On Oct. 2, the News printed Kathan Roberts’ guest column, “Empathy for the privileged.” Roberts contends that being wealthy at Yale is an isolating experience, that the wealthy need support and understanding. This strikes me as bizarre and ironic, considering that in my own class (according to a 2016 News feature), over a third of students come from households in the top 5 percent of American incomes. To posit that there is no support for the wealthy requires naivete; Yale is organized for owning-class comfortability and socialization.
Most perplexing is Roberts’ assertion that “as Yale students, we all now have unparalleled social capital and high earning potential. Whether or not we were poor and underprivileged before, we probably will no longer be so.” From my own vantage point as a disabled, second-generation immigrant man of color, I know the vast differential values of a Yale degree. My Yale credential may provide some social lubricant, but it does not counter scrutiny at TSA checkpoints or inaccessible workplaces. Nor does it reverse the impact of being a woman or trans person of color in the job market, commensurate with salary disparities and hiring discrimination.
To suggest that wealthy students require greater support from their peers is offensive. It argues for a misdirection of emotional resources low-income and first-generation students deserve. Moreover, empathy is not enough — but neither is a scholarship requiring a student income contribution. Low-income students deserve support — scholarships with no strings attached, paid peer mentors, faculty advisers sensitive to class, race, gender, sexual orientation and ability. Rather than empathizing with the privileged, Yale needs to materially support low-income and first-generation students with money and infrastructure. Education is not the great equalizer, but that cannot stop us from working to create a university that supports and nurtures our low-income and first-generation peers.
Sohum Pal ’20
Sohum Pal is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.