This past Sunday, the entire Yale College Council — including the Executive Board, elected and associate representatives and all the teams and committees — gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall for the first and only time this year. Although these various branches meet regularly, the collective gathering of about a hundred people caused me to pause and reflect both on our purpose and our relationship with our fellow students and friends.
It may seem that these questions of purpose and community have already been sufficiently addressed. I do not think there is a group on this campus that is more highly scrutinized than the YCC, and incessantly debating the role of our organization is both counterproductive and exhausting.
Further, nothing I could say or write could serve as a substitute for competence and accessibility. As my uncle taught me, “Lions don’t need to roar.” If those of us on the YCC have to tell students why they should engage with us, we have already failed.
However, because of the nature of my background coming into this role, as well as the initiatives we have on the agenda for this year, I feel compelled to roar on behalf of the YCC anyway. Unlike other student groups on campus, our success is directly related to our support from the student body at large. I want to see us maximize the impact we make this year, and for that reason, I want to make sure I do everything I can to make the case for engagement with our organization.
Undoubtedly, it is easy to make fun of the YCC. As an individual who ran a campaign featuring a facetious video likening the Council to a burning shipwreck and the death of Mufasa, I am far from blameless in terms of cracking jokes. On our end, we can certainly do a better job of interacting with students on a more human and less corporate level, and I think that we have already taken positive steps towards this end under Communications Director Isaac Morrier.
Further, the YCC has an obligation to ensure accountability from representatives. It would be unfair to ask for the engagement of the student body at large without demanding it of ourselves. Toward this end, I am excited to announce a new shame initiative we will be implementing with our representatives. Based on an overwhelmingly successful program launched at Harvard this past year, if representatives fail to meet their most basic obligations, which entail not missing more than five meetings, we will publish their names.
In the words of Harvard Undergraduate Council President Gus Mayopoulos, “This isn’t just, ‘Oh, you get to be a part of student government, good for you … You have a responsibility, and there’s no reason not to shame people for just dropping the ball.” Just as the blind squirrel finds a nut, even Harvard comes up with a good idea occasionally!
This year, I will do everything I can to make the YCC as accessible and accountable as possible, and I know that my fellow members share this goal. In turn, I hope that everyone will join us as we work with the administration on the biggest issues on campus, including financial aid, our sexual climate and finally getting mixed-gender housing for sophomores. Rather than deriding smaller YCC projects to diminish the organization, I hope you will keep in mind that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and that working on something like getting whole milk in Commons does not lessen our ability to advocate on mental health. I hope that instead of posting an anonymous comment on this column, you will send me an email or give me call. (In case you lost it, my number is 720-413-0571!)
Yale treasures its community, the sense of togetherness we all share. There is no need to lose that community when we deal with the YCC, and if you think something the YCC is doing makes such engagement more difficult, let me know. We’re all on the same team here.
And so, to conclude, I want to return to my original question: Why YCC? Why engage with our student government? I think the answer is, regardless of what you think about the organization, the YCC is the best mechanism through which we can impact Yale. If we go around it, we fragment and dilute our message; if we work through it, like lasers with light, we can concentrate and magnify the strength of our student voice. We can maximize the mark we make on the place we love.
Michael Herbert is a junior in Saybrook College. He is president of the Yale College Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.