Courtesy of Leleda Beraki

For Yale College Council President Leleda Beraki ’24, the YCC can fulfill its stated purpose only when it is “as representative as possible of the entire student body.”

When Beraki was elected alongside Vice President Iris Li ’24 in April, she became the first Black woman to serve as Yale’s student body president. She said she does not take the historic nature of her role in the YCC lightly.

“The reality of any woman — and especially a Black woman — is that your actions are not just seen as a reflection of yourself, and your mistakes are not just seen as small things,” Beraki said. “I definitely don’t feel like I’m here to prove that Black women are capable of leadership because I think that’s just a fact, but I feel like there’s a certain level of scrutiny. ”

“My attitude towards this entire role has been that this is serious, and I don’t want to waste the year that I have in it,” she added.

Prior to her election as YCC president, Beraki served as president of both the First-Year and Sophomore Class Councils. Last year, she sat on the YCC’s executive board as the deputy academic life policy director.

When she entered Yale in fall 2020, she said, she was drawn to the YCC as an answer to the isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The First-Year Class Council was focused on how exactly to navigate Yale, being that it was such a strange year — planning a lot of virtual events and town halls with administrators to give people a sense of community when it felt like we didn’t have anything,” Beraki said. “I think that yes, policy is super crucial, but also having community and just fostering time for people to spend with each other is very, very important.”

As president, Beraki hopes to continue building community. Her administration will introduce a student organization liaison, and in the long term will work to reestablish a YCC House of Representatives.

Two New Haven engagement chairs, both residents of the city, will also join the YCC to keep the council apprised of local events and issues. Beraki said the YCC also hopes to direct some of the Council’s funds into local mutual aid organizations, supporting on-the-ground initiatives in New Haven.

Inside the YCC, Beraki said that she hopes to create an environment wherein all members feel comfortable voicing concerns with the organization of the council and communicating with her and Li directly.

Li said she hoped to promote a culture of mutual support within the YCC that reflects the working relationship she and Beraki have developed.

“We’ve learned by now how to lean on each other and how to support each other when we’re in times of deep emotional and academic distress,” Li said. “I think that leaning on and supporting each other is the same kind of dynamic we want to foster and encourage people to have throughout the year in the organization.”

The Council is most effective, Beraki said, when its members are communicative and open to collaboration, working together “like one organ” to identify and address the issues that affect students most directly.

For this to happen, she emphasized that the YCC and its leadership must reflect the diversity of the broader Yale community.

“I do think that YCC leadership in some ways influences the people that feel comfortable entering the space,” Beraki said. “For example, if the entirety of YCC leadership is white, which students of color necessarily feel like they are welcome and safe? If YCC leadership is this diverse entity, then students with any identity know that they are welcomed in that space and that their ideas and opinions are validated.”

Beraki is the most recent in a swift succession of “firsts” for the YCC — Bayan Galal ’23 was elected in 2021 as the body’s first Muslim president, and Kahlil Greene ’22 was elected as the first Black president in 2019.

Now, Director of the Afro-American Cultural Center Timeica E. Bethel-Macaire ’11 stressed the impact that having a Black woman as YCC president could have on new students especially, saying it helps foster a “sense of belonging and pride in their identity.”

“I’m very proud of her for achieving what she’s achieved, because that wasn’t a role I would have even tried to get when I was at Yale,” Bethel-Macaire said. “When I was here, it was very clear that there were some things that were not for someone who identifies as I do, which is [a first generation, low-income] Black woman on this campus… Being on the YCC is not something I ever would have thought was possible for me, let alone the president of the YCC.”

The YCC, Beraki said, should not only act like a “megaphone” for the voice of the broader student body, but also represent students by advocating for the policies that benefit them most directly.

“We’re meant to be at the forefront of bringing radical change to this institution,” Beraki said. “Sometimes we forget that we are an advocacy organization, and not just a student government. I definitely think that this year, we’re finding our way back to that.”

Beraki was elected YCC president in April 2022.

Lucy Hodgman is the editor-in-chief and president of the News. She previously covered student life and the Yale College Council. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a junior in Grace Hopper majoring in English.