Following their election to the Yale College Council this past week, President Aliesa Bahri ’22 and Vice President Reilly Johnson ’22 have committed to a year of improving relations with student advocacy groups across campus.
During the YCC-YDN debate on Sept. 15, a major point of contention among the candidates was about how to best uplift the voices of student advocacy groups on campus. Bahri and Johnson advocated for an improved outreach process to student organizations by creating liaisons between the YCC and these groups. Some of Bahri and Johnson’s opponents, however, proposed the implementation of task forces with membership consisting of leaders from student advocacy groups.
Following the debate, the News reached out to the leadership of these groups across campus to survey their thoughts on how they would prefer to most meaningfully engage with the YCC.
“Aliesa and Reilly ran on a decentralized YCC model that puts student organizations at the forefront of advocacy,” commented Nick Randos ’23, co-president of Yale First-Gen and/or Low Income Advocacy Movement. “For YFAM … this would be the preferred model, allowing our organization … to drive the conversation and enrich advocacy with lived experience.”
Randos, also a former Saybrook YCC Senator, told the News that the YCC “has established itself as the main arbiter between student advocacy and the Yale administration.” Randos cited coordination with “YCC leadership during the #NoFailYale movement” as an example of an “informal working relationship” between YFAM and the YCC.
Co-president of Black Students for Disarmament at Yale Jaelen King ’22 emphasized the group’s commitment to promoting their ongoing work to support the New Haven community at large, adding that they would welcome collaboration with the YCC.
King pointed to “more direct access to Yale Administration” and “being able to show that the calls BSDY have made are not isolated to a specific group but rather represent the opinions of the student body at large” as benefits of cooperation with the YCC.
STEM & Health Equity Advocates, a new student organization, has not worked with YCC in the past, but co-director Karen Tai ’21 reflected on her hopes for a future partnership.
“We have already had some successes reforming some STEM departments, but we hope that by working with the YCC, and with YCC’s support, we can quickly implement this reform not just within one major, but across all STEM departments,” Tai told the News on behalf of SHEA.
Some of the changes Tai hopes to implement in conjunction with the YCC include the incorporation of antiracism into STEM curriculum and “collaboration with other student-led efforts to dismantle systemic racism at Yale.”
The Yale Student Environmental Coalition reported a primarily positive working relationship with the YCC. Co-president Jamie Chan ’23 described the YCC as an “ally” to YSEC, noting that the YCC has previously “amplified our calls for climate mobilization to the broader student body,” adding that YSEC leadership is looking forward to furthering the relationship formed between the YCC and YSEC last year.
However, Chan remains wary of the potential disadvantages of working with the council.
“A large body like YCC runs the risk of miscommunication and disorganization, which may lead to inconsistent, fragmented relationships with campus organizations,” Chan commented. “I am excited to see how the improved delegate model of student organization engagement that Aliesa and Reilly advocated for would work.”
Other student advocacy groups that have worked with YCC in the past expressed concerns related to efficacy once YCC becomes involved with supporting pre-existing initiatives.
BSDY’s King shared that the organization briefly collaborated with the council last year in hopes of creating a separate task force dedicated to addressing issues within the YPD.
According to King, despite the group’s contact with Abey Philip ’22, former Benjamin Franklin YCC senator and former YCC presidential candidate, and Bahri, “who were specifically working to incorporate BSDY’s work into the YCC agenda,” there proved to be “a variety of logistical issues that held up that process.”
“The drawbacks [of working with YCC] are that there are a lot of logistical and bureaucratic rules and regulations that may hamper our ability to implement effective and holistic policy,” King said.
Although the leadership of Disability Empowerment for Yale has recognized the benefits of partnering with YCC, DEFY Vice President and Saybrook YCC Senator Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’23 has reservations about the effectiveness of working with the YCC.
“I believe that institutional restructuring and streamlining are requisites for greater success moving forward,” Lara Midkiff said.
Randos of YFAM was also in agreement that structural change within the YCC is a necessity in order to ensure successful collaboration.
According to Randos, in the past, the YCC has often taken control of organizations rather than uplifting the work that is being done by these student groups.
In spite of such drawbacks, nearly all of the organizations that spoke with the News indicated a desire to work alongside the YCC for the upcoming year. For instance, YSEC told the News, “we hope the YCC will continue to support YSEC … by using their institutional leverage to advocate for university-wide reform.”
Most of the organizations interviewed advocated for two key elements to a successful relationship with the YCC: true partnership and meaningful change.
“We hope to maintain autonomy in directing these initiatives, rather than transferring our initiatives to the YCC, and we would like to work and implement genuine change, rather than symbolic measures,” Tai said.
YFAM’s statement included a similar sentiment for “YFAM [to] work alongside YCC… with the YCC amplifying our voices rather than co-opting our efforts.”
Lastly, organizations reaffirmed their stance on having the YCC support them rather than dictating policy. King cited the need for advocacy groups to remain steadfast in their commitment to meaningful change, even if administrative barriers to policy-driven approaches arise.
“Our thoughts overall on working with the YCC is that we love whatever support and assistance they can provide, but we are not willing to compromise on our demands just to create a more appeasing policy,” King said.
Nevertheless many of the groups recognized Bahri and Johnson’s proactive efforts at changing how the YCC collaborates with student advocacy groups. In a statement to the News, Bahri reaffirmed her administration’s commitment to these efforts.
“Our goal this year is to be a resource for students and coalitions leading the charge on pressing campus issues,” Bahri said. “We have and will continue to meet with student leaders to discuss how they feel we can best center their voices and work. For instance, we have already met with YFAM, DEFY, Yale Votes, and more this past week. To me, YCC is all about stepping up to support our peers, and proactive engagement and outreach is an important part of that.”
Bahri and Johnson officially began their terms as YCC President and Vice President on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.
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