YCC candidates talk FGLI student advocacy and Yale-New Haven relations in debate
On Monday night, students gathered to watch 12 YCC candidates discuss their platforms and priorities.
On April 11, Yale College Council presidential, vice presidential and events coordinator candidates gathered to debate their platforms ahead of the YCC election, which will take place April 12 through 14.
The 12 candidates — the largest cohort running for YCC election in over 20 years — focused on Yale-New Haven relations, the establishment of a Middle Eastern and North African cultural house and advocacy for Yale’s first-generation, low-income community.
Over 100 students filled a lecture hall in Linsly-Chittenden Hall for the event, which was hosted by the YCC in collaboration with the News. Editor-in-chief of the News Lucy Hodgman ’24 and YCC Vice President Iris Li ’24 moderated the event, asking both prepared and audience-solicited questions. Candidates also presented opening and closing statements.
“There hasn’t been this much interest in many years, and I believe that each candidate speaks for and represents ideas that will resonate across different parts of campus,” Li said. “It struck me how the mere candidacy of some people prompted more conversation around and inclusion of policy ideas not highlighted in previous races.”
The candidate tickets are Sanya Abbasey ’25 and Craig Birckhead-Morton ’24, Nyche Andrew ’25 and Madeline Gupta ’25, Austin Montini ’25 and Anouk Schembri ’24, Julian Suh-Toma ’25 and Maya Fonkeu ’25, and Ezana Tedla ’25 and Kyle Hovannesian ’25. Daven Yadav ’25 is running alone for president on a solo ticket. Olivia Lombardo ’25 is running uncontested for Events Director.
The debate often centered on uplifting specific identity-based groups on campus, with the most frequently discussed groups being the FGLI, MENA and Indigenous student communities, as well as student athletes.
Much of this discussion arose from the candidates’ individual identities, experiences and communities, especially when it came to Andrew and Gupta, who are running on Yale’s first all-Indigenous ticket.
“My running mate and I belong to one of the most underrepresented groups in Yale College as Indigenous women,” Andrew said during the debate. “As your President I will ensure that no one in the student body feels inadequately represented.”
Many of the other tickets also made commitments to support the Indigenous community at Yale, although one was met with criticism from Gupta. After Birckhead-Morton voiced his support for the efforts of Indigenous organizers on campus, Gupta asked how he could claim to support decolonization while running against the first Indigenous vice president candidate in Yale’s history.
“I can’t do anything about that,” Birckhead-Morton, who is Black, responded. “My ancestors did not make a choice. I respect your candidacy a lot, and I support these issues.”
In addition to advocating for Indigenous communities, several candidates highlighted their commitment to FGLI advocacy in the context of a summer storage policy change announced on Mar. 8 by Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd. The change revoked the ability for students to store their belongings in their residential college over the summer.
Boyd recently announced a stipend for summer storage for students on full financial aid.
But Hovannesian lamented the University’s lack of support for students that receive significant financial aid but do not have a zero parent share, promising to work with Tedla to remedy this disparity if elected.
“It’s not just the summer storage thing, but stuff tends to be prioritized for people who receive full financial aid,” Hovannesian said. “But I think it’s kind of useless if you have to pay just one dollar to Yale but do not receive some support. I think we need to continue to pressure the administration and also use YCC resources.”
The candidates also discussed ongoing efforts to establish a cultural house for MENA students — a point that MENA students on campus have prioritized in recent years. Abbasey and Birckhead-Morton in particular prioritized ensuring that MENA students get the support they need on campus.
“I don’t doubt the sincerity of all the candidates on the stage but I am a little wary of the popularization of a MENA cultural center,” Abbasey said. “I just want to say that this is something that actually matters to a lot of students on campus and it requires work, and I have put in the work in past years to help them.”
Student identities, however, were not the only topic of conversation at the debate. Yale-New Haven relations also arose frequently during the discussion. Many candidates promised to advocate for Yale to do more to contribute to the city of New Haven and its surrounding communities.
“Yale rests in an ivory tower and has a real responsibility to do the healing,” Suh-Toma said. “We need to actually invest in our relationship with the community in New Haven.”
While many tickets positioned themselves as experienced and dedicated YCC policymakers, others emphasized their experience as outsiders ready to bring a fresh perspective to a bureaucratic organization.
Montini and Schembri — a student-athlete and transfer student, respectively — stressed the perspective they brought as “normal students,” not seasoned YCC representatives, as a benefit to their ability to enact meaningful change in the organization.
“At the end of the day, if you’re happy with the current way the YCC has been conducting, then it should be an easy choice to vote for any of these people,” Montini said. “But if you’re not, I think you should give us a chance at least to show what we can do.”
Their ticket is not the only unconventional one this election season: Yadav decided to enter the race without a running mate. If he is elected as president, his vice president will come from a different ticket.
“I did reach out to many candidates I thought would be killer in this position,” Yadav said.
“All the vice presidents over there are very passionate and very smart, capable people, and I would love to collaborate with any of them. Honestly, if we don’t even agree on certain issues, we can easily find common ground.”
In her statements during the debate, Lombardo touched on many of the same issues as the presidential and vice presidential candidates, although through the lens of events planning on campus. She believes that the Events Coordinator has the ability to truly engage with underrepresented groups across campus as well as the New Haven community.
“Unfortunately, Yale College Council events lack a lot of institutional memory and history,” Lombardo said. “We need to make sure that events are structured around what the students’ needs and wants are rather than events that have been taken over the years. We also have to lean into what works and make things more financially accessible.”
The wide breadth of students running for election this year excites Li, and makes her hopeful for the effectiveness of YCC next year. Li told the News that there “hasn’t been this much interest in many years” and that the candidates represent many views from many different parts of campus.
Results of the election will be released by 9 p.m. on Saturday, Apr. 15.