Opinion | 3:57 pm | September 5, 2013 | By Scott Stern, John Masko, and Diana Rosen

FORUM: Salovey’s address

University President Peter Salovey tackled the issue of wealth inequality in his freshman address this year.
University President Peter Salovey tackled the issue of wealth inequality in his freshman address this year. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

Diana Rosen | Staff Blogger

Following a year filled with discussion of socioeconomic class on campus, President Salovey made a bold move in his freshman address — he admitted that talking about class makes Yale students uncomfortable. We enjoy talking openly over dinner about how accepting we are of students of different genders, sexualities and religions, yet when wealth inequalities are brought up, the conversation becomes tense.

I am hopeful his words will encourage students to have the uncomfortable conversations they have avoided for years on end.  While some students frequent Jack Wills weekly and dish out sorority dues easily, others work long hours at student jobs and still barely make enough to pay for their textbooks. Socioeconomic differences at Yale are a reality that should be talked about rather than ignored and I think that Salovey did an excellent job pointing this out.

As praiseworthy as some of Salovey’s remarks on class were, I found his analysis of Yale’s role in equalizing the college experience somewhat problematic.

First of all, the assertion that “gone are the days when students spent many hours waiting tables” severely downplays the large amount of time and work that many students on financial aid are forced to put into their term-time jobs. And although I agree that it is unreasonable to believe that Yale has the ability to eliminate all wealth distinctions on campus, the implication of Salovey’s remarks was that Yale is already doing absolutely everything that it can do to reduce these distinctions. What about providing funding similar to the International Summer Award to cover the summer contribution for financial aid recipients pursuing domestic summer internships or studies? What about securing a method where student jobs legitimately go to those who are on financial aid first? What about reducing term-time and summer contributions for aid recipients instead of increasing them every couple of years?

I’m glad that President Salovey is encouraging students to have conversations about class. I hope that in the future he will encourage these conversations, specifically about financial aid policy, between Yale administrators and students. Maybe the conversations students have about class will act as a catalyst for this. His address was a first step, but there are many more steps that need to be taken.

John Masko | Opinion Blogger

President Salovey’s freshman address has been rightly praised in the past week for bringing an optimistic view of the American Dream back to Yale. His speech, however, focused nearly entirely on the economic implications of that dream, mentioning its even more empowering promise — the self-directed, fulfilling life — only in passing.

Salovey did hint that there is another element to the American Dream, something many of us feel instinctively but don’t verbalize. “Yours can be the generation that helps to develop a more complex vision of the American Dream,” he said, “one that both moves beyond social mobility and also includes living a life of growth, meaning, and significance.”

But the self-directed life is what makes the American Dream American. And, despite President Salovey’s suggestion, this idea is not up to our generation to “develop” — it is as old as our nation itself. But perhaps he is correct that it is up to our generation to rediscover it.

Higher education, particularly the liberal arts college, is the guardian of America’s strong tradition of striving toward personal fulfillment. This goal sometimes can seem frighteningly open-ended, especially to the harried professor complaining of “losing” his students to the scourge of investment banking. This guardianship is why certain values in our academy (like academic freedom and liberal education) endure so long, despite the onslaught of changing values and opinions outside school walls. Though a university can be a place for great economic mobility, it can also, at the same time, be a place where unpopular ideas are safeguarded.

The best part about this educational tradition, and perhaps the most American part about it, is that we’re allowed to come to different conclusions on what matters most to us. For many first-generation Americans, like my grandparents who grew up in poverty in South America, that was finding a better life. These goals are highly complex and unique to each student.

Yale, and the university in general, can be the crossroads where we transition from the life that has been determined for us into our own self-directed lives. I hope that future freshman speeches bring out this more ‘complex ’ vision of the American Dream, one as old as our republic and, indeed, our school.

Scott Stern | Opinion Blogger

I’ll admit it. I was a Salovey doubter. I doubted that he was anything other than the heir apparent, the next link in an obvious chain of white male presidents pushing science and talking growth. I was wrong.

President Salovey’s freshman address gave us the rare opportunity to start a conversation about socioeconomic issues at Yale. Luckily, this conversation comes right at the end of a program we need to discuss. We can use this conversation to improve this program and, in so doing, improve the university that for so many will be a ticket to class mobility.

For 33 Yalies, college began with a pre-college summer “bridge” program in July. These students came from under-performing schools or low-income backgrounds. More than just helping finance college or ease the social transition, this bridge program allowed smart kids with remarkable drive to transition to an academic environment that is different from anything they’ve experienced before. Yale wants smart kids, and this program helps ensure that all smart kids can succeed at Yale.

According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan, 60 students were invited but only 33 accepted (most within the first 48 hours). Yet, apparently, no more students were invited, as exactly 33 attended. This is a serious mistake, as far more students need the bridge program. Twelve percent of freshmen are first in their family to attend college, which says nothing of failing schools or debilitating poverty. Twenty-seven students turning down this program makes sense — a lot of low-income kids need to earn money during the summer — so more invitations should have gone out. Even 60 spots would not have been nearly enough.

Yale’s bridge program helped 33 students make a smoother transition, but there are more than 33 or 60 students whom it could benefit. Quinlan says it is “too early to speculate” on how the program could change. Peter Salovey has an idea. He knows that, “because of education, the ladder of opportunity was within reach for my father.” Yale has the power to expand the bridge program and help more students climb that ladder.

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