Jeff Gordon ’12 did not enjoy an easy start to his Yale College Council presidency. The election season had been bitter and divisive. After a close first ballot, the Gordon campaign faced accusations of misogyny for calling his challenger, Courtney Pannell ’11, “Sarah Palin meets Miss South Carolina.” All but one of the newly elected executive board members promptly and publicly endorsed her. After edging ahead in the runoff, the new president joined a council all but united against him.
To his credit, in the weeks and months that followed, Gordon set a sweeping agenda: academic minors, language certificates, bringing new businesses to New Haven, improved student advising and even more. Many of these broad goals hit obstacles or were abandoned — but other, more practical opportunities emerged. In its greatest success, this year’s YCC both revealed and represented campus support for ROTC, through a survey and multiple meetings with the administration. A YCC newsletter provided valuable updates, and under-utilized but promising programs — such as netbook lending and supermarket shuttles — were born. The treasurer’s 10K initiative funded promising recycling and summer storage projects. Although Gordon fulfilled few, if any, of his major campaign promises, it would have been naïve to expect him to.
As a result, this year’s YCC candidates have platforms that sound painfully familiar. And internally, the YCC has only grown more insular. Gordon placed a member of the executive board at the head of every one of its committees, excluding elected representatives and associates. This decision damaged the ability of the YCC to match individual passions to projects, centralized control to its governing body, and lengthened the gap between the YCC e-board and its membership, rendering them less invested. We hope that next year’s YCC president takes a more inclusive approach.
The council’s most direct and publicized student life initiative of the year, Eli Adventures, has spent $9,600 on 218 students so far. The program represents a broader problem: while many surveys were sent and reports written, the council failed to connect with the student body. With better communication and accountability, perhaps failed policy projects such as one-credit labs or academic minors could have had a better shot. The YCC failed to marshal or gauge student opinion after the misogynistic DKE chants and the recent Title IX complaint. Meanwhile, little to no progress was made on longer-term challenges, such as gender-neutral housing and counseling. Gordon never managed to galvanize the student body to effect change.
But the disappointments of this year cannot be blamed on Gordon alone, nor indeed the council at large. When a resolve to reform mental health services produces a puppies and candy event, we should not blame a well-meaning council, but a lack of receptivity from the Yale administration. The YCC cannot and should not fix everything, and many of this year’s small steps are to be applauded. The lesson of this year should not be that student government at Yale is a lost cause.
But if we want more out of the YCC, we as a campus need to take it more seriously and hold it accountable. Does it take a strong, approachable and dynamic leader to make the YCC work? Or does it take a campus that demands more of that leader? We hope that next year, the answer will be both.
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misstated the amount spent on Eli Adventures as well as the number of students it affected.