Yale’s endowment, founded on slave-trading money, has always been political. The $25.4 billion fund comes from investments that continue to exploit low-income communities, especially those of color. Yet the Yale administration requires students from those very same communities to work — even harder than their wealthier peers — simply to justify their presence on campus.
While it lauds its diverse incoming class, Yale places the burden on low-income students, who are disproportionately people of color, to prove that they are “deserving” of its aid. This policy is incredibly patronizing: Low-income students have to overcome many structural barriers to reach Yale in the first place and are, if anything, more aware than others of the value of higher education. It also fails to acknowledge the source of much of Yale’s vast endowment: investments in industries, such as fossil fuels and private prisons, which harm these students’ hometowns.
Racial and class inequalities that begin before Yale extend onto campus, exacerbated by the student income contribution. It is already hard for students coming from under-funded school systems to thrive at this elite institution. Yale makes it even more difficult by requiring a ten-hour-a-week performance of gratitude in return for financial aid. The SIC creates two unequal Yale experiences: one for rich students filled with CV-boosting extracurriculars, and another for poorer students who must work in order to pay money back to Yale.
Beyond the walls of its campus, Yale’s investments increase inequality in communities around the country. Although President Salovey states that Yale will protect undocumented students from ICE raids, Yale simultaneously indirectly invests heavily in CoreCivic and GEO Group — the two private prison companies which run over 60 percent of immigrant detention centers. These corporations have spent millions lobbying both houses of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security for hard-line immigration policies. How can Yale claim to defend undocumented students while profiting off deportations?
Similarly, Yale scientists catalog the effects of climate change while the University refuses to divest from the fossil fuel industry that funds climate denial. With Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil as the U.S. Secretary of State, the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying has reached the highest levels of government. Trump has reversed Obama’s policies aimed at phasing out coal-fired power plants and promised to either pull out of the Paris Climate Accords or ensure that they are toothless. Without drastic greenhouse gas emission reductions, it will be impossible to stay below the two-degree Celsius threshold necessary to prevent catastrophic global warming. How can Yale claim to support sustainability while it invests in companies committed to environmental destruction?
By investing in the private prison and fossil fuel industries, Yale signals that it does not consider those facing years in prison for nonviolent offenses or losing their homes due to rising sea-levels to be worthy of its concern. At the same time, the Yale Corporation indicates yet again that it does not value the students, faculty and staff who come from the largely low-income communities most affected by its unethical investments.
In the case of New Haven, this disregard is particularly blatant. While it invests in private prison companies that lobby for mass incarceration, Yale does not pay taxes in New Haven. A $17.5 million annual state funding gap for New Haven schools reduces their quality; only 24 percent of third-graders in the New Haven school district meet state reading proficiency standards. Yale has consistently fought Connecticut’s attempts to tax its endowment. While the University refuses to invest in the education of New Haven children, it happily profits from private prisons, which predominately house young people of color. Instead of actively contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline, Yale should play a responsible role in New Haven.
The endowment matters. It connects us financially to the well-being of communities across the world. Yale should deploy its resources in alignment with its stated values. The University cannot distance itself from Trump’s agenda while it profits off of immigrant detention, mass incarceration, fossil fuel extraction and the labor of low-income students.
This past Friday, Fossil Free Yale, Yale Students for Prison Divestment and Students Unite Now rallied on Beinecke Plaza to demand that Yale divest from the fossil fuel and private prison industries and eliminate the SIC. This is the Yale Corporation’s opportunity to demonstrate that its recent informal name change is more than yet another empty rhetorical gesture. We urgently call on them to model true moral leadership to universities everywhere by mobilizing the endowment in a socially responsible manner.
Emma Phelps is a sophomore in Hopper College. She is a member of Fossil Free Yale and Yale Students for Prison Divestment. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .