If the Chess Club harassed the entire school to elect its officers, 60 percent of Yale would probably turn out to vote, selecting a group of people they didn’t care about, had never heard about and who would never make an impression on their lives again. “It couldn’t happen!” you exclaim. Well, my friend, take a look at the current Yale College Council elections: An identical situation is already underway.
The YCC loses all credibility as a government for the people by bullying Yale students into voting. Representative government does not mean gratuitously thrusting an election upon people. A government can only function as representative of its people when its people care enough to share their thoughts and feelings with the government. When was the last time you identified with the YCC administration or felt the need for it to tackle an issue for you? Exactly. The only reason that students vote in elections like these is because they are bombarded with e-mails, posters, stickers, table tents and Facebook messages about voting and supporting campaigns, ad nauseam. They are manipulated and stripped of their ability not to choose anything at all.
The YCC treats political apathy as a disgraceful symptom of a student populace too ignorant to grasp the importance of what it does. Instead, it should treat this apathy as a reflection of its own failures as a political organization. Yale students are intelligent. They know how to make decisions about their own lives and they know about government. If they thought that the YCC dealt with pressing needs, more than 60 percent of the student body would show up to the polls after being finagled to vote. Few can name the last two YCC presidents, vice presidents and treasurers.
The YCC continuously battles the apathy of the student body; at this point, it can’t be operating for the people since the people don’t really want it around. I can only interpret its existence as a convenient extracurricular activity for the power-hungry who care primarily about themselves. If Yale students need the YCC as badly as it claims they do, the students would suffer from its absence more than the actual representatives would. Even if such a circumstance arose, I’m sure the students could voluntarily construct a small student government that adequately met their demands — and yes, they might actually survive. Without a YCC, I have a feeling that Spring Fling would continue to exist; maybe a group of people interested in the event would form to work with the administration — a more reasonable alternative than electing someone on the vague basis of his “Experience and Communication Skills!” and giving him free rein to express and act upon a stance on anything from Rahmatullah Hashemi’s presence at Yale to renewable energy initiatives.
If people feel compelled to vote for YCC representatives and want to acquaint themselves with the issues at hand, then they will. But they shouldn’t be coerced to do so, and shouldn’t be labeled as lazy or politically unenlightened if they don’t acknowledge the noble achievements of the YCC. The Yale student government takes itself much more seriously than the rest of the student body takes it. As an organization intended to represent these students, it ought to ask itself not what it should be doing, but whether it should be doing anything at all.
Samuel Penziner is a junior in Saybrook College.