On the evening of August 11, a group of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia ostensibly protesting the removal of a statue of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in neighboring Charlottesville, Virginia. The UVA administration, recognizing a risk of physical violence, urged students to avoid the white supremacist rally the following day, which indeed turned violent. Fewer than 10 days later, UVA students arrived on campus for their first day of classes for the fall semester.

In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville earlier this month, it might seem easier to simply disengage from current events and the issues that impact our campus. But college campuses, such as ours, are on the frontlines of many conversations with national implications. This year, we need to continue to speak out on the issues that mean the most to us while showing respect for those who disagree.

Nowhere has the debate about Confederate monuments and institutions that bear Confederate names been more passionate than on college campuses. Here at Yale, Calhoun College was officially renamed Hopper College earlier this summer after student protests and alumni petitions. This decision came after years of student and faculty activism, and is one corner of an ongoing campuswide and nationwide conversation about how to address historical racism.

Yale is at a significant moment in its history. For the first time since 1961, Yale College is expanding. The opening of Pauli Murray College and Benjamin Franklin College will bring 800 new students to campus over the next four years. Professor Marvin Chun has become the new dean of Yale College. Conversations about diversity and inclusion, freedom of speech and Yale’s legacy continue to take place among students, faculty, administration, alumni and even the national media. As we enter this new chapter, it’s more important than ever that students are not only aware of these conversations, but are active participants in them.

Student voice is a key driver of positive change on Yale’s campus. Yale’s story is still being written. Most often, it is current students who add another page and make sure that this narrative stays up-to-date. Yale’s future is a work in progress for which we are all co-authors. By engaging in these conversations, current Yale students will shape our school for generations to come.

The Yale College Council is ready to help facilitate these important conversations.

We lend a voice to student concerns, ideas and expectations in an effort to influence University policy and priorities. We do this by synthesizing student testimony into recommendations that we present to Yale administration. With your support, we will be more effective at understanding student concerns and serving as an advocate for the student body.

This year, the YCC is here to ensure that the University hears your voice. We will continue to strive toward a campus in which students of all ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and backgrounds feel welcomed and accepted. We will advocate for financial aid reform, dining reform, expansion of academic opportunities and other University policies that affect the undergraduate experience. We will be a leader and advocate in response to current events or national legislation that affect the rights and futures of college students. We have not always served this role as well as we can, and we hope to change that this year.

Charlottesville was a lesson is what should never happen. College campuses cannot be spaces of hate and racism, but rather places where we learn from and respect one another. As we begin a new academic year, let’s continue to speak out on what matters most to us while showing the world that Yale’s campus is one based on respect and understanding. Our voices are necessary in shaping the future of our University while the patience we show one another, especially when we disagree, is what makes Yale a truly special place. 

Matthew Guido is a junior in Berkeley College. He is the president of the Yale College Council. Contact him at matthew.guido@yale.edu .