Because my parents refused to allow me to skip class in high school — an unconditional rule that apparently holds firm even when one’s child is admitted to the Ivy League — I did not attend Bulldog Days as a prefrosh. As a result, I first experienced the whirlwind of logistical crises and extracurricular proselytizing as a freshman. I aggressively campaigned for my clubs, threw fliers at startled families and tried desperately to convince anyone who would listen to major in Classics.
Like everyone else, I was trying to sell the Yale experience.
The circus of Bulldog Days embodies everything Yale purports to offer — a Gothic paradise overflowing with dining-hall ambrosia, prestigious extracurricular opportunities, close companionship and exceptional academic development. Yale is engaging, enriching and above all accessible. It has everything, and you can have it all.
Indeed, my own Yale experience has encompassed many elements of this vision. The claim of accessibility, however, has proven false for a significant number of the Yale population. Students on financial aid are required to fulfill a “student income contribution” by working a campus job. The aid they receive is adjusted to reflect the $5,950 amount they must earn every school year and summer to fulfill their payment to the University. The inflexible, mandatory 10 hours that so many of my peers and I work each week directly jeopardize everything else that Yale promises to be. Caveant prefrosh.
In the past, the administration has justified the student income contribution on the grounds that it provides “skin in the game” for students on financial aid. In other words, the SIC operates on the premise that the (ostensibly talented and intelligent) students from low-income backgrounds who were admitted to Yale will not appreciate their education unless they have a financial stake in it. It assumes that 10 hours a week at an unrewarding clerical job will instill gratitude in students poor enough to be privy to the value of such a formative experience.
But what sort of “skin in the game” exists for students who don’t have to worry about Yale’s price tag?
Wealthy students are free to pursue the vibrant culture of extracurricular and academic opportunities offered at Yale without any institutional restrictions on their time. Financial-aid students, on the other hand, must contend with the considerable trade-offs that the SIC imposes on their time and energy, both of which could and should be better spent on their education. In other words, the SIC creates two different types of debt to Yale. Students who do not have to fulfill the SIC are allowed to devote their efforts toward enriching and improving the climate of the university; they give back to Yale by assuming leadership positions in various organizations, by investing valuable time in what they do best and are most passionate about. But for those on financial aid, their mode of debt has already been decided.
Last week, Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi ’75 MUS ’84 defended the SIC under a new premise — that of a “partnership” between the University, students and parents in which all three parties cooperate to satisfy the cost of education. Of course, the idea of a “partnership” is nothing more than another ill-conceived rhetorical effort to downplay the impact of the SIC, and to perpetuate the myth that students have a voice in financial aid at Yale. The administration has evinced chronic disregard for student calls to eliminate or reduce the SIC; past statements by Storlazzi that financial aid does not define the Yale experience are especially discouraging.
Next year, I will be pursuing the highly demanding joint B.A./M.A. degree program in Classics. Somehow the experience of having worked an onerous campus job did not influence the decision to take advantage of my education. It has, however, significantly limited the ways in which I pursued my academic ambitions. Perhaps if I weren’t working 10 hours a week, I could finally attend that optional reading group with my professors, or read the books on critical literary theory I checked out but didn’t have time to touch. Many argue that the primary purpose of a university education is just that, an education. But proponents of the SIC seem to have something else in mind — curiously, they never spell out quite what that is.
Prototypical justifications of the SIC insult and underestimate lower-income students. They indefensibly assert that we do not sufficiently appreciate our Yale education, and that we do not have the right to decide what to do with it. More disgraceful still is the administration’s concession that eliminating the SIC would not pose any budget problems, especially considering that Harvard and Princeton both have far lower SICs. Instead of parroting antiquated maxims about “skin in the game,” Yale should be leading the charge to ensure a just and equitable academic climate for all students.
Sherry Lee is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .