Within days of being elected as 2018 Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President, Rachel Yee ’19 combed through The Daily Princetonian archives to compile a list of every USG president since 1953 in an Excel spreadsheet.
“I just searched up anything that had ‘USG’ in it, and I read all the articles,” Yee said. “I wanted to come in with the most informed view of what’s been done in the past, what’s worked and what hasn’t.”
She then compiled a second spreadsheet of information on past USG policies, attempts at reform, and anything else that Yee believed could help her in the months ahead.
One year later, at the end of Yee’s term, this story is one of many that her friends and colleagues point to as they reflect on her legacy as USG president. According to them, Yee brought both her organizational instinct and astonishing energy to bear for the good of others.
Nikoo Karbassi ’21, one of Yee’s closest friends, said that if she could capture Yee in one word, it would be “energetic.”
“She really cares about the well-being of people,” Karbassi said. “She’s always projecting that energy to other people, being extremely engaging.”
Olivia Ott ’20, who served on the USG executive committee with Yee as the Academics Chair, echoed Karbassi’s sentiment.
“Rachel is one of those people who’s always full of enthusiasm and energy no matter what the project is,” Ott said. “She was always willing to help.”
Yee said that the initial stages of her presidency were anything but peaceful. Yee described the 2017 USG elections, in which she was elected, as “the most stressful time of her life.”
“I felt like I aged ten years in that one month,” Yee said.
Yee began her tenure in the midst of controversy over Honor Code reform. She described those first weeks as a “trial by fire.” While she believed the start was rocky, Yee said the difficulties of those first few weeks prepared her for the rest of her presidency.
“There was intensity to USG that I hadn’t really experienced before,” Yee said. “It set a good pace for the semester.”
Another hallmark of the Yee presidency was her active social-media presence. Throughout her tenure, Yee submitted daily updates to the @yung_usg Instagram account, detailing her work meeting with other student presidents and administrators, as well as the progress made by her and her administration.
“It kept me on track — I knew if I had to report something each day, I’m going to do something each day,” Yee said.
Yee said that initially she had wanted to send out a daily email updating students on all of the different committees and activities USG had a hand in. When colleagues from USG informed her that the tactic could cause students to tune out, she turned to Instagram.
One of Yee’s primary concerns in office was ensuring that students were informed about the activities of USG.
Yee’s post from Dec. 8, 2017, what she called “#Day1,“ announced that she would “[repurpose] this account to provide a daily update on what USG does on a daily basis because no one knows & this is my first micro step to change that.”
Yee was particularly proud of USG’s efforts in mental health and civic advocacy. Her tenure included pushes for shorter wait times at Counseling and Psychological Services, the implementation of outreach counselors for students to be able to see counselors in their own residential colleges, and the Vote100 Program.
Yee also emphasized that USG’s accomplishments often appeared in subtler forms. For example, Yee worked with the administration to shift the focus of the monthly meetings of the Council of Princeton University Community (CPUC) from realized to incremental progress, so that students could offer feedback on unfinished initiatives.
Yee acknowledged that she was not able to accomplish everything she set out to do over the course of the year. Some of her USG Senate Colleagues, including Ott, were impressed by Yee’s candor in recognizing her shortcomings.
“Rachel is never afraid to be honest with all of us about the few times she made a mistake or when things we had done did not go well,” Ott said. “I’ve never met someone who was able to be as open with self-criticism as she was in a way that was positive.”
In particular, Yee wished she could have created a more direct way of receiving feedback from the student body and made more students feel as if USG represented them and their needs.
If she could go back to talk to herself from a year ago, Yee said she would advise her younger self to have a “thicker skin” and not to take herself so seriously.
“I would tell myself a year ago to build myself an identity outside of my role as USG president,” Yee said.
For her parting advice, Yee recommended to both future USG leaders and the student body as a whole to never forget to make time for themselves.
According to Ott, her impact on the USG and the student body continues to be felt even after her tenure is over.
“She was the type of person who was always there to provide support and feedback,” Ott said. “She was good at being the type of leader that every scenario called for.”