Student Financial Services employees watched from the windows as roughly 100 students congregated outside their building Thursday afternoon for a “speak-out,” in which student activists called yet again for the administration to eliminate the student effort, a yearly sum that students on financial aid must contribute to their educations.
The event was organized by Students Unite Now, the same organization that launched a website on Monday featuring a report criticizing Yale for its failure to eliminate the student effort, as well as over 100 emotionally charged student testimonies about the hardships the student effort has created for them. The website, financialaidatyale.org, received 12 endorsements from various campus groups. At the speak-out, around 20 students took turns over the course of an hour describing to the whole group their struggles with the financial aid expectation. Among the attendees was Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi, who arrived around 15 minutes before the event ended.
“There is rage here,” Jesús Gutiérrez ’16, an organizer for SUN, said in a closing statement. “The [student effort] is the policy that has been creating all these experiences, and we are actually in front of the place that is keeping it that way.”
Students reiterated challenges that have repeatedly been raised in relation to the student effort, including on SUN’s website and at a December town hall forum where Storlazzi and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan announced that the student effort would drop for all students starting the next academic year. The protesters’ main objections lay in the charge that there are “two Yales” — one for students who receive financial aid and one for those who do not — and that the contribution reinforces inequality along class lines. The student effort, currently set at $6,400 per year, limits extracurricular and summertime opportunities for students, as well as puts additional strain on their academic performance, students said. Next year, the summer portion of the student effort will drop from $3,050 to $1,700 for students with the highest need and to $2,600 for all other students on financial aid.
In a speech, Matthew Massie ’17 contended that Yale’s financial aid policy actively harms low-income students who come from weaker secondary-school backgrounds, as the financial contribution expected of them can take away from time they would otherwise spend studying. Furthermore, the student effort has prevented Massie from becoming more involved with extracurricular activities on campus, he said.
“[Coming to Yale] was a step up that I was not totally prepared for,” Massie said. “Yale fails to give us the resources for this and makes it as hard as possible to make this stuff up.”
Speakers also raised other issues, including access to mental health resources and the difficulty of obtaining on-campus jobs, which are guaranteed to students receiving financial aid but some of which are highly sought-after and turn down many applicants. In December, Next Yale — a coalition of activist groups on campus — submitted a list of demands to University President Peter Salovey that included better mental health resources specifically for minority students.
Gutiérrez told the News that the event came together as a result of conversations among students about the negative effects of the student effort. While these discussions have been happening for the past four years, he said, there is now an unprecedented level of consensus on campus that the student effort needs to be abolished entirely. The last time SUN staged a large-scale event about financial aid was March 2015, when around 100 students gathered in front of Woodbridge Hall to share their stories and to deliver a petition with over 1,000 signatures to University administrators.
Storlazzi, who listened to final speeches from the entrance of SFS but did not address the crowd, said no one from SUN had contacted his office to discuss the financial aid policies, adding that he did not know beforehand that the speak-out was going to happen.
“We always want to hear stories that our students tell,” Storlazzi told the News after the event. “I’m so grateful that Yale is a place that allows this kind of congregation and open speech.”
Gutiérrez and Storlazzi spoke briefly after the event, but the two did not discuss a potential meeting in the future to continue the dialogue about the student effort, according to Gutiérrez.