The latest issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine featured an article with the headline “Wanted: smart students from poor families.” The article, written by David Zax ’06, focuses primarily on the unfortunately small percentage of Yale undergraduates that comes from the country’s lower economic quintiles. He also questions what sort of advantages admissions officers should give to students of these disadvantaged backgrounds.

While I applaud the Yale Alumni Magazine for recognizing the significance of socioeconomic diversity, the manner by which it recognizes and suggests solutions is blatantly offensive and classist. For a moment, I suggest we consider what an alternative, similarly distasteful form of the headline would be: “Wanted: fewer dumb students from rich families.”

As a QuestBridge Scholar from a multiethnic, single-parent household, I suppose I am the quintessential type of student that Yale should be looking for, and that is precisely why I am so incredibly bothered by this. If Yale really wants to attract more “poor” students, we should not be treated as though we are an elusive rarity. Regardless of their socioeconomic histories, people have diverse and deeply complex life experiences. In fact, placing students into socioeconomic brackets is rather difficult in the first place, and attempting to do so can be polarizing and inadequate.

For instance, in my early childhood, I attended mostly private schools, but after my parents’ divorce, my Peruvian mother, who began earning her undergraduate degree when I was 10 years old, primarily supported my two younger brothers and me. Throughout my middle school and high school years, my mother finished her B.A. and worked part-time. Now, she works full-time and is earning an MBA. In high school, however, I had friends with immigrant parents who couldn’t speak English and struggled to understand the significance of higher education. These experiences are completely different, but the magazine article suggests that they are similar. Though I encourage Yale to admit students from diverse backgrounds, I do not feel that splitting people into buckets such as “poor” and “rich” is politically correct or even accurate.

My public charter high school in South Florida, Doral Academy, is composed overwhelmingly of students from Latin American immigrant families. The vast majority of the student body had either free or reduced lunch meal plans due to their families’ incomes. To this date, I am the only person from my high school to attend an Ivy League institution. Regardless of where I come from, like most other Yalies I know, I am grateful to have been admitted to this institution, and due to financial aid, I am able to afford this education.

But no matter how glad I am to be here or how statistically rare it is for a person of my background to be here, I hope I am at Yale because I worked hard. I do not want to owe my education to Yale’s admissions officers and alumni who were pandering to admit me instead of the “lower hanging fruit” that attended more impressive high schools and have wealthier parents.

I know that I possess an ethnically ambiguous face and a limited amount of J.Crew, but I hope that I was admitted to Yale because of my merits and talents. I hope that I was admitted because I gave the impression that I am a promising individual — not because I participated in the QuestBridge program, which I did because it reduced the cost of application fees and allowed me to apply to a broader scope of colleges. While I recognize the significance of programs such as QuestBridge and the considerations of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, suggesting that students who are neither white nor wealthy somehow need more “assistance” in attaining admission is unfair. I do not want to be seen as an esteemed example of Yale’s quest for textbook diversity.

Instead of solely targeting “smart, poor students,” like Dick Cheney might look for a duck in his viewfinder, Yale should focus more on fostering educational studies programs. Instead of functioning as a safety net for “poor” kids who’d otherwise fall through the cracks, Yale should strive to improve impoverished and disadvantaged communities. More than this, Yale, through research and academic programs, should focus on the vast socioeconomic disparity throughout the world.

I am indeed demanding and asking a lot from our university, but that is only because Yale has asked a lot from me. Now that I am here, as a woman of color from a family with a limited amount of financial resources, I believe that it is my responsibility to point out that the issue of socioeconomic diversity is not, in fact, one-dimensional; it is a vastly complex problem embedded in our country and world. Sending out more pamphlets and setting up tables is, in fact, only a start.

A magazine article should at least attempt to represent this whole truth.

Adriana Miele is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at adriana.miele@yale.edu. 

  • meep15

    Wonderful article; thank you.

    I am of the belief that the best applicant, regardless of race/gender/socioeconomic status should be accepted. Then (in my ideal world at least), those “best and brightest” will go on to improve their communities and society as a whole.

    • trollalert

      When you return to the real world, let us know.

  • Guest

    Headline: “Wanted: fewer dumb students from rich families.”

    I’ve seen that headline in other translations… headlines of limiting legacy preference and athletic recruitment which has been dubbed as “wealthy people’s affirmative action”. Plus, if I read that headline, I’d probably shake my head up and down while agreeing with most of the content.

    Although I have more than a few disagreements along the way with this article, I largely agree with the idea.. it was in poor taste by the Alum Mag. Don’t think they intended to offend, none-the-less, it was far from couth.

    • Guest

      I do think, however, that athletic recruitment tends to bring through more public school and low income students then other admission programs. Although not the topic being argued here.

  • terryhughes

    A “similarly distasteful form of the headline would be: “Wanted: fewer dumb students from rich families.'”

    Well, no, that’s not the same thing at all.

    Neither the alumni magazine nor the University is saying that current Yale students are any less talented than the less wealthy ones Yale would like to attract. What they are saying is that there are a lot of candidates out there who are every bit as talented as the ones Yale already attracts and admits … but with far less wealth in their families. If Yale were able to effect the aspiration described in that alumni magazine article the average and individual quality of Yale students would probably not increase much at all, and likely not one iota.

