Fifteen students held an all-day sit-in at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions on Thursday while more than 150 others rallied on their behalf, calling on Yale President Richard Levin to make sweeping changes to student financial aid policies.
The students occupied the admissions office on Hillhouse Avenue from 10 a.m. until about 7 p.m, when Yale Police cited them for trespassing. The admissions office, which was guarded by police, locked its doors to visitors all day and rerouted all campus tours to the Visitor’s Center on Elm Street to keep the protesters from disrupting the visits of prospective students and their parents.
At a midday rally on Cross Campus spearheaded by the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, on a march up Hillhouse Avenue and at a protest outside the admissions office, students chanted, waved posters and played drums. They assailed Levin for what they characterized as a vague and watered-down commitment he made to financial aid at an open forum on Tuesday.
At the forum, Levin said he would soon announce changes to the financial aid policy, suggesting he would either decrease student self-help or family contributions. The students said one change would not be enough and called on Levin to decrease both portions of the financial aid policy. The protest came on the eve of the Yale Corporation’s meeting on campus beginning today, when the University’s highest decision-making body is expected to discuss potential financial aid changes.
The UOC displayed a petition with over 1,100 student signatures calling for financial aid changes. UOC member Josh Eidelson ’06, one of the 15 students sitting in the admissions office, said he thinks Levin should make a stronger commitment to financial aid than he did on Tuesday.
“Our goal for today was to see President Levin commit to serious reform and specifically for him to recognize that choosing between the student contribution and the family contribution being reduced is not a reasonable choice to ask low-income families to make,” Eidelson said. “I think Yale needs to do both because we’re concerned who’s coming to Yale and about what kind of experience they’re having here and what kinds of opportunities they’re having after they leave.”
The protesters repeatedly asked to meet with Levin on Thursday, placing dozens of calls to his office, but Levin did not speak with them; he has never held an official meeting with the UOC. But the protesters did meet with Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw for about 10 minutes Thursday morning.
In an interview Thursday night, Levin said the University would make “substantial” changes to financial aid within the next two weeks. He said he has been considering the views of students who attended the forum and who have been e-mailing him for the past few days regarding financial aid.
Levin said he thinks Thursday’s sit-in was an attempt to garner attention in the national media; reporters from local television stations and The New York Times covered the protest.
“These are media events; that’s the whole point of doing things like this,” Levin said. “Actually their main objective was getting publicity.”
Pamela Nisetich, the mother of a high school student, came to visit campus on Thursday, but said she and her daughter were turned off by the atmosphere outside the admissions office.
“I’d say it doesn’t look too good when the students are protesting, but maybe if Yale responded to this it’s better for people like us, who are prospective,” Nisetich said. “We are cautiously optimistic that Yale will respond to the protest.”
The protest was not a significant inconvenience to the admissions office, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said. The University has a long-standing policy of closing administrative buildings in the evenings for the safety of community members, he said.
“I think it is students expressing themselves on an issue that’s important to them,” Conroy said.
Yale College Council President Andrew Cedar ’06 declined to comment on the effectiveness of the UOC’s demonstration, but said he thinks the students’ concerns were legitimate. The YCC has unanimously passed a proposal of financial aid changes that is similar to the UOC’s proposal.
“I think we all hope that the University takes on these issues aggressively,” Cedar said.
Earlier this month, Levin unveiled a program to fund Yale-approved summer study and internships abroad for undergraduate financial aid recipients, the first program of its kind at a top American university.
Currently, Yale’s financial aid policy offers students a combination of grants, loans, student term-time work, summer contributions and family contributions. But Princeton eliminated loans about four years ago, and Harvard last year instituted a policy under which low-income families attend the university for free.
At the admissions office at 4:30 p.m., Yale Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith asked the sit-in protesters to leave the office, but they refused. About two hours later, several Yale Police officers arrived in an unmarked vehicle, entered the building and cited each student individually for trespassing infractions. Students said Highsmith read aloud to them the undergraduate regulations, and suggested further disciplinary action, including expulsion, could follow.
All day outside the building, protesters cheered loudly in support of the 15 students inside. At one point, Phoebe Rounds ’07, a UOC member who was inside the building, stuck her head outside a window to encourage the crowd, but Highsmith pulled her back inside and shut the window.
“That was pretty amazing,” Rounds said.
Several local labor leaders and members of the Graduate and Employees Students Organization rallied with undergraduates outside the admissions office. GESO Chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said she thinks Yale’s financial aid policy points to a larger problem of inaccessibility in higher education.
“I support all of the UOC’s efforts to makes sure this university becomes more open with financial aid,” Reynolds said. “We are here in solidarity but also share a common concern about higher education.”
The 15 students must each pay a $92 fine or appear before the Connecticut Superior Court on March 12 to contest the charges.