YCC through the years: From financial troubles in 2018 to the first Black woman president in 2022
The Yale College Council has undergone multiple structural changes since the class of ’22 joined the Yale community, coalescing in the College electing the first Black woman president of YCC in April 2022.
Yale Daily News
When the graduating class of 2022 joined Yale in the fall of 2018, the Yale College Council was facing financial difficulties. The YCC had just restructured its financial institutions — or, in most cases, built them from the ground up—to allow for more transparency in the allocation of YCC funding and where fees originate from. Khalil Green ’21, then-financial director and future YCC president, spearheaded this endeavor with the help of then-president Sal Rao ’20 and then-internal advisor and business team member Reese Koppel ’22.
In December 2018, Rao responded to campus criticisms of the YCC’s lack of diversity in an opinion piece published in the News. She explained that YCC administered a comprehensive survey of its members, which concluded that, while YCC leadership is generally representative of the Yale College student body in terms of race and ethnicity, it is not representative financially or in terms of sexuality, and the executive board lacked the same diversity as the overall organization. As a result, Rao stated in her response that the YCC was committed to ensuring that its membership is truly representative of the student body.
“Making sure every student on this campus feels heard, at home and included is at times difficult — but it is, and should be, the goal that guides all of our initiatives on the Yale College Council,” Rao wrote. “There always remains more work to be done.”
Attention shifted to mental health resources at Yale in February of 2019, when the YCC published a report on student feelings towards Yale Mental Health and Counseling. This report was a continuation of many years of effort on part of the student body to expand and improve Yale’s mental health resources for students, which are still continuing as the class of 2022 departs. The report found that 82 percent of respondents considered themselves to be “generally happy,” while 48.7 percent believed that Yale did not do enough to support students’ mental health.
Two months later, the YCC held uncontested elections for the president and vice president positions. The News criticized these elections, claiming that the lack of contestation was a result of changes made to the YCC electoral process that March. Nonetheless, on April 14, 2019, Khalil Greene ’21 became the first Black president of YCC after winning 1100 votes, which constituted 89.72 percent of the total vote. His running mate, Grace Kang ’21, won with 88.99 percent of the total vote, or 1091 votes.
“As the first Black president, it is important for me to symbolize the progress that this university has made over the years, and the journey we still have ahead of us,” Greene told the News. “Yale should continue working to become a more diverse and representative place. I’m grateful for the role that I will have in making that happen!”
Later that year, the YCC took steps to follow-through with Rao’s promise nearly a year earlier to make the Council a more inclusive and representative space through creating affinity spaces for YCC members. Greene explained that he hoped the affinity groups would encourage participation from and retention of less represented demographics. By the end of 2019, YCC had affinity spaces for women, first-generation low-income students, Black students, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The rest of the 2019-2020 school year at Yale was abruptly halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the YCC was no different, even postponing the president and vice president elections, typically held in the spring, to the fall of 2020.
During the period of remote learning and into fall 2020, however, YCC took the opportunity to restructure some important policy positions for the 2020-21 school year. Whereas YCC used to have the three policy director positions of University services director, student life director and academics director, YCC separated those positions into topic-specific policy chair positions and eliminated the rule that students in those positions must have prior experience on the YCC. Candidates must still apply for the positions, however.
During the elections that fall, such restructuring took center stage in debates. The debates had two primary tickets—Aliesa Bahri ’22 and Reilly Johnson ’22 versus Abey Philip ’22 and Matt Murillo ’22, with Carlos Brown ’23 running solely for vice president. In addition to issues such as YCC senate reform and failures of Yale Mental Health and Counseling, candidates discussed defunding the Yale Police Department, sexual assault prevention, endeavours taken by the Endowment Justice Coalition to divest Yale from Puerto Rican debt, expanding Yale Health coverage, and whether or not candidate experience was important in determining who to vote for.
This election witnessed the violation of election rules on the part of the Bahri-Johnson ticket. Opponents Philip and Murillo reported the ticket to the Council Elections Committee for sending a mass email to a sorority panlist on Sept. 17., which exceeded the maximum number of people a candidate could email at once. This violation was not the first for the Bahri-Johnson ticket; Bahri had previously posted her campaign flyer on the YCC’s official instagram page. While the first incident was deemed an accident by the CEC and no disciplinary measures were taken, both Bahri and Johnson were docked 55 points as a result of the second transgression.
The Bahri-Johnson ticket won, with Bahri receiving 64.17 percent of the vote and becoming the fourth female YCC president in the prior two decades, while Johnson won 44.36 percent of the vote.
“While we are bracing ourselves for the challenges we’ll face ahead in leading students through this pandemic, we are grateful that we have one another and so many of our peers to lean on,” Bahri told the News. “YCC is about stepping up for one another in difficult times and making a difference in our communities. For those who want to be active changemakers within the YCC, you will always be welcome on this team.”This executive board only had a few months to serve, however, as the YCC had to get back on-track with regular spring-time voting. In April 2021, the student body voted yet again for the next YCC executive board, this time electing Bayan Galal ’23 as president and Zoe Hsu ’24 as vice president.
Similar to the April 2021 election, this election cycle was plagued with technical issues, typical of the return to in-person learning, as well as minor campaign guideline violations. Missteps included one candidate hanging up posters that exceed poster sizing guidelines, another candidate sending emails to more students than the guidelines allowed—resulting in said candidate being docked 10 points during the election—and a third student failing to reveal that an email sent was promotional for their campaign. In the end, however, the elections were successful and the colleges and first-year class did have YCC representatives in the 2021-22 school year.
After a tumultuous few years, the class of ’22 is leaving the YCC with another first: the first Black woman president. While Greene made YCC history as the first Black president, Leleda Beraki ’24, with Iris Li ’24 as vice president. This uncontested election had record-low voter turnout; despite there being 6,000 students in Yale College, Beraki needed only 615 votes to be elected, compared to Galal’s 1,131 and Bahri’s 1,694. Despite this, however, Beraki is hopeful that her tenure will increase student connection with the YCC and is excited to work with student organizations.
“Being the first Black woman in this space means the absolute world to me,” Beraki said. “It’s an opportunity to uplift often drowned out voices on campus, but also use my background and experiences to reshape the YCC. I know how much it would’ve meant to see someone like me in this position as a kid, and I am literally shocked that I could be that person for someone else.”
While the class of 2022 finishes up their time at Yale this week, the Yale College Council, founded in 1972, celebrates its 50th year.