In a flurry of YouTube videos, punny slogans and burgeoning Facebook groups, the Yale College Council presidential race has, at last, taken off in full force. The battle-lines are drawn, the candidacy statements written, the endorsements, flowing in. Jeff Gordon ’12 takes the adorable route: cutesy childhood home videos and self-effacing verisimilitude. Courtney “CoCo” Pannell ’11, the slick, pop-culture aware one: personal testimonials from campus all-stars. And DKE Brother Pete Croughan ’12 takes the badass one: plentiful backflips and juggling feats.
But the pageantry couldn’t possibly end there. Justine Kolata ’12 stripped down to shimmy for her YCC vice presidential campaign video to the tune of a song with rather unfortunate lyrics — “Don’t trust a ho / Never trust a ho” — only to find out, post-production, that the Junior Class Council presidency remained uncontested. With the deadline a day away, she switched to the JCC. Just hours after YCC reopened the JCC election, the charismatic Michael Knowles ’12 stepped into the breach and Kolata returned to the VP race.
It appears that combining the Yale mentality with overt political machination yields one outcome above all: pure, unadulterated wackiness.
Beyond spectacle and multimedia (and dining hall placards — good move Jeff), the similarities are all too apparent: buzzword-laden platforms that are, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable. “Gender-neutral housing,” “Credit/D/Fail extension,” “dining options,” “bike share,” “sustainability,” “UCS,” “YUHS,” “YCC accessibility.” All candidates are proposing to tackle all student grievances, all at once, and, frankly, all the same ones.
Perhaps this is why our student government elections are invariably reduced to personality contests, encapsulated in the all-too-important YouTube video: slickly produced, aggressively unpretentious and hopefully humorous. With little substance upon which to base a real campaign, the YCC presidential race inevitably becomes a question of effervescent aesthetics and transient demographics, of well-targeted Facebook messages, friend-secured endorsements and shameless self-promotion.
Given the current state of affairs, it’s hard to take issue with the madcap YCC race. I enjoy the carnival of personality and pretension as much as anyone, and the hilarious jockeying — between candidates with practically identical credentials who agree upon practically everything — has an evocative element of the surreal. As long as the YCC presidency remains a far less powerful position than its electoral fanfare would suggest, the race will remain fun, ludicrous and meaningless.
This is not to disregard the fine work the YCC has done in the past, specifically with regards to excellent events and Spring Flings. But it doesn’t take elected talking heads for President Levin to see that the student body is in favor of gender-neutral housing, expanding the Credit/D/Fail option, extra dining flexibility and that adorable bike share program. In fact, it’s often precisely when YCC representatives attempt to speak for the student body as a whole that they get into trouble — witness their recommendation to limit or remove the number of newspapers in dining halls.
That said, as little faith as I have in the YCC’s efficacy, I have nothing but confidence in the purity of its intentions. The problem emerges from the institutional arrangement of the Yale administration, which renders most ground-up student initiatives all but impotent. The YCC’s temperature-taking surveys are almost always ignored. Its policy proposals are never implemented in full and only incorporated into university policy rarely and slowly, after years of inaction.
Administrative power rests not with students, but rather with Yale’s alumni stakeholders and academia-entrenched officials. The Corporation and the established Yale power base — older, richer, though not always wiser — effectively calls the shots. We — those most in touch with what Yale is and means in the here and now — must place our faith in a tangential advisory body, whose members have been groomed and stultified within this asymmetric institution for years.
Thus, the YCC presidency, if not completely powerless, has become somewhat of a tragic position. The fanfare and pomp with which it is imbued only serves to strengthen the pervading illusion: that student voices are actually heard within Yale’s administrative structure. Yale encourages and abets the YCC in order to furnish the fantasy of representation, while reserving the real decisions for themselves.
So, as we enjoy all the sound and fury of this ridiculous race — energized by resume-hounds and the manic combustibility of our social allegiances — we should keep one sobering truth in the backs of our minds: This signifies next to nothing.
Alex Klein is a sophomore in Davenport College.