Trying to create change at Yale University is a bit like steering a ship. After the wheel is turned, it takes time for all the parts to move into place so that the vessel can actually change direction. This year, the Yale College Council focused on getting these parts moving and creating change.

The Domestic Summer Award, a $4,000 stipend for undergraduates on financial aid pursuing an unpaid summer internship in public service, has changed the way many students approach the summer internship search. Yale College’s medical emergency policy, which was adopted in 2014 and only included alcohol violations, was expanded to include drug violations in order to better prioritize student safety over discipline. The first American Sign Language classes ever taught in Yale College were unveiled this semester as part of a three-semester pilot program. Beginning next fall, the deadline to register a course Credit/D/Fail will be pushed back until midterm, giving students eight full weeks of classes to decide which ones they wish to elect under the Credit/D/Fail option. Just next week, the YCC will launch a pilot program that provides free menstrual hygiene products in three residential colleges as we recognize that these products are a necessity that places an inequitable financial burden on many students.

The YCC plays a necessary and important role in working with the University administration to improve the student experience. But the YCC is only as effective as the students who compose it and the willingness of students across campus to speak up about the issues that matter the most to them. Our Council of Representatives is composed of more than thirty students who bring their diverse academic, extracurricular and social perspectives into every meeting. We bring conversations over dinner with friends in our residential colleges, late-night debates with our suitemates and discussions from meetings for other student organizations. Our advocacy is derived from the students all around us.

During my time with the YCC, I’ve realized that the work we do is about more than simply understanding what students want. Rather, it’s about helping students and administrators better understand the wants of those around them. Every Yale experience is different and special in its own way. When we realize and embrace that, our community is strengthened and we have more to learn from one another.

Yale can oftentimes seem bureaucratic and decentralized. However, I view this system as an opportunity. It gives each one of us the chance to influence and affect different parts of the University. Chat with your head of college about why you chose to move off-campus. Schedule a meeting with the chair of your academic department to inquire about faculty diversity within the department. Attend town halls, speak outs and other events that allow you to share your experiences with fellow members of the Yale community. There are openings all around us to share our opinions and make our voices heard. We can create positive and lasting change within this system if each one of us starts by sharing their story and trying to better understand the stories of those around them. The YCC is ready to help facilitate these important conversations and help Yale administrators better understand the community they serve.

Yale College is currently trying to answer some important questions about issues core to the Yale experience. How can the residential college system evolve to meet the needs of the modern Yale student? How can we create a safer sexual climate on campus? How can we create an environment that better emphasizes mental wellness? Your input and solutions to these questions have the chance to impact the lives of Yale undergraduates for generations to come.

View the YCC as a vessel through which change can be achieved at Yale. Realize that you are the captain of this ship and the author of this change. Be ready to take the helm.

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