    The quality of Yale students is now so high it is unlikely that any further outreach to any quarter would increase the average quality of a Yale student by more than a tiny margin, although their mix of interests could be altered (STEM or humanities, for example). Indeed, to consider just one “quality” factor, the last time I looked Yale matriculated students had the highest average SAT scores of any college in the country. Reaching out to a larger pool of less wealthy applicants is unlikely to push that SAT average further north.

    Nor does anything here amount to some kind of proposed affirmative action program. Less wealthy students pose additional admissions office difficulties, and evaluating those applications is a challenge. For example, the Yale admissions office has lots of experience with letters of recommendation from teachers at, say, Exeter, and Exeter teachers have lots of experience with students who are qualified to go to Yale. So the letters of recommendation from an Exeter teacher has a known meaning. But many children of the less wealthy attend high schools with which Yale has little or no experience and whose faculty have little experience with students qualified for Yale. It’s a challenge to understand what weight to give to a glowing letter from a teacher in a school that almost never sends a student to a high caliber college, and the transcripts from such a school often don’t add much. Standardized tests are supposed to fill the gap, but they have their own issues. Ditto interviews. There is no known general solution, and much attention must be paid. Simplistic approaches such as giving such students a “plus factor” for not having a wealthy family do not work and badly serve both the student and the college.

    For years Yale and it’s admissions office has noted and complained that because Yale has limited capacity, it must turn down many applicants just as qualified as the ones it admits. That’s a big reason Yale wants to build those two new residential colleges, for example. If Yale could attract a larger number of qualified applicants from less wealthy venues than it does (especially but not solely from children of recent immigrants), the admissions office would have a bigger problem, but the quality of student would not necessarily increase. A desired increase in quality is not what this is about. Yale already gets lots of highly qualified applicants.

    It is a frustrating thing for some people that the children of wealthy, intelligent, gifted, talented, charming people are often intelligent, gifted, talented, charming people. Not always, but often enough to completely fill Yale. Anyone who thinks, say, Exeter does not produce a disproportionately high percentage of highly qualified students is just out of touch with reality, but lots of highly qualified students come from places with no reputations at all … but finding and evaluating qualified Exeter students is a lot easier. Life would be simpler if the children of the wealthy were usually or always dumb, but that’s just not right. A lot of manipulative politicians like to speak as if it were right, but Yale is not in that business.

    But Yale is also not in the business of willingly defining its community as a subset of the wealthy, regardless of their merits. Intelligent gifted, talented, charming people -such as the author of this article – are often NOT from wealthy families. That’s what Yale is concerned about.

    • jufnitz

      “Neither the alumni magazine nor the University is saying that current
      Yale students are any less talented than the less wealthy ones Yale
      would like to attract. What they are saying is that there are a lot of
      candidates out there who are every bit as talented as the ones Yale
      already attracts and admits … but with far less wealth in their
      families.”

      This is facetious. Given two applicants whose academic qualifications are judged equal but whose financial contributions would be vastly different, and assuming that Yale like any other “selective” college cannot admit every single applicant it would otherwise deem qualified, the institution has every incentive to take the wealthier applicant 10 times out of 10; furthermore, as anybody who follows college admissions with half a brain should be aware, greater ability to contribute financially can overcome quite a bit of academic deficiency when the fat envelopes are sent out. This article frames the problem somewhat differently: its point is that the admissions criteria used by schools like Yale (including grades at “respected” secondary schools, test scores, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation from faculty at aforementioned secondary schools, etc.) are in no small part a function of SES rather than academic potential per se, and that Yale is searching for better metrics that can more reliably sort the signal (academic potential) from the noise (SES). Setting aside whether or not it’s actually *true* that Yale has higher priorities than maintaining or increasing its net tuition/donation revenue per student, to reframe this point as “wanted: fewer dumb students from rich families” would be no less descriptive than the original line, merely that the classist tone would be reversed.

      • terryhughes

        “Facetious?” “Facetious” is used to describe and criticize speech that is meant to be funny, and your use of that word here makes no sense. Did you perhaps mean to write “fatuous,” which means “silly?”

        Since you choose to frame your argument in the context of “two applicants whose academic qualifications are judged equal,” it is obvious that whatever decision process you envisage cannot result in a change in the quality of the admittees. No further refutation of your argument is needed.

