Yale’s COVID-19 health care policies and Yale College Council structural reform took center stage as candidates for YCC president and vice president Candidates debated their platforms ahead of the elections on Thursday and Friday.
On Tuesday, two presidential and three vice presidential YCC candidates participated in the debate, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 300 participants watched the event which was hosted by Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Daily News Sammy Westfall ’21 and Grace Kang ’21, the vice president of the YCC.
Due to COVID-19, the election, which was originally scheduled for the spring of 2020, was postponed to the fall semester to facilitate a more equitable campaign season. This year, Aliesa Bahri ’22 and Abey Philip ’22 are running for president, while Reilly Johnson ’22, Matt Murillo ’22 and Carlos Brown ’23 face off for the vice presidency. While Bahri-Johnson and Philip-Murillo are running as tickets, Brown is running solely for vice president.
“We hope that the debate provided a resource for students to learn more about the leaders who will be serving as a liaison between the student body and administration,” Kang said.
The debate was divided into two sections, one for vice presidential and the other for presidential candidates. Candidates had the opportunity to open with a two-minute statement before answering questions posed by Kang and Westfall. Candidates were also asked to provide “yes” or “no” responses to a series of rapid-fire questions, before the floor was opened to audience members’ queries.
Philip and Murillo’s campaign centered around seven pillars — including YCC structural reform and the relationship between the University and the city. Still, the most prominent of the pillars is the proposal to expand health care access by shifting Yale Health coverage from a Health Maintenance Organization model to a Preferred Provider Organization model. A PPO model would allow students to receive health care coverage at facilities beyond Yale Health, they explained. In addition, the ticket’s platform has placed a large emphasis on ensuring environmental sustainability and supporting first-generation low-income students.
Bahri and Johnson advocated a platform directed toward a “just, equitable and safe Yale,” emphasizing issues ranging from sexual assault prevention and diversity of mental health care providers to supporting the Endowment Justice Coalition’s efforts to divest from Puerto Rican debt.
Brown, who is running for vice president independently, has centered his campaign on reforming the YCC Senate, improving Yale’s mental health infrastructure and defunding the Yale Police Department.
The vice presidential portion of the debate started by exploring the difference between the tickets’ levels of experience. At the outset, Johnson stated that “this race is often framed as outsider activist versus establishment insider,” referring to the Philip-Murillo ticket and her ticket, respectively.
To rebut that point, she claimed that her experiences bridged the gap between the perceived dichotomy — citing her experience as an advocate for No Fail Yale and writer for the intersectional feminist publication Broad Recognition, in addition to her experience in the as the Sophomore Class Council president and an Ezra Stiles senator.
She argued, “I think experience is important for efficacy, and it is an impotant demonstration of how effective I will be in office.”
Meanwhile, Murillo, the only candidate with no experience on the YCC, countered that lived experiences mattered more than previous involvement in student government, citing that he grew up “10 minutes down the road in West Haven.” He went on to say that he identifies as a “first-generation low-income student of color that understands firsthand the tangible consequences of YCC policy.”
Brown, despite being the only sophomore candidate, emphasized his support for grassroots movements on campus in addition to his work as a Davenport senator.
“I don’t need to debate my involvement. I named No Fail Yale,” he said. “I came up with the phrase ‘Universal Pass,’” referencing the student-run movement that changed Yale College’s grading policy to an entirely Pass/Fail system due to COVID-19.
He added that his record “strikes a balance” between lived experience and work with the YCC and emphasized his perspective as “enough of an outsider to know what needs to be changed and enough of an insider to know how to get things done.”
All the campaigns also addressed issues of sexual misconduct on college campuses. Johnson stated that hers was the only platform that meaningfully addresses issues faced by student-athletes, international students and problems of sexual misconduct.
Later on, an audience member asked about Murillo being a member of a fraternity on campus. In response, Murillo acknowledged that “there is a fundamental issue with fraternities” and argued that he was an “active speaker in coeducation” while involved with Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He added that he and Philip have been reaching out to “gender minority groups” on campus throughout their campaign.
