A recently published editorial criticized the tactics of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization as ineffective (“GSA lobbying illustrates need for dialogue,” 4/6). While I respect the call for an increased dialogue between students and the University, the arguments against GESO and the UOC were critically flawed and need to be addressed. First, the editorial comes to this conclusion because in recent issues of reform on campus, namely divestment in Sudan and increased stipends for graduate students, the University has publicly acknowledged the efforts of the Yale College Council and Graduate Student Assembly while pointedly ignoring the efforts of the UOC and GSA. To reach the above conclusion from these University statements is not only highly irrational but also remarkably naive.
To begin, let’s take the issue from the University’s perspective. Obviously, both of the above changes were results of student lobbying, and the University recognized this. In assigning credit then, the University is left with two sets of groups it can endorse. First, it can endorse groups like the YCC and GSA that work strictly within the system and employ only conventional means to work for change. Second, it can also endorse groups such as the UOC and GESO that rely on work by exerting pressure from outside of the system, often by bringing the critical attention of the press and students to the University. The very nature of these organizations puts them somewhat at odds with Yale administrators. If the University then acknowledges that groups like the UOC and GESO are influential on campus, they are tacitly encouraging students to join and participate in them, a result the administration would obviously like to avoid. On the other hand, by refusing to acknowledge that the UOC or GESO’s actions have influenced Yale policy, the administration can hope to create the illusion that these groups are impotent and perhaps discourage future participation in their actions. So, if the administration can accredit the YCC instead of the UOC, GSA instead of GESO, of course it will take this approach.
The notion, however, that either the UOC or GESO are ineffectual is indeed nothing more than an illusion. In the past years, innumerable reforms can be directly attributed to these groups’ actions. The UOC played a pivotal role in winning an increase in the Yale Homebuyer Program, an increased contribution from Yale to the community of New Haven in lieu of taxes and last year’s financial aid reforms. Just recently the UOC was central to winning the community benefits agreement with the Yale-New Haven Cancer Center, an agreement that will provide jobs to the local community as well as offer free cancer and asthma treatment to children without health insurance. The UOC is not alone in success via these grassroots campaigns either. The Yale Sustainable Food Project also mobilized public pressure in order to bring organic food to the dining halls. Together, all of these groups have a significant, positive presence on campus.
Finally, there is no reason to draw comparisons between the effectiveness of groups such as the UOC and YCC: each serves a crucial function in bringing reform to Yale. Anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge about lobbying knows that the more means you have of exerting influence on a target and the broader variety of mechanisms for reform at your disposal, the greater chance you have of winning that reform. The YCC serves as a vital forum for dialogue between students and the University. However, by virtue of its being an advisory committee, the YCC can not create the poignant and powerful displays of student opinion that the UOC organizes. Not only do these protests have the aforementioned benefits of attracting student attention and dialogue, but also, when the YCC sits down with the University, it can reference the UOC’s actions and use their efforts as key leverage in securing reform on campus. Thus, by working together, groups like YCC and the UOC, GSA and GESO, are capable of rendering far more positive change at Yale than either group could without its corresponding half. It is therefore imperative that instead of squabbling over which of the groups may be the better one, the student population should lend both its respect and support to all of these organizations.
Troy Schuler is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.