The turnout for last week’s Yale College Council meeting — the first of the academic year — was unprecedented and unexpected.
Roughly 35 non-Council members were present at the meeting, in addition to 29 Council members, which includes two elected representatives from each residential college and 10 executive board members. The meeting focused on official YCC business such as approval of its budget, confirmation of six new appointments and the drafting of plans for the upcoming year.
“There is no limit to what we’re capable of,” YCC president Michael Herbert ’16 told the audience of 60.
Changes within the YCC’s election structure may have brought about the large turnout and enthusiasm, according to YCC Vice President Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16.
YCC implemented a slew of changes throughout the last academic year, some of which are coming into play this semester. The new YCC constitution, ratified last semester, moved up elections for council representatives from September to April. This modification has had a wide range of positive effects on Council efficiency, according to Eliscovich Sigal and Herbert.
Work on certain projects this year began much earlier, with some representatives taking on initiatives over the summer — though only a handful of projects were assigned. Herbert explained that it would be difficult and unfair to expect representatives, who were studying, working and living all over the globe this summer, to complete projects that may have required intense research or communication with administrators.
But of the representatives who were assigned to projects over the summer, Eliscovich Sigal said, many made sufficient progress and may be ready to present their projects by the Council’s third meeting of the semester. Projects currently in progress include improving transportation services, standardizing the Latin honors system and implementing academic minors. Other important projects that Herbert and Eliscovich Sigal said will be completed before the end of the academic year include reforming financial aid, compiling a report on campus sexual assaults and securing mixed gender housing for sophomores.
Having a Council that is already established by the beginning of the academic year has a number of other benefits, Eliscovich Sigal said. The dynamic between representatives will be very different, she noted, since there will be fewer freshman elected representatives.
Still, freshmen have made a particularly strong showing so far. Eliscovich Sigal noted that half of the 35 non-Council attendees of the meeting responded positively to emails that she sent out afterwards.
“Freshmen … had a lot of energy. They were really excited to help,” Herbert said, adding that he hopes to facilitate that enthusiasm into various channels of the YCC.
Opportunities for freshmen and other new meeting attendees include joining one of the YCC’s non-Council teams, such as the business team or the Spring Fling Committee, or becoming an associate representative, which allows project ownership but still prohibits voting.
Brandon Marks ’18 attended the first meeting and said he has plans to both run for Freshman Class Council and become an associate representative for the YCC. He said he was impressed by the Council’s ability to bring about significant change, citing the initiative to raise the Student Activities Fee as one such example.
“[There are] a lot of structural things that Yale, as a governing institution, needs to change,” Marks said. “Just the idea that [YCC has] that window to make that change is significant.”
Emily Chen ’18 attended the first meeting, but left after just 20 minutes. She said she had little experience with student government in high school and was merely interested in seeing how the YCC functioned as a governing body. She left after getting a sense that she would not have much to do on the Council as a new, unelected member.
Over the next week, the Council will hold special elections for its two open positions — one representative each from Davenport College and Silliman College — in conjunction with class council elections.