The topic of restructuring the YCC brought about heated debate, with Murillo stating that in the past, YCC has “failed to include outside voices because [the Council is] focused on expansion within the YCC rather than bringing in voices” from preexisting student groups. While all candidates agreed that there are necessary changes to be brought about within YCC, the disagreement was over how to achieve these ends.
Murillo and Philip asserted that separate task forces for large issues should be brought under the umbrella of YCC, but Johnson disagreed.
“Rather than bringing outside voices in, why not help those who are outside? We can go to them and send policy representatives to their groups,” Johnson argued.
Murillo stated that Johnson’s perception was a “bizarre misunderstanding of how the organizations want to be incorporated into YCC.”
During the presidential portion of the debate, Philip agreed with his running mate when discussing environmental justice groups, like the Yale Student Environmental Coalition.
He said that “we should stop infiltrating these student groups … we do not want to send YCC members to their meetings, taking their ideas and implementing them ourselves.”
But Bahri maintained her ticket’s position stating that “if we want to talk about centering the work that [student organizations] do then we shouldn’t be making separate task forces when they are the ones who do the work best.”
A point of contention arose surrounding benefits of focusing on long-term versus short-term planning. Johnson and Bahri stressed the importance of qualification and ability to start work immediately, especially in relation to Philip and Murillo’s long-term plan to restructure Yale’s health care system.
“There [is] room for long term plans, but if you do not have short term plans you are not equipped to take office on Friday,” Johnson said.
During the debate, Siddarth Shankar ’22, an audience member, asked if Philip felt that switching Yale Health from an HMO to PPO model would be realistic given that the objective of HMO is to keep care local to Connecticut.
In response, Philip reassured him that the ticket had spoken to Paul Genecin, director of Yale Health, and Ariel Perez, assistant manager of Member Services, about the switch. Philip said that both administrators said the plan was feasible. He also argued that “other universities have already [made the change] like Harvard and Columbia, who go through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aetna.”
Philip also emphasized that the change “is essential to provide more health care access to students outside of Connecticut because no student should go without health care.”
For Danielle De Haerne ’22, an undecided voter, the debate was an important factor in determining her decision.
“I was not certain of who I wanted to vote for beforehand, but the debate helped me settle completely on Aliesa and Reilly,” she said. “Aliesa’s statement on expanding Safety Net to cover technology, health care and — [to make it] available to students on leaves of absence — was also incredibly impactful to me as a student who relies on Safety Net and is personally frustrated by its shortcomings. [These are] shortcomings that it seems Aliesa’s platform will be addressing from the get-go.”
Natasha Ravinand ’23 asserted that Bahri and Johnson’s ”prior experience in the YCC, their strong track record, and their comprehensive policy platform make them the strongest candidates in the race.”
Sarah Grube ’22, for her part, was “very impressed with Abey and Matt’s idea of transitioning Yale Health to a PPO, rather than an HMO.” She emphasized her personal investment in the policy, adding that “this has been a big issue for [her] as an out-of-state student who relies on her parent’s insurance.”
Although first years, under normal circumstances, would not have matriculated at Yale in time for the debate, the delayed election meant that many could attend.
“This was my first debate, so I was just surprised by the whole process,” said Aderonke Adejare ’24. “I want to see Yale help students … financially by reducing or eliminating laundry costs, [by being] more sustainable — especially now that we are more reliant on to-go meals — and defunding or abolishing [Yale Police Department], and providing more mental health resources. I think Carlos Brown and Aliesa Bahri would help to accomplish this goal.”
Chloe Adda ’22, who is running unopposed for events director, did not participate in the debate.
YCC Elections will be open on YaleConnect for all students from 9:00 a.m. on Sept. 17 to 9:00 p.m. on Sept. 18. All YCC positions are up for election including president, vice president, events director and two senators from every residential college.
Correction, Sept. 16: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Reilly Johnson ’22 said she was the only candidate that addresses topics including international students. At the debate, she claimed to be only candidate to “meaningfully” address those issues.