Lessons From Yale
story Regina Marie Lee
Visiting the different residential college (RC) councils at Yale University, Christina Ho ’17 of RC^3 was impressed by the strong spirit each had. “Yale is so big that the RCs are the social circles for students,” she said. “They have flagship traditional events, like a spring fling where your roommate organizes a blind date for you with someone in the RC.”
She was part of a delegation of nineteen students from seven student organizations, which headed to Yale over the spring break for a week-long exchange. There, they lived together with students in dormitories, met with student groups, attended classes and ate dinner with the Yale leadership.
Students had reached out to organizations from Yale as early as January to arrange meetings. “We looked for the key stakeholders of sustainability at Yale, and prepared questions beforehand,” said Jeffrey Tong ’18 of I’dECO. Many returned with takeaways for their student organizations, whether it was about furthering organizational goals, structuring groups or fostering culture.
Tong noted that the Office of Sustainability at Yale was set up because of student feedback. He said, “We learned that large changes came from the ground up because the administration listened to students. It is important to find [sustainability] allies in the administration and faculty.” I’dECO hopes that there will at least be a staff member overseeing sustainability issues at Yale-NUS College.
For Joceline Yong ’18 of P.S. We Care, the trip was a chance to identify and pre-empt possible challenges that Yale-NUS might face. “Mental health was a huge topic being discussed on campus,” she said. After the suicide of a student, Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies for students with mental health issues were criticized. “There was a lot of discussion over whether these policies were helpful to students or caused more trauma, and whether the policies were crafted in a way to just protect the school … [P.S. We Care] is hoping to craft withdrawal and readmission policies that will not run into the criticism that Yale’s policies are currently facing.”
Ho hopes to introduce in RC^3 something similar to the structure of Yale RC councils. There, events are organized by anyone in the RC, under the leadership of a small elected committee. “They have a [mostly] flat structure but also elected representatives. Ours used to be an undeclared structure, with two people to report to … organized by events.” She added, “We also want to implement more regular flagship events, compared to the spontaneous ones now.”
Reflecting on the culture of student groups there, Hannah James ’18 of the Athletics Council said, “Some organizations do not progress as fast because of commitment issues of members. At Yale-NUS, we are spread too thin: many people are part of multiple organizations and also on the executive committee of half of them. This is inevitable with only two classes.” She hopes that in time, students learn to prioritize and commit more strongly to their groups. “This in turn will foster a sense of community and make an organization feel like family,” she said.
The makeup of student groups was also something Lim Min ’18 of the Improv Comedy Conglomerate reflected on after visiting four Improv groups at Yale. Many held auditions and were small, tight-knit groups of “eight to fifteen people”. She said, “We need to find the balance between serving the Yale-NUS community by allowing people to try something new [like Improv] and the quality of our shows. Our takeaways must be applied in the context of Yale-NUS, which has a strong culture of trying new things.” Improv hopes to have more bonding sessions and build a more cohesive team.
Tong also agreed that merely emulating what student groups in Yale do is not feasible. He said, “Some things won’t work because we are very small. For example, composting food waste is too costly with our size, since it must be transported to a compost factory.” He added, “Some of the things they suggested we hope to implement only when we move to the new campus, such as getting rid of dining hall trays, and get student support from new freshmen.”
The trip went beyond learning from Yale student organizations. Lim recounted meeting a member of the Common Curriculum Review Board at dinner and sensing his sincerity. She said, “I could see that they were very passionate about [the Common Curriculum] and really wanted it to work and help us in our education. They had planned and thought through the nuances in the curriculum.”
For Ho, the trip reaffirmed her decision to come to Yale-NUS. She said, “It is easy to get lost chasing after readings and assignments and forget that I came here to start something new and build a culture. When I saw [Yale students] being bogged down by bureaucracy and tradition, [I was reminded of this].”
David Chappell contributed reporting.