With the YCC elections in full swing, it is a good time to highlight the importance and relevance of cultural groups on campus as a vehicle for diversifying the influences acting on campus-wide organizations.
Everyone is familiar with the cliques that abound in student government at any university. The pitfalls and merits of that phenomenon are not being argued; the fact is simply being pointed to. Considering this environment, it is easy for those outside of the loop to be uninterested and uninvolved. Cultural organizations can serve to remedy both problems for large segments of the Yale population. To propose a model for such involvement, this year the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY) invited all candidates for the office of president, vice president, secretary and treasurer of the YCC to speak at the African-American Cultural Center on April 5. Candidates took the chance to mingle with officers and members and also spoke briefly about their platforms and ideas. Afterward, those members of BSAY present completed polls gauging their reaction to each candidate. Using these polls and continued correspondence, the Executive Board made its endorsements.
It is telling that on one day’s notice, every single candidate invited came ready to sell. Politically, there was hunger for the support of BSAY’s large membership, but beyond that, there seemed to be a real desire to bridge a gap that existed on campus. Candidates by and large took time to correspond with BSAY officers, expanding proposals and ideas as well as outlining YCC issues they saw to be relevant to BSAY. Candidates left the meeting with a greater understanding of BSAY’s agenda and potential political clout. BSAY officers and members left with a greater stake in the process. We believe both organizations are better for it.
Of course, the issues relevant to race and culture that the YCC deals with befit the scale of its operations — that is to say, we do not wish to overstate the significance of our endorsement process. Nonetheless, the YCC is a Yale-wide organization and in that sense, deserves consideration from all corners of the Yale mix. As YCC officers carry our collective name, we should strive to ensure they reflect our reality.
The main argument against such activism by cultural groups is the oft-heard extolment of so-called individualism. This completely ignores both the functional reality of the cultural groups and the reality of representation. By and large, cultural organizations on campus provide an incubating space for thought and dialogue relevant to race and ethnicity; this forum is in fact an opportunity for each member to make heard his or her individual and unique perspective on the issues. And while, when dealing with something such as an endorsement, an end consensus is necessary, this is no different than any democratic process anywhere. Beyond all of this, there is the reality of shared interest and concern stemming from a common cultural background. BSAY members are of course encouraged to vote their personal conscience. Still, while BSAY’s membership is in no way philosophically homogenous, patterns of concern are always present. Thus, rather than muffle the individual, cultural groups give him or her a microphone with which to convey concerns and opinions.
Cultural organizations have a unique and important voice on campus that needs to be heard anytime anything purports to be Yale-wide. While the topic of the day is the YCC election, this point rings true for all organizations — including the very newspaper this op-ed appears in. This is a two-way street that both cultural groups and organizations should embrace.
Stephen Cockrell, a junior in Berkeley College, and Elaine Rene, a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College, are co-presidents of the Black Student Alliance at Yale. Yohannes Abraham, a sophomore in Morse College, is political action chairman. This editorial was written on behalf of the BSAY 2005 Executive Board.