Clockwise from top left: Lara Midkiff, Bertrán Ramírez, Galal, Hsu. Courtesy of the candidates and Reilly Johnson

On Tuesday, Yale College Council presidential and vice-presidential candidates gathered on Zoom to debate their policy platforms ahead of the YCC election, which will take place on April 29 and 30. The candidates discussed a wide range of student issues, with focuses on mental health reform, student health care and advocacy for Yale’s first-generation, low-income community.

About 150 students attended the event, which was co-hosted by the YCC and the News. Editor-in-chief of the News Mackenzie Hawkins ’22 and YCC Vice President Reilly Johnson ’22 moderated the event, asking the candidates prepared questions before opening the floor to questions from participants.

Bayan Galal ’23 and Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’23 are both running for president, and Zoe Hsu ’24 and Jordi Bertrán Ramírez ’24 are running for vice president. Lara Midkiff and Bertrán Ramírez are running on a ticket together, as are Galal and Hsu. Diba Ghaed ’24, who is running unopposed for YCC events director, did not participate in the debate.

“It’s been incredibly uplifting and heartening to hear from hundreds of you over the last few days, sharing your hopes and your vision for what Yale can become,” Lara Midkiff said at the debate. “I look forward to hearing from many more of you tonight, and in the days to come.”

Galal and Hsu have framed their campaign around the development of a “healthy Yale” — their campaign website describes physical health, mental health, community health, financial health and institutional health as the guiding principles of their platform.

Lara Midkiff and Bertrán Ramírez have made accessibility the focal point of their campaign, focusing on making Yale more accessible to students with physical or mental disabilities, students of color and FGLI students.

The first hour of the debate focused on the vice-presidential candidates, and the presidential candidates took the stage in the second hour. Candidates had the opportunity to present three-minute opening statements before answering questions from Hawkins and Johnson.

During the vice-presidential debate, Bertrán Ramírez and Hsu discussed the most effective forms of advocacy for financial aid reform.

“One thing that I’d like to speak to that is a little bit concerning is that on the platform of our opposing candidates, there’s no discussion of eliminating regular course fees,” Bertrán Ramírez said during the event. “As a student who is both in chem and in the arts, you’re looking at upwards of hundreds of dollars to spend on your online course fees.”

Bertrán Ramírez noted that class fees can also sometimes dissuade students from taking courses that require expensive materials or other fees.

In response, Hsu said that she supported eliminating course fees, but asserted that this was more of a long-term goal for her and Galal.

“I have been advocating tirelessly for something as simple as a course-drop fee, only to be met by denial,” Hsu said. “These FGLI students need immediate help. They need immediate stipends. And that is why I propose that we will use our YCC internal budget to make sure those stipends are given to the students as soon as possible.”

The vice-presidential debate also turned to the question of Hsu’s qualification for the position as a first-year student. Hsu emphasized her experience as equity chair on the YCC, in which she focused on financial aid reform and advocacy for the FGLI community, and added that she has served on the YCC for as long as both Lara Midkiff and Bertrán Ramírez.

In response, Bertrán Ramírez referred to his involvement with other student organizations before running for YCC office.

“I have one year of experience in the YCC, but I ran for the YCC after a year of working with community organizers, a year of working with student activists,” Bertrán Ramírez said. “This is an experience that I find is crucial, and one that is not [otherwise] represented on this stage.”

The conversation then turned to the relationship between student organizations and the YCC during the presidential portion of the debate. Lara Midkiff described this relationship as “super important,” emphasizing that the YCC and student groups should see each other as partners, rather than competitors.

Galal voiced her agreement with this idea and also noted the importance of the YCC working in tandem with student organizers without taking credit for their advocacy or ideas.

“For this reason, I found it alarming and quite untrustworthy that on the website for my opposition they had listed working to get off-campus students reimbursed for COVID testing as one of their victories, when I know firsthand that they were not on the team working on that,” said Galal, who is the YCC’s health and COVID-19 policy chair. “I plan to always give credit where credit is due, and make sure that we are collaborating and not taking the credit of one another.”

In response, Lara Midkiff noted that he worked under Galal on the YCC’s COVID-19 policies, adding that he “was involved in those conversations about reimbursements,” and that the only credit he takes for this development is helping bring the idea of reimbursements to the table.

