As you made your way to class this morning, chances are that you noticed the strings of pink and purple hearts leading from Porter Gate to William L. Harkness Hall. You might have dismissed them as another annoying display for a materialistic and glaringly irrelevant holiday (unless you’re within the 2 percent of the Yale population actually celebrating Valentine’s Day, in which case you thought it was sweet). But if you looked closer, you saw that each heart carries the name of someone who has committed to attending President Levin’s open forum on financial aid next Tuesday. These hearts were collected and displayed by the Undergraduate Organizing Committee as another step in the campaign for financial aid reform at Yale, an issue that affects the heart of this university: its students.
Since the beginning of the year, over 1,100 students have signed a petition supporting the UOC’s platform, which demands equality of access, experience and opportunity for all Yale students. Those signatures, as well as the several hundred valentines to President Levin on Cross Campus today, demonstrate the extent to which Yale students recognize the need for financial aid reform. Yale’s financial aid system seems adequate on the surface, but in reality, it is fundamentally flawed.
Before even setting foot on campus, low-income students are hesitant to apply to Yale. If they do decide to enroll, they must work 15 to 20 hours per week in order to meet the $4,200 self-help requirement and spend their summers working to meet the summer income contribution. They have difficulty finding a fulfilling campus job, and even more difficulty finding a support structure in an environment where discussion of economic status is taboo and no effort is made to ensure that students are educated on financial aid, work-study and economic diversity. Finally, these students — and those students who don’t receive significant financial aid — graduate with crippling debt.
All of these problems could be solved if Yale took a stand for progressive financial aid reform alongside its peers. Instead, Yale chooses to stand out as the only university dedicated to preserving an inadequate, outdated infrastructure. After Harvard announced that it wouldn’t require a parental contribution from families with an income of $40,000 or less, applications increased by 15 percent — and requests for application-fee waivers from low-income students went up a staggering 50 percent. Simultaneously, applications to Yale fell 1.2 percent. At Princeton, students can graduate debt-free thanks to a no-loan policy; meanwhile, the average debt of a graduating Yale student is $16,000. In addition, Yale’s self-help requirement is the highest among the three universities: $4,200, compared to Harvard’s $3,500 and Princeton’s $3,000. For a school that competes with Harvard and Princeton in everything from recycling to blood donation, this disparity is incomprehensible.
While the Undergraduate Organizing Committee acknowledges that many Yale students would not be able to attend without Yale financial aid and applauds the tiny step recently made toward allowing financial aid students to have one experience abroad — by paying a percentage of the costs of one Yale international summer program — the fact remains that Yale refuses to re-evaluate its programs and stubbornly lags behind its peers.
So as you walk past those hearts on Cross Campus today, please consider the inequity of Yale’s financial aid policies and the struggle of Yale students both on and off financial aid. Come to President Levin’s open forum and tell him that you demand that your University enact significant financial aid reform, which — with its vast resources and prominent position in the academic world — it is perfectly capable of doing. We are at Yale not because the admissions office thought we were decent students or just good enough, and we have the right to expect the same from Yale: a financial aid policy that is not just adequate, but the best. It should be extensive and progressive, and it should surpass Harvard’s and Princeton’s policies. As Yale students, we are at the very heart of this university. However, Yale’s prestige, status and claims to innovation and superiority are absolutely meaningless if it can’t even make the effort to care for its heart.
Ilyana Sawka is a sophomore in Davenport College.