        Your main point, which you curiously never actually get around to explicitly stating, seems to be that as between “two applicants whose academic qualifications are judged equal” Yale systematically chooses the “wealthier applicant 10 times out of 10” times. Is that a correct formulation of your main point? If it is, you might have benefitted from explicitly writing it down, instead of ranting that anyone with “half a brain” should already know it. Writing down your main point (assuming I’ve constructed it correctly) might have called to your mind that this claim is, among other things, grossly inconsistent with Yale’s decades long-maintained “needs blind” admissions policy, which your reference to “tuition” definitely encompasses. That claim is also wholly inconsistent with years of public statements by Yale representatives, including some under oath before Congressional committees. While the Yale admissions office treats some of its procedures as confidential, I rather doubt they would hesitate to issue a full-throated denial of this particular assertion. Since you claim to be senstive to “incentives” (although Yale admissions is subject to incentives vastly more complex than the ones you conjure), perhaps you can understand that there is an incentive on University officers not to be caught in perjury or public lies that Congress and others can check and have incentives to check. Or do you think that, say, Senator Grassley was only feigning interest in how Yale spent its endowment when he conducted all those hearings? Perhaps if you had actually written down your main point you might have realized that it needed some, shall we say, reconsideration and revision.

        And while the matter is of course not relevant to the substance of your argument, such as it is, I confess to some curiosity: Are you are now or ever have been a Yale student? I honestly wondered while reading your reply if you composed it along the lines of the many fake letters Yale students once sent to Ann Landers, in which you were by personal example facetiously suggesting that Yale students are not really as intelligent, gifted, talented and charming as I conceive them, and that the quality of the student body could stand substantial improvement. Is that it? Did I fall for it?

        • jufnitz

          Just got back from a trip so I missed your reply. I certainly do think it’s facetious (in the sense of being flippant to the point of absurdity by brazenly ignoring the obvious) that anybody familiar with elite higher education in general and Yale in particular could act so shocked — shocked! — at the notion that Yale, like any other economic entity with a necessity to keep expenses above revenues, makes decisions in areas including but not limited to admissions with a mind toward financial sustainability. I’m not connected to Yale but to another >$60K/year institution of higher education (which I attend with significant financial aid), so seeing this alumni magazine fracas erupt at Yale struck pretty close to home.

          In any case, perhaps if you’d read a bit deeper into what I wrote, you might have better understood the point rather than getting bogged down in asking whether I think Yale officials are perjuring themselves when they claim not to discriminate by SES. The point is that Yale officials do not necessarily *need* to perjure themselves the way you describe, as long as the application criteria used in making admissions decisions before taking SES into account at all are actually in no small part dependent on SES themselves (a point to which the original alumni magazine article alludes in stating that “Nationwide, the well-off are more likely to enjoy the amenities and expectations that encourage academic achievement”) creating a largely class-based admissions system by default. The alumni magazine considers whether Yale and colleges like it should be trying to more meaningfully distinguish class-dependent from class-independent measures of academic potential or intellectual merit or some such, without seeming to grasp that it is *precisely* the class-dependence of such measures that allows the current economic order to perpetuate itself under a cloak of intellectual rather than economic elitism, and that (not coincidentally) admitting better-off students based on such measures ultimately enables elite institutions like Yale and my own college to increase net revenue per student and keep expenses below revenues. Ironically enough, the alumni magazine was on the right track for precisely the same reason that its presentation reeked of fumbling classism: a willful unconsciousness of elite higher education’s place in the ranks of class struggle.

  • quals

    I love how students who get into Yale via these liberal programs turn around and bite the hand that fed them.

  • charliewalls

    Part of this is seen in the Alumni article: “Yale’s most recent Pell Grant number (14 percent) is lower than all the Ivies but Princeton [12%]. Harvard and MIT, 20%, and Cornell and Stanford at 18, for example. Yale’s diversity, in this regard, might be an embarrassment to some.

    The best part of Miele’s article, I believe, is: “Yale should focus more on fostering educational studies programs”. There are bright young people lacking an awareness of what good, higher education is about.

  • Redman

    Liberal policies have made U.S. education outpaced by the rest of the world, not even in the top 10. Why change?

  • lightandtruth

    “Dick Cheney might look for a duck in his view finder”. If you are referring to firearms it would be a scope not a view finder normally found in a camera. Ducks are hunted with shotguns without the use of optics. Dick Cheney of course was hunting quail when he shot the Texas attorney, so not sure what point you are trying to make.

    You should come to terms with the fact you were accepted at Yale because you had the grades to get in and you are a female from a low income group from Florida. These all worked in your favor and then lady luck appeared and drew your name from a pool of thousands of other students. Bottom line is you hit the lottery and should be thrilled. Don’t think that it’s anymore than that and you are anymore special than the thousands of other qualified applicants that did not get in. Be grateful and be happy that many others pay the full ride so you can be there. Now go work hard and study, so when you write your next article it will make more sense.

  • carp800

    The author misrepresents the thoughtful and comprehensive article of Mr Zax in order to talk about her own personal situation and feelings of inferiority. Zax does in fact put a human face on the sobering statistics through interviews (including his roommate) and specifically rejects the notion of a quota that the author implies he endorses. The first rule of eristics is to fairly convey your opponent’s position. In the spirit of self-education urged by the oped, I would urge readers to click over to the article itself.

  • Mark Anderson

    Meanwhile even in their apology YAM is still labeling us “poor smart kids.” Poor in what? Smart in what? I can think of a dozen other caricatures that would have Cross Campus occupied with outraged and offended students and faculty. But where there is no money there is no cause, and no foul. Dink Stover or Diversity Central… the aristocracy always has a tin ear.