The two presidential candidates also discussed their commitments to reform the University’s mental health policies. Galal described her campaign’s plan for a student advisory committee within Yale Mental Health and Counseling that would work toward hiring a more diverse body of clinicians. Lara Midkiff listed the introduction of a mental health literacy guide, the empowerment of first-year counselors with mental health first-aid training and the hiring of more BIPOC counselors as among the short-term goals of his campaign’s mental health platform.

Toward the end of the debate, the presidential candidates were asked how they would center FGLI voices if elected.

Lara Midkiff discussed the importance of equitable financial aid in empowering FGLI students to make the most of their Yale experiences, voicing his support for lowering the parent income threshold for zero parental contribution, expanding safety nets and eliminating course drop and extracurricular fees.

Galal noted that her campaign’s financial health policies were crafted in conjunction with the Yale First-Generation, Low-Income Advocacy Movement, or YFAM, an organization dedicated to advocating for the first generation, low-income students at Yale. Galal explained that FGLI voices, including that of her running mate, Hsu, were central to her campaign.

In the audience question portion of the debate, president of YFAM Logan Roberts ’23 noted that while he approved of Lara Midkiff’s policy proposals surrounding FGLI advocacy, YFAM was “disheartened” that the Lara Midkiff-Bertrán Ramírez campaign did not consult them during the development of these policies. He questioned how Lara Midkiff would collaborate with other organizations as president.

Former YFAM President Karen Li ’23, who attended the event, voiced a similar opinion to Roberts in an interview after the debate.

“YFAM is the only student organization on campus solely dedicated to advocating for the FGLI community, but the fact that they didn’t reach out at all makes me worried that they do not value YFAM’s efforts and YFAM’s student input and that in the future, they will not value a relationship with this crucial student organization,” Li said. “On the other hand, I was excited to hear that [Galal] and [Hsu] did reach out to YFAM for their input and that makes me confident that they will include FGLI voices and advocate alongside the FGLI community.”

In response to Roberts’ comment, however, Lara Midkiff said at the debate that YCC candidates were not allowed to collaborate with student organizations while drafting their political platforms.

YCC Vice President Reilly Johnson ’22 told the News that candidates generally are allowed to consult other students when drafting policy platforms. Johnson referred to the Officer Candidate Guidelines and said that candidates are not allowed to get help on their campaign until the onset of “Planning Period,” which began on April 16. During that period, candidates are allowed to get advice on policy platforms “pursuant to the guidelines set out by the CEC about timelines and number of people,” Johnson wrote.

Also in audience questioning, Abey Philip ’22 challenged Lara Midkiff on his health care platform, claiming that during the drafting process of the list of demands put forth by the Yale Mental Health Justice Coalition, Lara Midkiff had been reluctant to include a preferred provider organization model on the grounds that it would make the University less likely to accept the list of demands. However, Philip noted that Lara Midkiff expressed support for a PPO on his policy platform and asked Lara Midkiff to explain this discrepancy.

Lara Midkiff dismissed Philip’s claim as “factually inaccurate,” adding that he had “always been supportive of a PPO model.”

After the debate, attendee Kamiye Runsewe ’24 told the News that she came into the event “leaning toward one ticket” but is now undecided.

Attendee Alana Liu ’23, however, said that the campaign reaffirmed her support for Lara Midkiff and Bertrán Ramírez, adding that while the two campaigns had similar platforms, Lara Midkiff and Bertrán Ramírez seemed to have a “clearer grasp of both long-term and short-term policies and their feasibility.”

Prevalent throughout the debate was the discussion of diversity and the unique perspective that each of the candidates’ intersectional identities grants them. Hsu spoke from her perspective as a FGLI student, and she and Galal both described their experiences as women of color in STEM fields. Lara Midkiff noted that he would be both the first Indigenous and the first openly disabled student body president in Yale’s history, and Bertrán Ramírez discussed how his queer, Latino and first-generation American identities shaped his perspective.

“It really inspires me to see so many students and candidates care about the same issues,” Hsu told the News in an interview after the debate. “Mental health was brought up a lot, health care was brought up a lot and particularly the struggles that FGLI students face have been brought up so often tonight.”

Polls for all YCC positions, including president, vice president, events director and residential college senators open on Thursday, April 29, on YaleConnect.

Correction, April 27: The article has been updated to reflect that Lara Midkiff is graduating in 2023, not 2024.

Lucy Hodgman covers the Yale College Council. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper majoring in English.