Yale is old, really old. Like older than America old. That the University has managed to remain in existence all this time is a testament to its ability to adapt to an ever-changing society. But today, Yale is facing new challenges that have the potential to bring our beloved institution to its knees. A federal challenge to admissions practices, a public health crisis and a University-wide curriculum shift to fit the constraints of online learning all pose significant threats to Yale as we know it. Amid an array of critical issues the University must face, there lies an opportunity for transformative campus reform led by students.
Much like anything else this year, the Yale College Council elections have been –– to borrow a cliche –– unprecedented. After this past spring’s vote to postpone officer and senate elections, the YCC has now undergone a clean sweep, with most student government positions changing hands. New voices –– one of them being mine –– have joined the fray and have brought with them fresh perspectives that have the potential to shape Yale for years to come.
However, in order to take advantage of this unique opportunity, a few things must happen.
First, we as a student body must commit to ambitiously reimagining campus life. What used to be taken for granted at Yale –– sitting in on lectures and seminars, attending exciting extracurricular events and hanging out with friends in mask-free, non-physically distanced settings –– is no longer guaranteed. But the disruption in the inertia of college life gives us all time and space to reassess what we value about our school and how we believe it can improve. The opportunity for reflection is a crucial one, and we must not waste it. We must ask ourselves questions like: What key issues do I care about that have gone unaddressed by the University? What can Yale do to better support my peers and me? What does my ideal Yale look like?
Reexamined sentiments, however, are not enough to enact reform –– they must be coupled with concrete action. One of the ways we as Yalies can contribute to improving our campus community is by challenging our YCC representatives to advocate on our behalf and pursue a progressive vision for Yale. Doing so will make clear to both the YCC and the University that students are committed to restructuring Yale in a way that benefits everyone.
Second, the Yale College Council must evolve. The YCC has historically served as a consulting body for decision-makers in the college, and while that has led to the implementation of helpful policies, this year will require more than marginal changes to the status quo. The council must strive to ameliorate large-scale problems –– like education access and public health concerns –– that have sweeping impacts across the Yale community.
One policy the YCC should push for is a COVID-19 financial support fund for students who may face housing, employment and transportation challenges if an outbreak occurs on campus,but this will need both institutional and student support to happen. Pressure must become the word of the year for Yalies on the council, and we cannot be afraid to apply it to the University administration.Yale’s 300-year-old history and traditions are not coming to save us from this crisis, so the policy work of the YCC must be bold and creative.
Third, University leaders must listen to students. When making decisions that have the potential to dramatically alter lives, Yale leadership may be hesitant to bring young people to the table. But I ask that the administration lean into that discomfort and allow the YCC, and the student body as a whole, to play a substantial role in policy creation and implementation.
As students, we are the ones working to adapt to online education and learning to navigate precarious social interactions amid a pandemic. We know which policies will resonate with our peers and which ones won’t. Right now, that kind of information can save lives. Our administrators must recognize that and put aside their reservations to include students in key decisions and better serve Yale.
As Winston Churchill once said, we must “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Let us not simply endure this tumultuous time, but instead eagerly reach for radical progress at Yale.
CALEB DUNSON is a first year in Saybrook College. He is a senator for the Yale College Council. Contact him at email@example.com.