Today, something incredibly unique is happening. Students from different spheres of the Yale community are coming together to build student power in the face of an administration and corporation that have proved themselves deaf to student voices and stubborn to change. Organizers of Fossil Free Yale, students organizing in the cultural centers, students working on eliminating the unfair student contribution and individuals advocating for mental health reform are uniting to recognize the commonalities between our causes and the strength that we can have working together.
I am a student organizer with Fossil Free Yale, and a white male in an environmental movement still struggling with a legacy of exclusivity and privilege. From the outside, it might not seem intuitive that I am connecting my organizing with these seemingly disparate issues, but there is a recurring theme. Yale’s refusal to divest from the fossil fuel industry endorses a business model that relies on exploitation of communities worldwide, primarily those which are poor and of color, as well as the destruction of our very future as young people. For me, this work is a matter of global justice; but it would be blind of me to ignore the ways that injustice manifests itself on our campus as well.
Our cultural centers remain in dire need of renovation, reflecting a pattern of neglecting the needs of students of color. The student contribution continues to burden students on financial aid and their families. The questionable accessibility of mental health services and current withdrawal and readmission policies persist as sources of struggle for many. That Yale should benefit from celebrating its diversity and accessibility while my friends and fellow students are made to feel unwelcome is simply wrong. These grievances are serious and indicate a consistent lack of value for student concerns.
Others have pointed out the ways that the decision-makers of this University lack transparency and accountability to our community on these issues; it is starkly evident in each of these cases that official channels of input are not working. When Yalies have the moral clarity to see that the actions of our administration perpetuate injustices that are not in line with the world we expect to inherit, our University should take notice. And yet, the voices of students, especially those in the marginalized communities of our campus, continue to be undervalued.
What would it take for our administration to demonstrate real accountability to the needs of our community? In a word: unity.
For me, working on fossil fuel divestment is working for a better world, where our futures are not threatened by climate disruption and people’s lives come before corporate bottom lines. Meanwhile, others are fighting for the world we need in different ways, by working for real racial and economic justice on our campus. But I worry that a tendency to isolate ourselves to our individual causes weakens all of our struggles.
We need broad support to create the pressure on the administration necessary to actualize the changes we demand — real bodies, present and engaged. While many of our lives here are overloaded and taking the time and energy to be involved with other issues can be hard, the more that Yalies demonstrate solidarity and unity across causes, the more likely it is that we can actually realize the kind of wins we want. We learn a lot from each other’s wisdom, and the truth is that, rather than simultaneous demands detracting from each other, each campaign is bolstered by the precedent and success of others.
Successful student organizing has a strong precedent at Yale — Tyler Blackmon wrote a column earlier this week on how progress on Yale’s financial aid in years past was the direct result of student organizing. More recently, when members of the black community decided to make concerns about Dean Rodney Cohen public after years of institutional neglect, he ended up resigning. The reality is that, when folks come together, student organizing works.
We should never forget that the stakes are high. As Yale likes to remind us, it is a leader, and actions taken on this campus will be emulated. What happens here recreates itself outside this University. If we can create a campus where students of color are given the resources they need, where the health and wellness of students are taken seriously, where the college experience isn’t divided along class lines and where our University invests in our futures instead of in injustice, these actions will also ripple outwards. Our bold visions can become reality outside of just our campus, and to achieve that, we need everyone — united.
Tristan Glowa is a freshman in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .