This fall, Harvard announced the addition of a new Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, prompting some at Yale to question whether the University should embark on a similar endeavor.
According to a Harvard Crimson article published last Friday, the new Harvard office — which will be housed within the Office of Student Life — aims specifically to provide support for first-generation, foster-home and undocumented students, functioning as a supplement to existing campus resources. At Yale, several established programs and support systems have already been cited as initiatives to help these students transition into campus life, including the Freshman Scholars at Yale, QuestBridge and cultural centers.
Nevertheless, given that the number of first-generation students and financial aid recipients has grown substantially over the past several years, many have been left wondering whether the resources currently available on campus are sufficient to support the needs of all students.
Burgwell Howard, Yale’s new associate vice president for student life and dean of student engagement, said that in the long run, Yale ought to consider opening a new office that caters to first-generation, underprivileged students. However, citing support systems within Yale’s residential college system, he noted that he does not see a pressing need to launch such an effort on campus at the moment.
“When I was at Northwestern, we had an office of campus inclusion as well,” Howard said, adding that the Northwestern office is focused exclusively on the first-generation student experience. “That may be something Yale looks at down the line, but the difference between Northwestern and Yale is that Yale has the residential college structure, which already by its design and history has a kind of support system between FroCos, residential college deans and masters that one may not encounter at another institution.”
Howard also commended the FSY program as a successful endeavor in making the Yale experience more accessible to underprivileged students and providing them with resources as they enter college.
A joint program run by the Yale College Dean’s Office and Yale Summer Session, FSY brought 48 incoming freshmen to campus during the summer for a five-week session packed with classes, workshops and orientation activities. The program covered all related expenses.
Shah Khan ’19, a freshman QuestBridge scholar who participated in FSY this summer, was enthusiastic about the program and found it very helpful during his transition into Yale.
Khan said that while he believed Yale has many resources available, he felt that components of the support system on campus — such as his master, freshman counselor, mentors in FSY and the cultural centers — were dispersed and decentralized. A new office, Khan said, would be able to act as a central focal point that brings all the resources together.
“I definitely think that FSY is a support system, as well as the dean, master, QuestBridge and other people and programs,” said Nubia Jackson ’18, a past participant in FSY and foster-care student. “It’ll be even more beneficial to have a specific center that caters to these [underprivileged] students and provides the extra resources and support they need.”
The foster-care system operates outside of Yale, Jackson said, adding that juggling school and monthly meetings with her social worker was difficult for her during freshman year. The creation of an official center, she suggested, would make the process less daunting. Jackson also said that she could envision the center partnering up with the admissions office to extend the Yale experience to more foster-care and first-generation students.
“Generally speaking, I think there’s a lot of room at Yale for additional resources to help low-income students from underprivileged backgrounds adjust to higher education and the social setting at Yale,” Yale College Council President Joseph English ’17 said. “One potential solution would be the creation of an office that centralizes these resources.”
Daniel Hamidi ’18, one of the two Davenport representatives on the YCC, is currently working on a project to brainstorm policy changes that will make the daily lives of low-income, underprivileged students easier and start conversations aimed at dispelling the socioeconomic stigma on campus, English said.
Hamidi confirmed that his research would investigate potential improvements that Yale can undertake, adding that gathering data and information from peer institutions will factor into his project for the semester.
“It’s definitely one of our top priorities this year,” English said.