When we first arrived in America, we heard a lot of talk about the values of democracy. Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived in Yale’s Helen Hadley Hall, we began to experience something different: dictatorship and discrimination.
Most of the residents in graduate housing are international students, because we cannot come and look for an apartment months before classes begin. We are a captive market, and Yale has taken full advantage of this by charging us about $500 per month for a tiny 10′ x 10′ room. We have no dining hall, but share a kitchen with our floor’s 35 other residents, who also share one men’s and one women’s bathroom. Even worse, we are charged about $3,000 — the full amount of one semester’s rent, plus a $500 security deposit — almost as soon as we move in.
This leaves us very vulnerable to abuse by management. For example, one of our Chinese colleagues moved out of the dorm midyear, found a replacement for her room as required by the rules and asked for her rent money back. She was told that she would get no money back, because her “replacement” had applied independently for a room, and so did not qualify as her “replacement.” This meant a potential loss of thousands of dollars. She had to protest, causing management finally to return everything except about $300. They have never explained why $300 was kept. There are no rules about this. It relies simply upon the whims of the housing manager.
Last May, there was a major water leak in my room, just before I, Xiaoye, left for a trip home. I loaned my key to a friend so he could protect my belongings. But loaning out keys is prohibited, so the dorm manager sent me an e-mail that said my room “will be re-assigned to an incoming student” and demanded, “You must let me know when you will be available to remove all your belongings from the building.” I found this very threatening and stressful. By contrast, the non-Chinese residents are treated leniently and do not have the rules so strictly enforced on them.
Furthermore, when we want to publicize Chinese events, we sometimes put up posters in Chinese, which are always removed immediately. English posters are allowed to stay up. We looked for rules about posters, and there are none. We asked and were told that we must post our signs in both Chinese and English. We did this. Still the Chinese posters are removed, while the English signs are allowed to stay. These are just a few of the many troubling stories we have heard and experienced.
The residents of Helen Hadley Hall refuse to accept this treatment anymore. Over two-thirds of all the residents have signed a petition protesting this discrimination, which we delivered Thursday at noon to the Housing Management. We have four demands that we believe will help solve these problems:
1. All policies should be approved by a resident’s council, which should be democratically elected by all the residents.
2. The dorm coordinator position should be democratically elected by all the residents, not appointed by the Housing Manager.
3. All complaints should be resolved through a fair and impartial grievance procedure that is not controlled by the university administration.
4. Rents are already too high, and should not be increased again for the new students arriving next year. (After all, it’s not as if Yale’s taxes are going up, like other landlords’!)
If the residents of the graduate dormitories were allowed to elect representatives who made and enforced the rules, we would have fair rules which protect the comfort and convenience of all the residents. Instead, we have all types of unfair or unwritten rules being made up by a single dictator. This needs to change now!
We have found that there is only one way to make these changes: Organize. Organize. Organize. We tried speaking politely with the administration, and nothing has changed. So now we, together with our union, GESO, are standing up to demand respect.
It is hypocritical of Yale President Richard Levin to push for greater political democracy far away in our home country of China, while he himself refuses to allow democracy on his own campus, where Chinese students are treated like second-class citizens. He should stop taking advantage of us by charging us high rents for shabby rooms with unfair conditions. He should also stop refusing to recognize the 60 percent of teaching assistants who want a union. He should recognize us, and recognize our union.
Xiaoye Li is a fourth-year graduate student in Applied Mathematics. Zhengming Fu is a fourth-year graduate student in Engineering and Applied Science.