Student activists championing an array of causes on campus will join together in a rally called Unite Yale today.
Unite Yale: Rally for Student Power, taking place on Cross Campus this afternoon, will include members of Fossil Free Yale, the cultural houses and mental health policy reform advocates. The rally follows a series of similar public demonstrations for each individual cause, which organizers say have yet to be addressed adequately by the administration, according to the Facebook event for the rally. The event description lists four primary causes: the neglected state of the cultural centers, the student contribution and the burden it places on working class students, the questionable accessibility of mental health services and Yale’s decision to not divest from fossil fuels.
Ariana Shapiro ’16, an event organizer involved in Students Unite Now and FFY, said these specific four campaigns were aggregated for strategic reasons.
“First, the four campaigns represent the most salient issues with direct asks that students have been making of the administration in the past few years,” Shapiro said. “Of course, the problem of student voice being persistently neglected by Yale spans many more issues that affect the student experience. Second, and more importantly, these issues are actually highly related. For some, the links are obvious […] but essentially, they are all about Yale prioritizing a set of financial concerns that don’t help students, plus Yale refusing to listen to student feedback on those priorities.”
Tristan Glowa ’18, an organizer for FFY, stressed that the rally is not aimed at garnering the attention of the administration but rather building collective student power. The rally will help students recognize the importance of students supporting one another, he said.
Glowa added that each community represented at today’s rally has its own needs and a different relationship with the administration.
“Our main goal, and what we’re really hoping for, is to see a climate of collaboration between students going forward,” Glowa said. “There is power in unity though, and we believe that coming together will help to create the accountability from the administration that we all really need.”
Nevertheless, the purpose of the rally is not only symbolic — it also serves as a tangible strategy for student activism. Sebastian Medina-Tayac ’16, a representative of the Native American Cultural Center, said the rally is a concrete, specific and calculated strategy to make gains for students from different communities as well as for the campus as a whole.
Plans for the rally began roughly one month ago after several frustrated student organizers began to discuss the idea of a joint action. Since then, a dozen students have become involved with planning the rally’s logistics, while dance performers, speakers and poets have all contributed to the event lineup.
Unite Yale differs from past public demonstrations in bringing together a wide array of student groups to address fundamental issues surrounding all student activism on campus. Because of wide applicability to a range of groups and student concerns, the rally has attracted a greater number of students than any recent rallies — with 304 students responding that they were attending the event on Facebook.
Students interviewed said they were drawn to the rally because of its inclusiveness, and its attempts to do more than simply fight for one single cause.
Alex Schultz ’17, who is not a member of any of the participating student groups but plans on attending nonetheless, said he is attracted to the event because it seems like a declaration of student unity.
“There are a lot of different issues that upset a lot of people and that people have been trying to get at separately, like the student income contribution and mental health,” Schultz said. “And then the cultural houses are trying to advocate for their own personal, individualized needs, but the rally seems like an effort to address all those problems with student life in one unanimous effort, which I think will be decently powerful.”
United Yale comes on the heels of an unusual frequency of student activism in recent months, which have ranged from public rallies to petitions and boycotts.
In February, 147 students signed a petition asking for the removal of Afro-American Cultural Center director Rodney Cohen, while advocates of mental health policy reform instigated a boycott of the Senior Class Gift in light of the suicide of Luchang Wang ’17. In the same month, an undergraduate-led petition for additional Computer Science Department faculty attracted national media attention and garnered over 1,000 signatures. Last month, Students Unite Now organized a 100-strong rally in protest of the student contribution to financial aid packages, and this month, 60 students attended a FFY rally in front of Woodbridge Hall.
These activist groups have achieved their goals with varying degrees of success through demonstrations this year, depending on the scope and specificity of their aims and the methods they used to pursue them.
. A month after the Af-Am House petition was published, the University announced the resignation of Cohen following an internal review process of the cultural houses.
Although the Unite Yale rally is more focused on student body unification than it is about meeting specific goals, event organizers said the process of laying out action plans will come in due time.
“If we’re big enough, loud enough and clear enough, we may be able to see significant changes during our time at Yale in terms of the specific campaign goals and broadly the way Yale responds to students with concerns about this place,” Shapiro said. “We saw this when the black community organized Dean Cohen out of office. Because Yale is a huge global player, we can expect the changes to ripple out from this one institution into society, influencing grassroots democracy wide and far.”