The movement for financial aid reform is growing, and it is time for us to speak out. We know many arguments against the University’s financial aid policy have been voiced already, but we feel that our unique viewpoint — as co-founders of Salt of the Earth, a Christian group — would benefit the debate.
To review the basics of the issue: Yale’s financial aid policies currently require financial aid students to earn $6,600 each year, which means earning up to $4,400 during the academic year. Yale’s minimum wage requires students on financial aid to work 17 hours a week to pay their contribution — amounting to a part-time job commitment equivalent to taking two extra classes. Expecting full-time undergraduates to work part-time jobs on top of their academic and extracurricular workload forces them to forego opportunities, making their Yale experience different from that of students not on financial aid.
The summer contribution poses another obstacle to many students at Yale. The need to make $2,200 over the summer denies them possibilities such as unpaid internships, travel or study abroad; instead, they work at summer jobs that often pay far less than Yale does, and these jobs often have little or no relevance to their intended career paths after graduation. Many are further limited in their career paths by the need to pay off loans after graduation. Having student loans makes it harder to go on to graduate school and may prevent students from pursuing the kind of work they are called to, such as teaching, social work or entering the ministry.
The conversation about financial aid that began last year has made us more aware of our shared experiences. There are many students whose families do not fit into Yale’s model: students with divorced parents where one parent simply refuses to pay tuition, students supporting themselves, students with two parents who cannot or will not pay tuition, students who worry that their families will not be able to afford college for younger siblings, or students whose families are supporting relatives in other countries. These students are all being treated unjustly.
Yale must ensure that no student has to live constantly worrying about money because Yale’s policies overlook individual family circumstances and overestimate the amount that students can pay. Yale can and should be a place that brings together the brightest and most talented students, no matter how much money their parents make. Addressing the problems with the amount of financial aid that students receive is a question of justice.
We write in hopes of mobilizing the Christian community to take action because of the strong Biblical basis for economic justice, seen especially in Christ’s investment in the poor and marginalized. Jesus reached out to the outcasts of his day, working to heal society as much as the individuals living within it. He was killed because he was perceived as a threat to the social order. As followers of Jesus, we are called to struggle for justice. One of every 16 verses in the New Testament is about the poor and money. It is clear to us that our God commands us to pursue economic justice. Leviticus 25:35-37 NIV reads, “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind of him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.”
Although Salt of the Earth is a Christian group, we recognize that the struggle for justice is not only a Christian struggle. Our demand that Yale reform its financial aid system is based on universal principles of freedom, equality and justice. We believe that these are Yale’s values as well, and we call on Yale to live up to them. Motivated by political reasons, morality and common sense, in addition to our religious beliefs, students are working to reform financial aid and we stand in solidarity with them.
We call on members of the Christian community and other faith communities and student groups to join in this campaign as well. We believe God does not wish us simply to declare our Christian love without acting to help all of God’s children. By the same token, Yale should not wish us to turn a blind eye to our own student community and let financial aid go unchanged.
Naima Coster and Sofia Medina are sophomores in Timothy Dwight College and Josh Williams is a sophomore in Morse College. They are among the co-founders of Salt of the Earth.