On Feb. 24, 2005, 15 Yalies milled nervously around the lobby of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, their faces tense. They had been waiting for over eight hours — not for admissions decisions, but for the conclusion of their all-day sit-in.
At 7 p.m. that day, Yale police officers entered the building and issued the students citations for trespassing. Meanwhile, a Yale official told the protestors that they might face severe disciplinary action or even expulsion.
The students’ sit-in, along with a rally attended by more than 150 others, was spearheaded by the Yale Undergraduate Organizing Committee and held in protest of Yale’s student financial aid policies, which was years away from the sweeping reforms of January 2008.
The sit-in attracted national media attention. Reporters from The New York Times and local television stations were on hand to cover the rally, and UOC leaders appeared triumphant.
“That was pretty amazing,” Phoebe Rounds ’07, one of the UOC members inside the Admissions Office, said afterwards to the News.
More than three years later, all that seems to be over. There are no more sit-ins, protests or confrontations with Woodbridge Hall. Once one of the most outspoken activist groups on campus, with frequent protests supporting financial aid reform and unionization of Yale workers, the UOC is still advocating change — but very quietly.
The social and economic justice advocacy group has had a history of highly visible run-ins with University administrators, beginning in 2002, when the newly founded UOC led 76 students in filing formal charges against University president Richard Levin, who they claimed had violated Yale’s Freedom of Expression policy by refusing to engage them in open forums.
In addition to calling on Levin to reform Yale’s financial aid policies, the UOC employed a variety of tactics — including discussions, forums, petitions, leafleting and protests — to advocate improving the University’s labor practices and unionizing Yale-New Haven Hospital.
But since Rounds’ graduation in 2007, protesting UOC members have been virtually, curiously even, absent from campus. According to current members, although the group has never had formal leadership, Rounds had organized many of the UOC’s activities and served as an unofficial spokeswoman. She now works for a labor-organizing agency in Boston.
Students interviewed seemed surprised by the lack of UOC activity.
“I remember there were actually several things during my freshman year, but now it seems like there’s no outlet,” Cameron Leroy ’09 said.
The UOC may also be suffering from a lack of a rallying cause. Although current member Katie Harrison ’11 was quick to say that with financial aid, “there’s always room for improvement,” she said. as a result of the January reforms, financial aid is no longer one of the UOC’s “top issues” as a result of the January reforms.
Harrison added that the group’s other main campaign to resolve unionization disputes at Yale-New Haven Hospital ended last December, but that the UOC is “definitely still active.” The group is currently working to elect Democrats at the state and national level, and to increase voter registration in New Haven. Other long-term aims include strengthening relations between Yale and New Haven, especially by improving the University’s labor practices when hiring workers from the city, she said.
The group has about 20 active members, including at least five freshmen who regularly attend meetings, Harrison said.
Harrison and Rounds suggested that Yale students may not have seen the UOC around campus because of the group’s shift to focus on New Haven issues. Harrison said that the group has met with the New Haven Board of Aldermen and that instead of demonstrating publicly, it has mailed letters as part of its new campaigns — not “the kind of stuff that makes it into the newspaper,” Rounds said.
“There’s absolutely a time and a place for protests,” current member Alexandra Stein ’11 said. “But the ultimate goal isn’t to do something just to do something.”