Vivek Suri

The Yale College Council faced criticism last year for the meager number of candidates running for leadership positions on the council. But this year, nine candidates — five for president, three for vice president and one for events director — participated in the annual candidates debate co-hosted by the Yale College Council and the News on Tuesday evening.

The evening consisted of two debates, one featuring the three candidates for YCC vice president — Casey Ramsey ’20, Heidi Dong ’20 and Remy Dhingra ’20— and a separate one featuring the five candidates for YCC president — Aadit Vyas ’20, Chris Moeckel ’20, Azaria King ’20, Shunhe Wang ’20 and Sal Rao ’20. It opened with a statement by uncontested events director candidate Caleigh Propes.

Polls will open at 9 a.m. Thursday morning and close at 9 p.m. on Friday night.

The five presidential candidates each answered questions about handling disagreement with students and the administration and improving student understanding of the YCC, as well as 14 yes-or-no rapid-fire questions covering topics ranging from the student income contribution to single-gender organizations, residential colleges, Local 33 and free speech.

All the candidates agreed that the residential college system is an indispensable part of student life, that Yale has not adequately addressed sexual misconduct, that mental health is stigmatized at the University and that Yale must eliminate the student income contribution. But each candidate had a different approach to addressing each issue.

Moeckel, who has made eliminating the student income contribution a pillar of his campaign, said he would give the University 30 days to make clear whether or not it would work with the YCC to eliminate the student income contribution. On day 31, Moeckel said, the YCC would incorporate a 501(c)(3) — an organization that is tax-exempt — and begin soliciting donations from alumni for the purpose of ending the student income contribution.

“I think the YCC has been trying to accomplish this for decade after decade,” Moeckel said. “There has to be a time where we say, ‘We’re not going to appease the Yale administration — we’re going to try to make change,’ and I think that time is now.”

Rao, whose campaign platform does not specifically mention reducing the student income contribution, responded to Moeckel by pointing out that the YCC did help decrease the student income contribution by $1,000 for first-year students and $450 for upper-level students in December 2015. Explaining why she did not mention the issue on her own platform, Rao said that while she believes the issue is important, she does not think it is fair for her to make “empty promises” about eliminating the fee.

Vyas said that Moeckel’s plan to eliminate the student income contribution could sour relations between the YCC and the University, which would jeopardize the YCC’s many other collaborative projects with administrators. Vyas added that he finds Moeckel’s plan “unsustainable” because future presidents might not be able to run the 501(c)(3) organization that Moeckel suggests creating.

The candidates also disagreed about how to increase diversity on the YCC. King, whose campaign focuses on increasing outreach to students involved in cultural centers and students from low-income backgrounds, said she would work with student organizations to create a platform based on what students want.

Rao said she aims to address the issue by creating an additional council consisting of representatives from each interested student organization to ensure that a plurality of voices is heard. But for Wang, while such a council is a “great idea in theory,” having a 600-person organization would be impractical. Vyas agreed, adding that giving each organization a say in such a council would lead to “disproportionate representation.”

“In the future, new groups are definitely going to come up,” Vyas said. “So, who’s going to be the arbitrator for which groups deserve to be on the Council of Representatives? There’s too many questions.”

The candidates also answered audience questions, which addressed topics relating to the role of the YCC in the discussion of sexual assault and single-gender organizations, as well as the relationship between Yale and New Haven, before ending the debate with closing statements.

During the vice presidential debate, Ramsey, Dong and Dhingra answered questions about their top policy goals, the changes they would make to the YCC structure and their past experience.

Ramsey — whose campaign platform focuses on simplifying the financial aid process, introducing a shuttle line to run to North Haven and improving mental health services — said he would retain the core YCC structure of a Council of Representatives, but add representatives from the cultural centers to increase diversity on the council.

Dhingra said she would allot more human capital to each issue that the YCC is currently addressing, rather than focus on additional issues. She added that currently the surveys have a low response rate and are not representative. To solve this problem, Dhingra said she would divide the survey into smaller parts, separated by topic, and send them to a simple random sample of Yale students. 

Dhingra — who, like her running mate Moeckel, has never held a position on the YCC — brushed off a question about her lack of YCC experience, saying that her time as a member of Camp Kesem’s Development Committee and as a tour guide at the Yale University Art Gallery has provided her with relevant experience.

“I’ve identified three skills that I think are important for an effective VP,” Dhingra said. “Those are leadership ability, communication skills and persistence — all three of which I possess.”

Meanwhile, Dong highlighted her experience in the YCC as both a representative of Morse College and as the current University services director for the organization. She spoke about her and running mate Rao’s idea to create a new council of representatives consisting of representatives from other student organizations.

Caleigh Propes ’20, who is running uncontested for the position of YCC events director, also appeared at the event, giving a statement explaining her two-part platform to increase the budget of Spring Fling and increase student outreach.

Alex McGrath ’21, who attended the event, said that the outcome of the presidential debate was clear.

“I think to anyone watching this debate, it’s obvious that Sal was the winner,” McGrath said. “Sal is the only one with the experience and the know-how, and the actual actionable policy.”

For Jacob Malinowski ’20, though, Moeckel and Dhingra were the only candidates with a “clear, solid, action plan” throughout the debate.

Louie Goldsmith ’21, another attendee, said that while all the candidates made it clear that they care about the ideas they shared, the details offered in certain candidates’ plans “obviously exceeded” those offered by other candidates.

And Abby Leonard ’21, co-president of Unite against Sexual Assault at Yale, said it was “great” that sexual assault and misconduct was a main issue in the debate.

“We really appreciate and hope that whoever’s elected to the position of YCC president will also carry out the changes that they say they will,” Leonard said.

Aakshi Chaba | aakshi.chaba@yale.edu