Tim Tai, Photography Editor

On Sunday, Feb. 19, the Yale College Council voted to amend their constitution to better reflect the role that Senators have played in the YCC this academic year.

These changes, drafted primarily by Speaker of the Senate Ryan Smith ’24 and co-sponsored by Viktor Kagan ’24, Ezana Tedla ’25 and Abe Baker-Butler ’25, aim to strengthen the abilities of the Senate by delineating what measures Senators are able to propose and the input that they have on budget allocations. Prior to this year, Senators would primarily write policy proposals in committee, which would then be sent to administrators. Few proposals were voted on by the Senate as a whole. 

This amendment has attempted to reorganize that legislative system. It not only mandates that the YCC budget must include a Senate Discretionary Fund of at least $30,000, but it also allows the Senate to vote to allocate money for specific projects raised through proposals and to propose legislation related to the budget or to the operation of the YCC.  

“I’ve always thought that the best way to promote senator engagement is by making the Senate a fulfilling place to be,” Smith wrote in an email to the News. “The Senate has struggled to function effectively in the past, and so last summer I worked with other Senators as well as the President [Leleda Beraki ’24] and Vice President [Iris Li ’24] to redefine how the Senate operates.” 

Last spring, 19 members of the YCC told the News that the body had faced issues with senator engagement, failing to reach quorum and passing only three Senate-wide resolutions or amendments during the academic year. Beraki, Li and Smith implemented these changes to the Senate’s role at the start of this academic year with the goal of encouraging senators to actively participate in the YCC, Smith told the News. 

Smith’s role as speaker made it possible for the current YCC administration to pilot these changes without outright amending their constitution. Smith explained that in consultation with Beraki, Li and other Senators, he determined that the Speaker had the ability to expand what the Senate could vote on in the weekly agenda. This determination was possible because of a line in the YCC constitution describing the duties of the Speaker — the constitution states that the Speaker, in addition to a host of specifically-outlined tasks, has the power to “perform any additional tasks that the Senate shall determine.” 

Smith interpreted this line to mean that, with the support of the Senate, he was able to encourage Senators to step past the present bounds of the constitution and take more action than they may have in the past. The Senate also began voting on proposals before they were sent to the administration, with the proposals only passing if they received at least 50 percent of the vote.  Kagan noted that the amendment proposal was a means of codifying the changes that the Senate has already put into practice.

“We are working to solidify changes we made as a body this year that have allowed the Senate to be more independent and effective,” Kagan said. “They are being added to the constitution officially after a semester and a half of testing them out to see how they ensure Senate accountability and success.”

According to Tedla, these reforms have driven an increase in the Senate’s internal collaboration and output this school year — a difference primarily seen in the Senate’s participation in the budgeting of money for various projects.

Smith agreed that the senate’s recent involvement in budget decisions was a major area of change from prior years. He also noted a drastic increase in the number of proposals that the Senate has voted on. Last year, according to Smith, they voted on only a handful of proposals in total, whereas this year they have voted on multiple proposals each week.

Additionally, active participation on the part of the Senators in YCC meetings has increased, according to Smith. 

“Last year we struggled to get quorum, whereas this year we’ve been at quorum every meeting,” Smith said. 

Kagan noted that, although these changes may not appear drastic, they allow the Senate to be a stronger advocate for student needs.

“The YCC Senate is on an uphill climb to improve itself internally, so that our efforts externally are more effective,” Kagan said. “These constitutional changes are not very significant, but they codify the Senate’s power and independence as a student advocacy body and allow us to be at the forefront of change, making it clear where the Senate stands and where administration has the onus to make real and progressive change.” 

The amendment passed through the Senate unanimously and went into effect immediately.

Janalie Cobb is an Audience Editor for the News and a former University staff reporter. She is a junior from Chicago in Davenport College double majoring in political science and psychology.