The discussion around socioeconomic class at Yale appears to be picking up steam.
Last night, Yale’s Peer Liaisons — upperclassmen who help connect first-year students to cultural houses and other communities within Yale — hosted a dinner-discussion at the Afro-American Cultural Center centered on socioeconomic class.
The event came over a month after the PLs launched a Tumblr website called “Class at Yale,” which has published nearly 100 anonymous submissions describing students’ experiences with socioeconomic class at the University.
This semester, David Truong ’14 is also spearheading the creation of a new student organization, called the Undergraduate First-Generation Low-Income Partnership, or U-FLIP. The group will center on discussions of socioeconomic class and the unique challenges present for students from low-income backgrounds, though students of all backgrounds are welcome.
Rose Bear Don’t Walk ’16, a PL at the Native American Cultural Center, said the idea for the event originally came from PLs in the Afro-American and Asian-American centers. Organizers also contacted the LGBTQ community and the Chaplain’s office in order to attract a broad spectrum of students, she added.
At Thursday’s dinner, every table in the Afro-American Cultural Center was full, and organizers said they were pleased with the turnout. Students listened to a speech by history professor Jay Gitlin and then broke up into smaller groups to share their own experiences with class at Yale.
Gitlin gave examples of the subtle and overt ways that class affects student life at Yale. Drawing from his own experiences, Gitlin recalled playing music on the back of a pickup truck and then performing in a jazz trio at the British Art Gallery immediately afterwards.
Over the past several decades, Gitlin said, Yale has changed from a place where students of modest backgrounds were referred to as “the poor boys” to a school at which students of varying socioeconomic status are treated equally. Much of Gitlin’s talk centered on the idea that students belong to two different worlds, one outside of Yale and one inside the University. Gitlin spoke of the challenges of negotiating these two different identities, but said policies such as need-blind admissions have made socioeconomic status a less visible issue, despite its continuing significance in student life.
Students interviewed said conversations about class are rare at Yale.
“There has been relative silence about this issue,” Kiki Ochieng ’15 said. “We’re so much more comfortable talking about religion or race.”
Although Yale provides financial aid to students for books and tuition, students said during discussions at the event that they still find unstructured social situations challenging to navigate.
In the discussions, students talked about the discomfort that many Yale students feel when furnishing their common rooms or being invited out to expensive restaurants with friends. They also debated issues such as whether or not class is a fundamental part of individual and community identity.
Anna Lu ’17 said class is talked about much less at Yale than it was at her high school. She added, however, that she saw last night’s event as important progress.
“Because we’re keeping it hidden, it’s such a big deal,” Ochieng said. “By bringing into the open, I hope we can just shrug our shoulders and say, well, we all come from different places … We’ll find a middle ground of some sort.”
At the end of the event, Gitlin said he is hopeful that students will use conversations about class to help shape a better future for Yale.
The kickoff event for the new club, U-FLIP, will be Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the Native American Cultural Center.