Photo: Tim Tai, Senior Photographer

Starting off this academic year with issues of student apathy and low voter turnout, members of the Yale College Council had their work cut out for them. 

Leleda Beraki ’24 and Iris Li ’24, the outgoing YCC president and vice president, were elected in April 2022. They focused their campaign platform on “redefining Yale,” which for them meant increasing administrative accountability and facilitating greater communication with the undergraduate student body. During the 2022-2023 academic year, they led the YCC in student-supported efforts to provide extracurricular grants for FGLI students and held a referendum that fueled student advocacy for a more democratic Yale Corporation.

Beraki also set a historic precedent for the council when she became the first Black woman to serve as president of the YCC. 

“Being the first Black woman in this space means the absolute world to me,” Beraki told the News after the April election. “It’s an opportunity to uplift often drowned out voices on campus, but also use my background and experiences to reshape the YCC. 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 2021-2022 school year, the YCC struggled to reach the quorum it needed to vote on and pass proposals. The council requires three-fourths of the Senate present to meet the quorum.

This year, the YCC restructured the Senate and delineated new roles, which Senators say has encouraged more internal communication and external output. In February, the YCC voted to formally amend its Constitution to better reflect the council’s new rules.

“I’ve always thought that the best way to promote senator engagement is by making the Senate a fulfilling place to be,” Speaker of the Senate Ryan Smith ’24 wrote in a February 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 and Vice President to redefine how the Senate operates.” 

The YCC passed several proposals and held referenda this year that garnered student support, such as an extracurricular grant for first-generation, low-income students.

The grant, which was announced on Feb. 1, aimed to minimize financial hardships brought by the costs associated with participating in some extracurriculars. Through the grant, students can request up to $25 at a time for fees such as group dues and requisite equipment.

“Being able to race with friends and have those experiences have been a huge part of my Yale memories [and] I certainly believe that everyone should get that chance if they want it,” Yale Club Running Team president Marcus Lisman ’25 told the News after the grant was announced. “I think the grant from the YCC is a great addition to pay for smaller costs like these that the club cannot cover.”

This winter, the YCC also held a referendum on the Yale Corporation, in which students could opine on two yes-or-no questions: “Should the board of trustees for Yale Corporation consist of democratically elected trustees?” and “Should students, professors, and staff be eligible to vote for candidates for the board of trustees for Yale Corporation?” 

Almost 90 percent of students voted to democratize the Yale Corporation in the referendum, which opened Jan. 30, signaling overwhelming student support for the initiative.

“The results will show the Yale Corporation that there needs to be some sort of change, and they would benefit greatly from accepting the YCC recommendations,” YCC Senator Kyle Hovannesian ’25 told the News in February. “Students would have a more vested interest in the state of our University and would get more involved.” 

Despite the significant student support marshaled in the referendum, the voting process did not change for the 2023 Yale Corporation election, which closes for eligible alumni on May 21.

The YCC’s year did not come without controversy, as the council garnered intense student backlash in April after Beraki and Li proposed $4000 each in self-compensation for their roles as president and vice president. 

In a statement to the News at the time, Beraki and Li said that the primary purpose of the proposal was to remove financial barriers for those considering running for YCC president and vice president. While the proposal was never brought to a vote, the meeting minutes were anonymously published on the social media app Fizz, where students voiced their opposition.

“In order to keep up with the demands of YCC and our academics, we both had to either quit jobs or relinquish numerous hours of work,” the statement read. “While both of us are able to take a reduction to student job hours without the loss of those wages significantly impacting our Yale experience, we recognize that not all students here would be able to run for Yale College Council office given that financial restriction.”

Following years of uncontested elections, this year’s YCC presidential and vice-presidential elections had the largest candidate pools in over 20 years. Six students ran for president, and  students ran for vice president.

In the end, Julian Suh-Toma ’25 and Maya Fonkeu ’25 emerged as next year’s YCC leaders. With 2,180 students voting, the election had a higher voter turnout than the last two years of YCC elections.

“I feel incredibly grateful that this student body has entrusted us with the leadership of the YCC. Maya and I are going to work tirelessly to ensure that this trust doesn’t feel misplaced,” Suh-Toma told the News after the election’s conclusion in April.

Fonkeu will become the first Black woman to serve as vice president of the YCC. 

In their campaign, Fonkeu and Suh-Toma advocated for material change in areas including mental health treatment on campus, Credit/D/Fail policy and support for FGLI students. 

Suh-Toma and Fonkeu took office on April 15.