In this year’s long-awaited Yale College Council elections, we have been presented with a number of impressive candidates, each of whom envisions a more equitable and just university. After much deliberation, we, as the managing board of the News, are excited to endorse Aliesa Bahri ’22 and her running mate Reilly Johnson ’22 for YCC president and vice president. As a team, they bring the depth and breadth of experience and thoughtful policy Yale needs during an unprecedented year of crisis.
During their campaign, Bahri and Johnson have often lauded their “30-page platform,” a testament to their preparedness and experience in student government. The two of them have collectively headed both the first-year and sophomore class councils. Bahri has also served as YCC policy director and Johnson as a YCC senator. They tout a track record of success; from working to make free menstrual hygiene products available in the residential colleges to creating the cultural center shuttle line, to establishing walk-in hours at the mental health center and accomplishing many other substantial policy achievements.
We have confidence that a YCC headed by Bahri and Johnson would be ready to govern on their first day. Considering their combined four years of experience in student government, they have an intimate understanding of how to achieve real change. We especially appreciate their experience in light of the fact that elections were delayed — the new YCC will not have the usual three months of summer to prepare for the school year. When the managing board asked Bahri what she would do in her first week, she said that she would expand Yale’s Safety Net Program to provide critical funds to students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and work to expand the University’s current healthcare network. It is this immediate, urgent support that Yale students need.
Bahri and Johnson’s platform is filled with progressive, but also practical, policies that could be implemented within the span of their one-year term. We are excited about their plans, which include hiring more mental health providers, making Election Day a University holiday and ensuring that Yale will cover the cost of flights home in an emergency.
In spite of our endorsement, we still have concerns about some aspects of Bahri and Johnson’s campaign and platform. Bahri and Johnson’s opponents compellingly argued that the two offered no outside perspective on the YCC as students who had served on student government since arriving at Yale. Especially compared to their rival ticket, Abey Philip ’22 and Matthew Murillo ’22, Bahri and Johnson seem less inclined to take risks and challenge the University administration. Additionally, because of the rigidity of their platform, students have raised legitimate concern over Bahri and Johnson’s ability to maintain flexibility and respond to student input.
Bahri and Johnson also plan to establish YCC liaisons to activist groups on campus such as the Endowment Justice Coalition. The YCC leadership should take care to ensure that this structure does not lead the YCC to overshadow the work of grassroots organizers and take credit where others have invested time and effort. We hope that the plans to further incorporate the YCC into existing organizations and movements will uplift those working on the ground.
Philip and Murillo offered compelling reasons for their campaign. They explained how their identities as first-generation and low-income students have motivated them to run, giving them a deep understanding of the needs of Yale students and the ways in which Yale’s policies directly affect more vulnerable community members. Philip and Murillo offered far-reaching reforms in health care policy to make Yale a fairer campus for all, including expanding health care coverage to students taking leaves of absence.
Having grown up in New Haven, Murillo brings lived experience to the duo’s New Haven plans. Philip and Murillo made repairing Yale’s relationship with New Haven a huge part of their platform, seeking to bridge the divide between students and New Haven residents. In addition, Philip brings a wealth of experience and achievement in his past roles on the YCC. Some of the accomplishments that he frequently cited throughout his campaign included creating the $100,000 Student Green Innovation Fund and serving as a founding member for the Universal Pass (UP) movement last spring.
However, Murillo has never served on YCC, nor has he attended a YCC Senate meeting. This is especially worrisome considering that one of the tasks of the VP is to oversee the senate. We were also concerned by the pair’s admission that some of their signature policies, such as a restructuring of Yale’s health insurance plans, could not be realized fully within their term and might take a number of years to implement. This includes their proposal to switch Yale’s health insurance plans from an HMO to a PPO model, which is more flexible but also comes with higher costs. We were also looking for more details about their plan to phase out the daytime Yale shuttles to reduce competition with New Haven public transit. Without a clear plan to replace shuttle lines, an additional burden would fall on students who rely on the shuttle to travel across campus.
Carlos Brown ’23 beautifully said that he is “running for vice president, not co-president,” which is why he decided not to run on a ticket. In the YDN-YCC debate, he made the compelling claim that he sees the role of the VP as a facilitator for campus activists and organizations, not a microphone that dominates their voices. Once in office, Brown hopes to give YCC senators a larger role in setting policy initiatives based on his own frustrations serving on the council last year. He plans to be an advocate for BIPOC students in the YCC and expand options for the study of Indigenous languages. We are also excited to hear that Brown hopes to appoint a dean for Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) students as well as establish a MENA cultural house.
Our concern lies with the fact that Brown missed half of the senate’s 14 meetings, although we appreciate that he clarified to the News that some of these were excused absences for other extracurricular commitments. Moreover, unlike all the other candidates, Brown is a sophomore and has less experience in Yale student government than the competing tickets. If he doesn’t win this cycle, we encourage him to run again next year, when he can combine his campus activism — such as serving as a founding member of the Universal Pass movement — with an additional eight months of experience.
Unlike in past years, we were pleased to see the YCC’s top positions fiercely contested, generating lively and productive debate on substantive policy issues among impressive candidates. The choice to lead our student body is one we should all take seriously: Change at Yale often begins with the YCC. We look forward to a year of progress, despite the challenges we currently face. This week, vote — our community depends on it.
The News’ View represents the opinion of the majority of the managing board of the News.