Christina Lee, Photography Editor

On April 14, Yale College Council presidential, vice presidential and events director candidates took to the stage to debate their platforms ahead of the YCC election, which will take place April 18-19. 

The debate came only two days after a panel at Dwight Hall, where the presidential candidates further discussed their priorities for Yale-New Haven relations and voting accessibility. 

Anika Arora Seth ’25, editor-in-chief and president of the News, and Maya Fonkeu ’25, YCC vice president, moderated the event, which included both prepared and audience-solicited questions. All candidates also presented opening and closing statements.

The candidates focused on big-picture ideas: support for first-generation and low-income students, as well as on health and accessibility. When asked questions about their plans for Middle Eastern and North African spaces, divestment policy and Yale’s next president, the candidates repeatedly avoided direct answers. 

“Candidates circumvented questions and didn’t put in much effort into originally answering them,” YCC Chief of Staff Viktor Kagan ’24 wrote to the News.

The debate began with statements from the two candidates running for events director, Kasvi Singh ’26 and Brian Zhang ’25, who is an arts editor for the News.

Singh, who serves as the vice president of finance on the sophomore class council, highlighted her care for the Yale community, which she said she ultimately wants to see reflected in events. 

“I want to help change our community and build our home,” Singh said in her opening statement. 

Zhang highlighted the work he has already done as junior class council president, pointing to healthcare fundraisers, a dark academia-themed study hour at Sterling Memorial Library and the Bridgerton Ball — last weekend’s junior class dance at the Omni Hotel — as examples of his event planning experience. 

Zhang, continuing to point to his track record, was a leader in reducing ticket costs for many Yale-sponsored events this year. Previously, tickets cost anywhere between $15 and $20. This year costs are a maximum of $5, with options for reimbursements for FGLI students. 

“As a FGLI student myself, it’s paramount that I have the same opportunities to have fun, to get involved with the student body as anyone else,” Zhang said. 

Next, the two vice presidential candidates, Esha Garg ’26 — who is running on a joint ticket with Mimi Papathanasopoulos ’26 — and Juan Borrego ’26 — who is running on a joint ticket with Celene Bennett ’26 — took the stage. Both candidates’ opening statements introduced their joint platforms: “Together Yale” for Papathanasopoulos and Garg and “Connecting Yale” for Bennett and Garrego. 

In her opening statement, Garg, who is a YCC senator for Grace Hopper College and the YCC executive board’s deputy dining director, discussed the need for more communication between the YCC and students, proposing a new sector of the YCC known as the “Student Engagement Branch.”

“We want to make sure that there are strong bonds between all student organizations, and we want to amplify your student voices,” Garg said. 

She touched on her previous successes within the dining sector including funding $5,500 for FGLI and international students’ food reimbursements during breaks, expanded vegetarian options and a change from three to five transfers, the number of lunch swipes a students on the Flex meal plan gets per week at non-residential college dining halls. 

In his opening statement, Borrego, a YCC senator for Silliman College, said that the vice president should not just lead the YCC’s senate, but should act as a “point person” between the student body and the YCC. 

“The next VP should be someone who funnels the ripples of change happening all across campus,” Borrego said. 

He also talked about his partnership with Bennett, recalling how they met at an admitted students event in the spring of 2022. He emphasized that as a joint ticket, they were looking to not “overpromise.” 

In their responses to questions, both Garg and Borrego mentioned boosting accessibility at student cultural centers and broadly discussing sustainability on campus. 

When asked how they would support students on campus who may be facing harassment or doxxing for expressing certain views publicly, both took a moment before responding.

“The YCC is an apolitical organization, it’s an advocacy organization,” Borrego said.“[The YCC] is intended to amplify student voices [and] through projects like the senate guest form, we will bring students to YCC senate meetings [to] speak on issues that they care about.” 

This year, however, the YCC created an open letter calling for the abolition of legacy admissions at Yale which was co-sponsored with the Yale College Democrats organization. They additionally spoke out against the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision to dismantle affirmative action in admissions. 

In May 2021, the YCC co-signed a condemnation with Yalies4Palestine and the MENA association accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing. 

Another audience member, unsatisfied with the previous response, posed a similar question to the presidential candidates — Papathanasopoulos, Bennett and Zhang — during their question-and-answer portion of the debate. When asked to what extent the YCC should weigh in on matters beyond campus, all three candidates discussed support for students expressing political opinions on campus. 

The YCC, the three said, should focus on amplifying student concerns, whatever they may be, and bringing those concerns to the administration. This response comes after a year of debate surrounding free speech and political protests at Yale as the Israel-Hamas war continues, where student opinions differ dramatically. 

Papathanasopoulos specifically highlighted what she sees as YCC’s role in ensuring student safety. 

“When that is infringed upon, it’s very important for the YCC to communicate with administration,” Papathanasopoulos said. 

Currently, protestors are stationed on campus at Beinecke Plaza urging Yale to divest from weapons manufacturing. When asked about divestment during the debate, the candidates chose to focus on the YCC as “liaisons” between the student body and the administration rather than comment personally. 

Following the debate, current YCC President Julian Suh-Toma ’25 told the News that the most important thing for voters to look for is practicality and the candidates’ ability to get things done rather than lofty promises and large visionary changes. 

“The hallmark of a good YCC President is having a very practical vision and understanding of what the role entails,” Suh-Toma said. “That means not only being someone who listens really well to the needs of the student body, and the calls that are being made by student organizations, but understanding how to translate those calls.”

Presidential candidates speak on New Haven relations, voting accessibility at Dwight Hall panel

At a Dwight Hall panel on April 12, the three presidential candidates responded to questions about how they would lead the YCC to support student service initiatives and the New Haven community. Dwight Hall ExComm Co-Coordinator Emily Zhang ’25 moderated the panel and Dwight Hall cabinet members — student representatives of programs under the Dwight Hall umbrella — also posed questions. 

In response to a question from the moderator about how they would lead the YCC to address “the active harm of Yale on New Haven,” all three prospective student body presidents agreed that they would prioritize encouraging the student body to participate in more service projects through Dwight Hall. 

“I think what we want to offer is just firstly acknowledging the student responsibility to recognize the wrongdoings and the active harm of the institution,” Bennett said. “Secondly, what is most important is taking down all barriers that prevent students from engaging with service.” 

The moderators also asked the panelists how they would encourage the administrators to continue the University’s voluntary payments to New Haven. The six-year financial commitment to the city, which was announced in November 2021, is set to end in 2027. 

All three tickets pledged to push Yale administrators to renew voluntary payments and to invest in the community long-term. Papathanasopoulos specified that she and Garg would use their strong relationships with administrators to accomplish this 

“The YCC has a unique role because of our access to administrators. As accessibility director and sophomore class president, I have developed this very strong relationship with administrators I work with. Esha and I have both generally built trust with the administration,” Papathanasopoulos said. “We’re very confident that we can leverage those relationships and that trust to negotiate a long-term investment into New Haven by the University.”

The panelists also took questions from audience members. The first question came from a leader of YaleVotes, who asked how the candidates would encourage voter registration given that the 2024 elections would occur during their term. 

Papathanasopoulos said that she and Garg would work on allowing Dean’s Extensions and excused absences on voting day “so that students actually can go out and be civically engaged.” Garg also added that they would work with YaleVotes and other student organizations on outreach and also use the YCC funding to make sure all students who vote absentee have access to necessary materials, like stamps and envelopes. 

Zhang, as well as Bennett and Borrego, said that they would also take measures to ensure that voting is more accessible. Bennett said that she would delegate the task of voter registration to YCC Senators “and that way ensure that it reaches every corner of Campus.” 

YCC voting for the three positions begins on April 18 at 9 a.m. on YaleConnect and closes at 9 p.m. on April 19.

Kaitlyn Pohly is a sophomore in Silliman College. She serves as the Student Life Reporter for the University Desk and previously reported on Student Policy and Affairs. Originally from New York City, Kaitlyn is a History major. Outside of the classroom and the newsroom, Kaitlyn dances with YaleDancers.