At Yale, there exists a group of people that come from very privileged backgrounds who behave and speak as though they do not come from such wealth and prestige. In the last few years, I’ve heard several children of Ivy League graduates complain to me about “rich people,” even though they are, by most accounts, “rich people.”
Students whose parents subsidize unpaid internships and free summers in the city, students who will never worry about work-study jobs, students who only have to worry about their classes, who don’t acknowledge how lucky they are. They’re a strange, elusive kind to me. On the other hand, I have many friends who come from privileged backgrounds that very explicitly acknowledge their privilege — who are self-aware, who are successful and kind and grateful.
I have listened to more than one Yale legacy complain (at length) about the fact that their families are wealthy but not in the top 1 percent. In each circumstance, I have not known how to react. As time passed and I grew distant from these individuals, I reflected on these experiences with friends and guffawed. As the daughter of a single mom on financial aid, I don’t quite understand how such people thought of me as an appropriate audience for such complaints.
I think their behavior was insensitive and downright rude, but it also betrays their limited perspectives. I could complain about these individuals, but I have started to think that maybe I need to look at my own privilege.
My estranged father, a white man with a law degree, has contributed exactly $50 to my education and personal expenses over the last two-and-a-half years. The Office of Student Financial Services has still considered his income as they calculated my family’s total contribution, and I have therefore accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt. With graduation looming, this is pretty scary.
I find comfort in knowing that I’m in good company — and there are many loan repayment plans for me to consider. Most college graduates in the United States are in a similar position. I’m not alone, even though Yale promised me a debt-free education. It isn’t fair that I have taken out loans, but I’m in a difficult family situation. While Yale could have certainly done more to accommodate my needs, there are limits to their financial policy. I have to respect the difficulty of their situation as well.
It isn’t easy balancing campus jobs on top of classes and extracurriculars, as well as feeling weighed down by debt. It isn’t fair that my mother has to support me when she has two other kids whom she raises on her own. I have many peers at Yale who have never worried about financial stability. Given that 52 percent of Yale students receive some form of aid, that means that about half of Yale students come from families that fork over the full $65,000 a year. The average Yale student comes from immense socioeconomic privilege in comparison to the average American college student. And so, institutionally, the Yale experience is structured for students who have the most.
The world is unjust, and I believe this should change. I wholeheartedly agree with activists and protestors who wish to reform financial aid at institutions that can afford to do so. Many have called upon Harvard, Princeton and Yale to go tuition-free — these schools should consider this strongly. With some of the largest endowments in the world, elite universities should not be pinching pennies from low-income families with single parents. Yet as unjust as this may be, I am not capable of fixing this systemic failure on my own. That’s not my job. I can use my voice to strengthen the case for financial aid reform, but there’s only so much I can do.
My job is to take care of myself. To carry myself. Sometimes when I see Canada Goose jackets and salon-treated glossy hairdos, I get angry. I am envious. But the truth is that student loans aren’t going to ruin my life. As nice as it would be to have a family with more financial stability, that isn’t my reality. Instead, I grew up with a single mom who supported three children while earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees; I am a different kind of legacy, and I’m proud of this.
Though Yale is incrementally improving the socioeconomic and cultural climate on campus, many of us are growing impatient. It’s not enough! And we are right. Yale has made promises it had no intention of keeping. So despite its generosity, the University has, to an extent, done a disservice.
This place has power. But we have it, too. I daresay we are more powerful. There are more of us. We have the eyes of the world. We have voices. And soon, we will have degrees.
Adriana Miele is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .