong and diverse crop of 27 candidates spread across the residential colleges for this week’s elections. One representative seat is open in every college, and it is imperative that members of each college challenge the candidates and make them compete for votes. These students had the initiative and interest to run, and now it is the right and duty of the student body to determine which of them will have the opportunity to serve.
Although it may sound cliched, it is true that average students cannot legitimately complain about the YCC and its ineffectiveness if they do not participate at all in the student government process. The first step in the participation process is exercising the right to vote. By waiving this right, you waive your fundamental ability to control the actions of your student representatives. On the other hand, if you do vote, you will be more likely engaged with the YCC on a whole. If representatives are elected by a larger portion of the voters in their residential college, they will be more easily held accountable to the people who elected them.
For example, if the students in a college are informed and active voters, they will feel more direct power over their representative. If a representative is not making herself available and addressing concerns of her college, the students will feel more comfortable asking her why she is not doing her job. In extreme cases, students may move for the recall of highly negligent representatives. It is a little-known fact that any Yale undergrad has the right to file grievances against a delinquent representative by simply going to the YCC or the Residential College Council.
How can students know if their representatives are doing a good job, or even find out what the council is working on at all? In a series of resolutions passed last semester, the YCC took steps to make itself more accessible and accountable to the student body. YCC Secretary Lindsey Parker ’04 is working to publish regular newsletters and to use the Yalestation.org Web site as a tool for increased communication between the YCC and the student body. Features on the revamped site will allow students to contact, track the progress of, and look at the voting records of their representatives, all online. In addition, YCC President Andrew Allison ’04 last week authored and published the first of a series of semesterly reports on the State of Yale College. This report addresses major student life issues in an attempt to encourage discussion and action.
The improved avenues for communication on the part of the YCC will be useless if students do not take the initiative to reciprocate the communication. All YCC representatives welcome feedback from members of their college, and representatives often complain about and are frustrated by the lack of input on issues and suggestions from students. The YCC certainly does not have magical powers, and it is fruitless for its members to pretend to have them. However, providing ideas and voicing concerns to your representatives only allows them to better serve you. The YCC will not be successful in instituting reform on every issue. However, more often than not, it can and has made a difference, but these successes often occurred behind the scenes without students knowing about them. Now, with mechanisms in place for better communication with students, the YCC is optimistic that students will feel a greater connection with their student government.
Certainly, the average Yale undergrad can spend four great years in New Haven without speaking with or even knowing his or her YCC representatives. However, the YCC as an institution and representatives as individuals are accessible to help students, and all representatives embrace the opportunity and responsibility to communicate and work for change on behalf of students in every small manner that is possible. Therefore, if nothing else, take the opportunity to make contact and talk with your representatives. The results stemming from those discussions may simply surprise you.
Today and tomorrow on www.yalestation.org/elections, the YCC is offering every Yale student the opportunity to make the initial contact. You could just recycle this paper and forget that you ever read this article. Or you could break with the trends and take some ownership of your student government. Don’t waste this opportunity: Get involved, meet the candidates, read the statements, and vote.
Ryan Sheely is a junior in Morse College and vice president of the YCC. Nirupam Sinha is a sophomore in Morse College and a YCC representative.