A month ago, the Yale Daily News called us out. The News boldly articulated a problem that so many of us see, yet struggle to change: that “diversity” at Yale is often superficial. It is the responsibility of both Yale administrators and student leaders to make every student feel welcome on this campus — to make every student feel as if they belong. Diversity is a mere part of the inclusivity equation, and cannot be measured solely through statistics. If diverse voices aren’t included in leadership and decision-making, then their presence will not be felt in the same way. What we’ve learned is that it’s not just about who is in the room. It’s about who is given a seat at the table, rather than a place in the back. What makes this more important is the large role student organizations play in students’ identities on campus, making those who fail to start conversations about diversity and inclusion complicit. The News called on the Yale College Council to take a long and hard look in the mirror — so we did.
The Yale College Council is your, my and our student government. We are an organization of over 100 members, from senators to videographers to representatives to events chairs. Our organizational chart alone takes up an entire page, portraying a complicated web of both elected and appointed members. But at the end of the day, our goal is the same: to serve as the voice of students, to advocate for issues that matter and to work hard to improve every Yalie’s experience on this campus. Yalies place their trust in us to get stuff done. With trust comes responsibility.
A representative student government needs to be, well, representative. Last month, we conducted a comprehensive survey of our executive board, senate, committees (business, communications and undergraduate organizations funding) and events bodies (events and Spring Fling). Of the roughly 130 members of these bodies, 102 responded to our survey.
As a whole, the YCC is pretty much representative of the student body in terms of race and ethnicity and socioeconomic breakup. However, what’s more important is whether the YCC’s overarching leadership — specifically the executive board and its senate — continue to reflect that representation. For that group, there are 38 members in total, 34 of whom responded to our survey.
In regard to race and ethnicity in YCC leadership, we are normally representative of Yale College. The most common household income range is less than $65,000, at 20.59 percent, and 14.71 percent are first-generation college students. However, while 41 percent of our leadership is on 75 to 100 percent financial aid, the same amount is on no financial aid at all. We are significantly lacking in LGBTQIA+ representation in our leadership, with 85.29 percent of our leadership identifying as heterosexual.
If we whittle this data down further to just our executive board (excluding the Senate), the top echelon of YCC leadership, there is not one student who is a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, is international, or identifies as Hispanic, Native American, Alaskan Native, Middle Eastern or North African, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
What’s missing in the YCC as a whole also tells a sobering story. Amongst the 102 members of the YCC at-large who responded to our survey, and not just our leadership, there is not a single student of Native American or Native Hawaiian descent. On the whole, we are vastly underrepresented in terms of international students — 6.86 percent compared to 11 percent in Yale College.
Diversity cannot and should not be reduced to a blanket statement. “Pretty much representative,” to us, is not good enough. Perhaps more importantly, diversity goes far beyond statistics. Just because someone has their foot in the door does not mean they are equally equipped to make it up the ladder; just because someone is invited into a space does not mean that they feel included. To me, this issue is far less about that diversity than it is about inclusion. Inclusion is making sure that every student in the YCC feels welcome. Inclusion is making sure that the YCC fights against its history as a “boys club.” Inclusion is making sure that it’s not another 10 years until we elect a woman as the leader of this organization.
Making sure every student on this campus feels heard, at home and included is at times difficult — but it is, and should be, the goal that guides all of our initiatives on the Yale College Council. There always remains more work to be done.
Saloni Rao is a junior in Davenport College. She is president of the Yale College Council. This piece was written as a joint effort with the 2018-19 YCC executive board. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .