When I first heard about the middle-school-themed “Crushes and Chaperones” dance held by the Committee for Campus-wide Activities last weekend, I smirked. No one would come, I thought, to such a lame event. Besides, wasn’t it funny that the only way the CCA could keep students from drinking was to evoke their nostalgia for simpler, drier times?
It turns out I was wrong on two counts. First of all, most of the people I’ve talked to genuinely enjoyed themselves at the dance — whether or not they’d had anything to drink beforehand. More importantly, I learned that the CCA is not designed to host events pushing an alcohol-free agenda on students unlikely to be receptive. Rather, its mission is to grant money to students for hosting events themselves. While none of the money is spent on vice, the events often include a wink toward notoriously lax college morality. The most popular event in the CCA’s history, of course, is a testament to this: At last year’s free concert with Swedish pop star Gunther, thousands of Yalies sang “Ooh, you touch my tra-la-la” with just as much gusto as any rendition of “Bright College Years” I’ve heard.
This is what the Yale College Council, the CCA’s parent organization, does best. YCC representatives are often characterized as brown-nosers with shirts as stuffed as their resumes — when they’re characterized at all, that is. Upon closer inspection of what the YCC and its subcommittees do, however, it becomes clear that they are exceptionally good at giving students what they want. The UOFC shovels out cash as if there were a money tree in the Woolsey basement, YSAC brings us Lewis Black and Ludacris, and the CCA settles the cravings for novelty Europop and Sugar Ray nostalgia we never knew we had.
The Yale administration itself, which sends bills less negotiable than the $50 Student Activities Fee, is also open and responsive to students, but in a fundamentally different way. No student lives by Gunther alone, and some undergraduates mobilize for changes in University policy such as financial aid reform, divestment or subsidizing an HPV vaccine. The YCC often aids successful campaigns by passing resolutions calling attention to the issue at hand, but activists generally direct their petitions to President Levin et al. themselves.
The division between student interaction with the YCC and with the University reflects our semi-adult status. We confer with “the professionals” on more serious matters affecting the public interest. While there we protect student life as adults (if not peers), with the YCC we enrich it as 20-year-olds — and find both stances equally legitimate and comfortable. Counterexamples exist on both sides, but in general the interactions are overwhelmingly “age-appropriate.”
More interestingly, the system vaguely resembles a bicameral legislature, with the University and YCC as respective “upper” and “lower” houses (admittedly with more autonomy) and student activist groups as special interests. In form, this enables student involvement in University affairs to reach its fullest potential. The governing elite (the “upper house”) uses its institutional status to protect long-term interests, the representative body (the “lower house”) allocates resources and responds to the needs of the average citizen, and “small groups of committed citizens” can continue to advocate for the solutions to issues facing their members and the public at large.
This glosses over the reality of University interests: No matter how large the endowment may be, it will never be treated as an endless pot of gold to improve student life. The administration’s choices govern our lives, and sometimes advocacy isn’t enough. I’m still hoping for a subsidized HPV vaccine, but in the wake of revelations that the University’s divestment from Sudan last year may not have proceeded according to student wishes, I’m not holding my breath.
The fact that student campaigns have been active on both these issues, combining direct lobbying with YCC support, indicates that the system of student input can work. By having separate spheres for the organization of dance parties and financial-aid restructuring, our voices are respected in both. Those who respond to accommodations, such as the appointment of a new chief diversity officer, by grumbling that they “should have come sooner” miss this point; so do those of us who mock the YCC. The better way to contribute to the enrichment of student life is by moving forward one petition or dance-party proposal at a time.
Dara Lind is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.