Yale Daily News

This year, the Yale College Council has teetered in its long-term battles with University bureaucracy and student apathy.

Throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, the council was plagued by record-low voter turnout and disengaged members. An unopposed election in which just over 10 percent of the student population participated gave Leleda Beraki ’24 and Iris Li ’24 the roles of YCC president and vice president, respectively. Meanwhile, a skeletal assembly of senators attending meetings was able to reach quorum enough times to pass only three Yale College Council Senate-wide resolutions or amendments. 23 of the 28 senators who served in the 2021-2022 declined to seek re-election in the spring.

As the murmur of election season rippled around campus in April, up in Cambridge, over 75 percent of Harvard students voted to dump their 40-year-old Undergraduate Council which was wracked with tension and turmoil.

What did the YCC do this year? 

In an interview with the News, departing YCC Vice President Zoe Hsu ’24 proudly highlighted the successful pushes she and outgoing YCC President Bayan Galal ’23 made in line with their campaign promises to create a “healthier Yale.”

These successes included distributing over 400 COVID-19 testing kits for students over winter break, efforts to waive the housing relinquishment fee for the spring semester and changes in the package center that allowed for hiring student workers, extending hours and revamping the email delivery notification system. 

Other campaign pledges such as establishing a student advisory committee within the Yale Mental Health and Counseling department and appointing a student representative to the Yale Corporation failed to become a reality. 

The VP supervises the YCC Senate which falls under the “policy” branch of the YCC and consists of two elected senators to represent each of Yale’s 14 residential colleges. This year, the YCC was only able to vote on three significant proposals.

The first was a proposal calling on Yale and other institutions to end the leg-up that legacy applicants receive in admissions. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan shot down the resolution, defending the practice to the News in November and also defending the practice before Connecticut lawmakers in February. The second proposal was a condemnation of the antisemitic and racist graffiti found scrawled in the Kline Biology Tower in October. The third was an amendment to the YCC constitution that introduced a new “Speaker of the Senate” position to design the senate agenda, attend executive board meetings and remove senators deemed “disengaged” by the constitution’s standards.

Some YCC members criticized the creation of the role, arguing that introducing such a role to ‘boost engagement’ hypocritically mirrored the same sort of bureaucracy YCC had to navigate within Yale’s administration. 

Financial Accessibility Director Logan Roberts ’23 described to the News the frustration YCC members often feel as they watch their carefully constructed policy proposals crumpled by University administrators. 

“One issue that I’ve found is that students will come forward with really wise ideas and then we’ll bring them into the Yale bureaucracy,” Roberts told the News. “The person we reached out to will say,  ‘Oh, this isn’t in my purview, talk to this person.’ We’ll talk to that person, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, this isn’t in my purview, talk to this person.’ A lot of the challenge is even finding the correct administrator about these issues.” 

Senators didn’t show, so quorum was a no-go

In order for senate-wide resolutions or amendments to pass, YCC must reach quorum — the YCC constitution requires at least three-fourths of the representative body to be present and participating in the vote. For the three proposals passed this year, reaching a quorum to vote took multiple attempts. 

“Even though I would say we have done meaningful work, I’m having a hard time thinking of greatest successes, to be honest, because I feel like this entire spring semester has been a push for things that haven’t come to fruition,” said Li this spring when she was serving as co-academic life policy director prior to becoming YCC vice president. 

The YCC website displays agendas and minutes from a total of six senate meetings from the 2021-2022 school year. It is possible quorum was met more often and that the senate met more than these six times, but there is no public record of those meetings.

Neither Galal nor Julia Sulkowski ’24, her chief of staff, were able to confirm the number of times the senate reached quorum for their weekly meetings. Galal and Sulkowski cited “inconsistent attendance records” as to why they could not confirm how often the senate met quorum. 

According to the YCC constitution, the chief of staff is charged with “facilitat[ing] attendance and voting within the Senate” while article XI on maintaining “Institutional Memory and Transparency” requires that records of senate attendance “be made public to the student body at large” and publicly posted on the YCC website. 

Beraki and Li told the News that they plan to enforce senate attendance and release public records of all YCC activity next year. 

Concerns over YCC apathy are nothing new as YCC engagement has ebbed and flowed through recent years. In 2019, Kahlil Greene ’21 made an unopposed run to serve as YCC president. In 2013, Danny Avraham ’15 ran unopposed for president when his opponent dropped out. In the same year, Kyle Tramonte ’15 was the only candidate for vice president, and Eli Rivkin ’15 the only candidate for events director. 

In that race, Yalies marveled over the low number of 953 ballots cast in the presidential election. This marked a sharp dive in engagement compared to the 2,618 votes cast in 2012 and 2,704 cast in 2011. This spring, with 6,000 students in Yale College, Beraki received 615 votes to be elected president. 

In an article in the News titled “Behind Closed Doors? Bridging the Gap between Students and the YCC,” David Whipple ’16 noted the “widespread student apathy” demonstrated by low voter turnout. 

“This, according to several past and present YCC members interviewed, has at times trapped the YCC in a vicious cycle: students are apathetic because they don’t see results, but without student investment, results are hard to come by,” Whipple wrote. 

This election season produced contested races only for events director, sophomore class council president and senators from three residential colleges. Re-elected Pierson College Senator Viktor Kagan ’24 told the News this spring that uncontested elections are the result of YCC’s “failed engagement.” 

Even uncontested races in the past have garnered greater voter engagement than this year’s contested elections. More votes were cast in the previous unopposed election for YCC events director where Diba Ghaed ’24 earned 1,852 more votes than in this year’s contested election, where Agastya Rana ’24 beat his opponent with a total of 410 votes. 

Next Year 

Beraki will be the first Black woman to serve as YCC president, which she told the News “means the absolute world” to her. 

“It’s an opportunity to uplift often drowned out voices on campus, but also use my background and experiences to reshape the YCC,” she said. “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.”

In the fall, Beraki wants to begin holding the University accountable in terms of the campus, health, academics, finances and the YCC. She and Li are also looking to expand Credit/D/Fail opportunities, create an earlier housing process and ensure a $15 minimum wage for on-campus student employees. 

The YCC was established in 1972. 

Sophie Sonnenfeld is Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor and covered cops and courts as a beat reporter. She is a junior in Branford College double majoring in political science and anthropology.