During the last couple of weeks, a single day hasn’t passed without my reading, hearing or talking about the Yale College Council elections. Presidential debates at the Yale Political Union, opinion articles defending one or the other candidate, and mass e-mails from anonymous sources railing about the manifest neglect of democracy make it hard for the student body not to want to have an opinion of its own.
In my three years at Yale, I have considered it my duty to read, hear and talk about these things so that when the time comes to vote, I have an educated opinion on who is best suited to serve on the YCC Executive Board. And yet the logic of responsible citizenry is evidently not applicable in the case of the YCC. In the midst of heated debates, the sad truth remains that very few Yale students truly care about the YCC, not even the candidates themselves.
What is most saddening, however, is that such indifference is not unfounded. The YCC does very little compared to what it could do, or should do. The few resolutions that the Council has passed in the previous year are mostly passive, not active. It has endorsed or recommended slight improvement to action that was already proposed by the administration, as in the case of the Credit/D/Fail and academic advising resolutions, or it has proposed limited-scope action, as in the case of the resolution on labor relations.
If we want to talk about democracy at the student level, we should not only talk about democracy by the student body; we should also talk about democracy for the student body. Considering that the YCC represents all Yale undergraduates, a YCC that, at least according to its Web site, only passed six resolutions last year and hardly ever takes action is unacceptable. Candidates go to great lengths to organize their campaigns and fanatic supporters even hand out stickers outside the dining halls. What is all this fuss about? So that another YCC will get elected and another six resolutions will be written in the upcoming year?
Let’s hope not.
Maybe the problem is that the YCC doesn’t realize its potential. In the past few years, the YCC has been a passive observer of student life rather than an active participant, let alone a leader. The YCC is currently a fortress of mediocrity. It has the foundations and the fortifications, but lacks the warrior mentality.
One area in which the YCC could effect real change in student life is by serving as the overarching coordinator for the extracurricular scene. Organizations come and go at Yale, often because there is a leadership vacuum. For example, the Yale Chess Club, the oldest college chess club in the country, appears only sporadically in Yale’s history as an active organization. The University never lacks chess players, but few of them are willing to put together and administer an organization. When these exceptionally motivated individuals retire from their posts or graduate, their club disappears. This scenario repeats itself frequently for numerous groups.
If an organization fails to register with the Dean’s Office, nobody steps in to investigate the reasons for its disintegration. The YCC can and should interfere in these cases. By creating a database of student organizations, monitoring their activity, identifying their needs and doing its best to meet them, the YCC can establish itself as the umbrella organization for student extracurricular activity on campus in the same way that Dwight Hall has assumed that role for community service. In the future, students interested in starting a new club could be grouped with other students sharing similar interests and objectives so that significant overlaps between organizations could be avoided.
The structure and function of the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee should also be radically re-evaluated. The UOFC rarely meets the demands of student organizations for funding even if they are justified. There should be closer oversight of student activities and a more fair and serious consideration of their financial needs. Whether that can be achieved through the activities fee or whether further developments will be needed remains to be seen.
The YCC is also responsible for representing student opinion — a function that has been completely neglected in the past. The YCC has only sporadically organized student forums or held campus-wide discussions about vital issues such as financial aid reform. The recent initiative to discuss downtown development in New Haven with Bruce Alexander is a welcome effort in that direction, but a single initiative is an insufficient indicator of the Council’s commitment to its role as the voice of the undergraduate student body. The YCC should cease being merely the channel of communication between students and administrators and should assume a more active role in its pursuit of student interests.
Yale allegedly molds its students into leaders of the future. Let’s hope that this leadership potential will soon manifest itself in the manner YCC conducts student affairs.
Palmyra Geraki is a junior in Saybrook College.