Today is the first day of Camp Yale. It is perhaps the most overwhelming, overscheduled week freshmen have experienced thus far. It’s one of the first big shows the University puts on for students and parents.
Camp Yale can be very politically charged. Last year, for example, President Peter Salovey spoke candidly about financial aid and class during his freshman address. It’s difficult to contemplate getting acquainted with the politics of the University at a time when you are already overwhelmed — deciding what free food to consume is stressful enough on its own. But it’s a great time to reevaluate what you want your college experience to look like, and how the University’s policies and political decisions affect that experience.
Several big university changes took place over the summer – and many were influenced by student expression of discontent.
Over the summer, three new deans were instated. After students protested the 2012 appointment of a university president without a student representative on the selection committee, the Deans of Yale College, the Graduate Schools and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences were chosen by a committee that included a student member.
The creation of new policies that attempt to treat alcohol as a safety issue rather than a disciplinary problem also came about as a result of work by committees that included undergraduates. With the new medical emergency policy, students will no longer face disciplinary action for seeking medical attention for those suffering from alcohol-related illness. Instead of immediately involving the Executive Committee in these situations, the new policies require students to meet with professionals from Yale Health, taking a more educational approach to discipline.
And on Wednesday, the University announced that it would be terminating Gourmet Heaven’s lease in 2015. This decision followed a year of student picketing and boycotting of the 24-hour grocery store found guilty of wage theft and worker mistreatment last year.
These three events represent a shift in the University’s relationship with students. While in the past, policy and administrative changes often took place without student input, students now sit on the committees making these decisions. And while protesting G-Heav may have seemed fruitless last September, the University has decided to take action against the business.
The University has also taken the first steps to change its policies on sexual misconduct and socioeconomic class. Students sit on committees that create and enforce sexual assault policies, and administrators have been willing to meet with individuals pushing to create a better sexual climate on campus. Freshman Scholars at Yale, a program that supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds, has wrapped up its second year and will, hopefully, be expanded to a class of more than 30 students in the future.
Though the University has improved its policies, there is certainly room for progress. Sexual assault remains a prominent issue on campus, as it does on campuses across the country. And while the community has improved its approach to discussing class, there is still a need for policy change. Students on financial aid have been asked to contribute more and more money to their tuition each year through term-time and summer jobs. During last spring’s Yale College Council elections, YCC President Michael Herbert promised to push the administration to reform policies around both issues, and it will be up to his constituents to hold him accountable.
There will also be opportunities for students to push for change in regard to the expansion of mixed-gender housing, fossil fuel divestment and mental health policies. The issue of mixed-gender housing will be particularly relevant for the Class of 2018, as its expansion could affect their housing draw options this spring. The University will also be forced to acknowledge Stanford’s decision to divest from fossil fuels last May as it begins to formulate its response to last year’s student referendum results in favor of divestment.
These last several semesters have shown us that when students express their concerns, the administration is pushed to listen and act. Yale’s campus is changing, slowly but surely, and it will be up to all of us, particularly the Class of 2018, to involve ourselves in that process.
Diana Rosen is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.