As an undergraduate, I wear many hats: political science major, New Haven citizen and proud Branfordian. But the ones that affect my everyday existence the most — and which constantly come into conflict — are “varsity athlete” on the men’s swimming and diving team and “financial aid recipient.”
College varsity athletics, in no way lacking its fair share of controversy, is fairly easy to imagine: waking up early, lifting, practicing and competing. Yale Athletics has a unique prestige, power and culture — but can also be grueling. The National Collegiate Athletic Association caps training at 20 hours a week, but any athlete can attest that during competition season, you can easily spend double that time dedicated to your team. It’s for that reason, among many others that I highly encourage you to come out and support your fellow Bulldogs!
Financial aid at Yale, specifically regarding the student income contribution, is far more controversial. For those unaware: roughly half of all undergraduates receive financial aid and are thus required to fulfill a student income contribution, an amount each student pays through work-study. In your first year, this amount is $2,850 during the school year, and $1,600 during the summer. Sophomore through senior year, this amount increases to $3,350 during the school year, and $2,600 during the summer.
Shockingly, this amounts to $22,500 over four years, or roughly 2,000 hours of work with a minimum wage on-campus job ($12.25 per hour) after taxes. If a student doesn’t work the required 20 hours a week in an on-campus job, the financial aid website says their contribution must be covered — through “outside scholarship, other family resources, or loan.”
That word, “loan,” is a problem. And for good reason: Yale’s financial aid website reads in big, bold letters, “Yale admits students without regard to their ability to pay and meets 100 percent of financial need. For all students. Without loans.” So what gives?
Student activists argue that Yale’s financial aid advertising is misleading, because many students actually are compelled to take loans. On the same website, the glib admissions video makes no mention of students owing over $20,000 in contribution.
These activists further argue that Yale has failed to prioritize its lower income students’ day-to-day life and mental health. Forcing lower income students to work 20 hours every week sucks their time and energy away from extracurricular activities and studies, resulting in a socioeconomic hierarchy for leadership and academic success.
Administrators and alumni, meanwhile, have maintained that students, already given generous support to be at a place like Yale, should have to work in order to prove a “stake in their education.” And the administration now claims it is financially unable to eliminate the student income contribution, despite constantly bragging about its $25 billion endowment.
Like everyone here, I have a stake in my education. I take pride in everything I do, and I want to do it all well. But it is nearly impossible for me to meet both my commitment to the student income contribution and excel as a student-athlete here. There just are not enough hours in the day.
During the season, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and fall into bed well after midnight after spending the day running around to lift, go to class, go to practice, ice parts of my body that are sore, go to section, prepare for work the next day, see friends, do homework — and yes, work. I work two to four different jobs at any given moment because there is no single job with enough hours to reach the contribution. I, and many of my student-athlete peers, have to choose daily between our mental health, our financial well-being and sports we love.
Yale’s student income contribution negatively affects its ability to recruit top-tier athletes that might want to go to schools with more generous aid, like Stanford, Harvard or Princeton. Time taken away from athletics negatively affects our performance, not to mention our ability to engage in other extracurricular activities. Every student forced to pay the student income contribution suffers, with less time to focus on leadership positions or academics. Student-athletes are even more vulnerable to the negative impacts of this stingy and outdated policy.
I know that athletic teams have a reputation for being insular from Yale’s larger activist community. That is why I’m writing this column — it’s time for student-athletes to be more involved in take action in the issues that affect them, their teammates and the entire student body. I am, of course, grateful and privileged to be a student-athlete and financial aid recipient. But as we move forward, Yale has a responsibility to better support all its students on financial aid — both athletes and non-athletes alike.
Wayne Zhang is a senior in Branford College and a member of the men’s swimming and diving team. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .