“This is not what I signed up for” was my first thought when I was sent a Google form from the Yale College Council shortly after I was elected as a senator from Davenport College. On the form, we were told to rank our areas of interest so we could be assigned to a policy project for the semester.
When I decided to run for the YCC Senate last year, I was driven by a desire to raise student voices and lower the four-hour wait times at the package receiving center. But instead, I was assigned to a project on credit allocation for STEM classes with long p-sets. It was an interesting foray into the YCC’s policy making process, from its annual fall survey to focus groups and drafting. It was not what people told me they needed.
At no point in the year were senators asked to consider the thoughts and needs of their constituents when making decisions, not even the four times we were asked to vote. Yale’s only representative body for undergraduate students is not interested in the business of representation.
My time in the Senate showed me how the outwardly effective YCC was still failing students — it showed me how the system was broken. #NoFailYale showed me how to fix it.
#NoFailYale and the fight for Universal Pass/Fail was not only one of the largest student movements in Yale’s recent history, but also a case study in how policy should be made and the senate should be run.
First, we identified a problem by talking to the most directly impacted stakeholders. In the case of UP, this meant reaching out to first-generation low-income, rural and international students. Both leaders and members of these communities were involved in the decision making process from the start until the end. This helped us to develop a policy centered in equity.
Then, we shared our proposal with the world and listened closely to the feedback. Policy that is made in small groups, with limited perspective, always runs the risk of unintentionally failing to fully address the issue at hand. We understood that not everyone would benefit equally from our policy, so we not only shared it with Yale students but took the time to explain it, defend it and change it when necessary. Pulling from a wide range of opinions and experiences made our proposal stronger and helped us get two thirds of student support in a survey with the largest sample size in YCC history.
The Senate showed me how the YCC was broken, #NoFailYale showed me how to fix it and this moment drove me to run.
In a world where everything else has changed, from the way we take classes to the way we share a meal, why should the YCC stay the same? COVID-19 and the issues it presents require a YCC that values student voices enough to ask them what they need. Asking those questions is the job of the senate and creating an environment to address those problems is the job of the vice president. I am the only candidate for vice president who has made the responsibilities of the role a cornerstone of my platform and decided to run without a ticket because this role deserves its own vision.
I envision a YCC that leverages student power, shows up for BIPOC, creates a community rooted in care and stands with students regardless of their location or enrollment. That vision includes reforming the senate to let elected representatives set the YCC’s priorities, appointing a dean for Middle Eastern and North African students, passing a resolution in support of the Respect New Haven demands and demanding transparency from Yale on COVID-19 decisions.
My platform covers many issues, but it is intentionally not a catalogue of every campus issue. Instead, it is a platform informed by my own experience and those of people close to me. I developed my platform using the same approach that I believe the Senate should employ: one that gives people closest to the issues the agency to address them in the way they see fit with the support of the YCC. My opinions should not be centered in discussions beyond my experience, and I’m not interested in taking credit for the work of other student organizations and leaders. Policy should come from the people up, not the president down.
I understand that this approach and my candidacy is unconventional in more ways than one and that has made this campaign grueling at times. However, if these past few months of pandemic and righteous protests have taught me anything, it is that in a time of crisis you don’t wait for permission to do what’s right. As civil rights leader John Lewis loved to say, “If not now, then when?”
We can’t wait for the change the YCC needs, and I’m not waiting for permission. So, my question to you: “Why not now?”
CARLOS BROWN is a sophomore in Davenport College. He is running for Vice President of the Yale College Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .