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Zoe Palitz ’05 took a break from chanting and singing to take her History of Music midterm. Two other students left the action to get treated for frostbite at University Health Services. But apart from brief breaks, these stalwarts and about 30 of their peers protested for changes to the University’s financial aid policy at Yale’s admissions office from dawn till past dusk yesterday.
“My hope in being there was that President [Richard] Levin was going to walk into the office, sit down, and say, ‘I’m here to listen,'” said Palitz, who rallied outside the office. “And then together, [Levin and the students in the building] can really take the lead in really meeting students’ needs.”
As many Yale students went about their normal Thursday routine, unaware of the protest on Hillhouse Avenue, students in and around the admissions office expressed frustration with the administration’s stance on financial aid. Other students disagreed with the tactics taken by the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, which organized the sit-in and protest.
The rally outside the admissions office swelled to around 150 students around 12:30 p.m., when members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee led protesters in a march from Cross Campus to the office on Hillhouse. Meanwhile, 15 students held a sit-in inside the office from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and demanded to speak with Levin about financial aid reform. The 15 students in the building were given citations for trespassing by the Yale Police after refusing to leave.
Protestor Irma Mejia ’06 said the rally was a response to Tuesday’s open forum, where Levin read proposals by the Yale College Council and UOC for financial aid reform. At the forum, Levin suggested that the University would change aid policy in coming weeks, suggesting potential changes to self-help and parent contributions. But some students left the meeting unsatisfied.
“After the forum, we felt angered, disappointed, frustrated and insulted at President Levin’s remarks, attitudes and ignorance about the financial aid process,” Mejia said.
But after yesterday’s rally, which received press attention from a number of major media outlets, students unsatisfied with Tuesday’s forum said they felt optimistic again.
“It was very uplifting,” Palitz said of the rally. “There was a lot of energy.”
Nick Seaver ’07, who participated in the sit-in, said that when he and his fellow protestors emerged from the admissions office at 8 p.m. after being issued police citations, there were 30 to 40 students waiting outside to greet them, despite the cold and snow.
“I’ve received overwhelmingly positive reactions,” Seaver said. “People are very grateful that we’re doing this sort of work. I’ve gotten a lot of hugs and thank yous from people who couldn’t take off the day from class and couldn’t risk arrest or couldn’t make it out in the blizzard.”
But not all students supported the rally. Marissa Brittenham ’07, who co-drafted the YCC proposal, said she thought the council was making progress on its own and felt confident in the YCC’s more moderate approach to the financial aid issue.
“[The YCC has] had meetings with administrators, including Dean [of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard] Shaw and Dean [of Yale College Peter] Salovey, about reforms,” Brittenham said. “Ours is a more moderate plan … I felt confident in the way we were handling the situation.”
Some students, even those who agree that financial aid should be reformed, were more adamant in opposing the rally and took issue with the UOC’s methods.
Alex Yergin ’07, questioned the effectiveness of a sit-in, which he said was not “a constructive way to achieve a dialogue.”
But Palitz said the protest was a valid response to what she perceives as slow response from the administration, especially in light of recent financial aid reforms made at Harvard and Princeton universities. Princeton has substituted scholarships for undergraduate loans, and Harvard does not ask parents making less than $40,000 a year to contribute to their child’s tuition.
“It’s not a financial aid revolution,” Palitz said of the UOC’s platform. “They just want Yale to match what Harvard and Princeton have done in recent years.”
Though he did not attend the rally, Roy Eidelson, the father of Josh Eidelson, said that from his understanding of Yale’s current financial aid policy, there needs to be reform. Roy Eidelson also said he thinks the UOC has attempted to enact change in less dramatic ways to no avail.
“I think they were standing up for what they believe is right,” he said. “I feel proud of [Josh] for doing that … We hoped our kids would respect other peoples’ points of view and stand up for what they believe in, and I think Josh does both of these things and I support him in this.”