The News has criticized uncontested Yale College Council elections before, on the grounds that they exemplify the apathy with which students view the YCC. In the past, students were apathetic because their student government seemed distant and unimportant. This year, however, the YCC has been anything but. It has enacted visible and important changes ranging from creating a new late-night shuttle line, giving students a late-night dining option at the Slifka Center and distributing free menstrual products across the residential colleges, to changing Dean’s Excuses policies regarding mental health, partnering with Lyft for students discounts and working to get students more involved with New Haven. The YCC has achieved prominence in a way that was unthinkable in recent memory. Why, then, is this year’s YCC election for president and vice president uncontested?
The election is not uncontested for lack of faith in the YCC’s effectiveness. It might be the case that it is uncontested because no other candidate believes that they could reasonably stand a chance against Kahlil Greene ’21 and Grace Kang ’21. Or it could be the case that, as we originally warned in our endorsement of YCC President Saloni Rao ’20, that this year’s changes to the election system have brought unintended negative consequences for inclusion.
Regardless of how they waltzed into an uncontested election, it is clear that Greene and Kang would not be dark horse candidates in a regular election year. With a small army of volunteers behind them and a wide range of support across campus that would make any candidate jealous, Greene and Kang’s strong position is a product of their affability and successful careers in student government. So far, they’ve spent their time on the YCC working on substantial projects and have a realistic understanding of what can and cannot be done regarding the upcoming year, which is why our managing board endorsed them just yesterday.
They are not perfect: Both Greene and Kang could not name one City Hall official besides Mayor Toni Harp and Alder Haci Catalbasoglu ’19 when asked to do so in their candidate interviews with the News, even though their plans for increased cooperation across the town-gown divide sits at the very top of their policy platform. And when the News pressed Greene on how he would fund a paid peer liaison program in the financial aid office, he said he was unsure of where the money could come from. These are, thankfully, shortcomings that can be compensated for on the job; this ticket will likely do well as president and vice president.
But even though they are worthy choices, our campus doesn’t actually have any choice but to accept them as our leaders. Enlightened despotism is still despotism. For the sake of the YCC’s future, safeguards must be put in place to ensure competitive elections. And, indeed, both candidates told the News that their uncontested candidacies do not herald a good sign for the YCC. At the bottom of their policy platforms, they advocate for the rolling back of recently added election regulations that uniquely bolster candidates who emerge from within the YCC, stifling the open, democratic spirit of an election. Their doing so would open up elections to students other than tried-and-true YCC insiders.
Today, it is not an immediate issue that Greene and Kang appear to have been the YCC’s preordained candidates. But there might come a day when we are stuck with unqualified candidates and an uncontested election. What will we do then?
Once in office, these candidates should immediately rework the requirement that “any candidate running for the office of YCC President or Vice President must have attended at least three Yale College Council Senate meetings and one Council of Representatives meeting” in the YCC’s constitution to ensure that those unaware of this very recent change to the YCC’s internal structure and constitution are not barred from running because of a technicality. Then, both Greene and Kang should dedicate ample time to encouraging a variety of candidates to run for office next year while brainstorming other ways to court candidates. Leaving a legacy after serving on the YCC’s executive board does not mean grooming your favorite rising junior to take over your job — every reasonably qualified, potential candidate should be encouraged to run by the leadership of the YCC with equal enthusiasm.
If they take their work seriously, we believe that Greene and Kang will do right by the Yale community when they assume their offices next month. But ultimately, they show all the signs of candidates who were slated for these positions months in advance of an election. This is not a democratic YCC. Even if Greene and Kang were the perfect candidates, we should still have a choice in whether they assume office or not.
Time will tell whether these candidates truly want to see contested elections in the future of the YCC, or whether their promise of election reform is just lip service meant to make their undemocratic ascension to power seem less problematic. If Greene and Kang fail to reform the elections process, then the YCC will only ever be run by candidates pre-approved by YCC insiders — candidates who spend their first two years at Yale gathering enough support and tacit endorsement around campus to effectively guarantee themselves an election victory before the election has even begun. The YCC should serve students and be elected by students, not itself.
Editor’s Note: Members of the managing board with personal ties to the Yale College Council and candidates in the race recused themselves from the writing of this News’ View.
Correction, Apr. 11: A previous version of this article said that Greene wants to fund a peer liaison program for the office of admissions at Yale. In fact, Greene wants to fund a peer liaison program for the office of financial aid.