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 firstname.lastname@example.org.