It’s been three months since I left my Texas hometown for New Haven. In addition to the architecture and increasingly alarming weather, I am still surprised by how Yale students daily, hourly, constantly build this university. I’m surrounded by ambitious people who juggle varied academic interests, debates, sports games and concerts. Students are so busy that casual dinner dates get placed onto phone calendars. I’m still getting used to that.
Student engagement is thriving, but at an unfair cost to over half the students who maintain it. That cost is the Student Income Contribution, a payment required only of students on financial aid. These students’ parents pay the portion of their children’s tuition that Yale asks of them. Then, Yale asks students to pay the SIC separately, usually through earnings from student employment, translating to hours out of students’ weeks.
Since hometown scholarships covered most of my SIC, I work relatively few hours this semester. I’ve been able to adjust to Yale academics and involve myself in a couple of extracurricular groups that take four to eight hours each week. In future semesters, however, I will run face first into the reality that I must work for longer hours or find another job instead of increasing my contribution to these groups. Familiar money-induced stress will soon color every decision I make, as it does for many other undergraduates.
The fact that many succeed with the SIC policy in place speaks to the drive of Yale students. However, just because students can handle this arbitrary obstacle doesn’t mean that they should have to. If Yale claims to support students of all backgrounds, student employment should be an option for all, not a requirement for some. The current policy compounds on pre-Yale socioeconomic inequalities that Yale should be striving to mitigate. By upholding the SIC as a matter of principle, Yale tells low-income students that our contribution to the Yale community is dollars and cents first, talents and ambitions second.
The university sends the same message to graduate students and teachers when it refuses to negotiate with the union that graduate teachers have voted to join, Local 33. Yale’s policies — from pay cuts for the most experienced graduate teachers, to monthslong wait times to see therapists, to an insufficient sexual harassment reporting system — currently create significant personal and economic insecurity for Yale’s most vulnerable academic staff.
Many of the stipends and benefits that Yale offers, such as the recently, if partially, won child care subsidy, have been central demands of Local 33 for years. Over many years of organizing, the union has already won benefits that make it possible for students of diverse backgrounds to attend Yale’s graduate programs. Imagine what could be possible if Yale actually sat down to negotiate contracts that guaranteed meaningful support for teachers of all backgrounds.
Diversity in the teaching population matters to me personally. I know the result of its opposite. My high school’s student population is one-third Latinx, but of the 17 teachers I had in four years, only one was a man of color and zero were Latinx. The result was a racially and culturally tone-deaf school administration. They turned Cinco de Mayo into a dress up day. I saw my culture mocked as white students wore costumes of caricatured ponchos, sombreros and fake mustaches. The all-white library staff thought it was funny to put up a cutout of Donald Trump at the entrance saying “Sign in or you will be deported!” in a school with several undocumented students.
Because there were so few staff members from marginalized backgrounds to weigh practices before they happened, this environment did not support students equally. I want things to be different at Yale: The University must cultivate and support a representative graduate teaching staff by addressing its inadequacies, such as current mental health services and the sexual assault and harassment grievance procedure. A university that is equal for students of all genders, races and economic classes is one where the teaching staff — particularly the most vulnerable among them — has rights and protections which enable all of them to do their work and pursue their careers. Yale has an institutional responsibility to create such a university, so it must negotiate with Local 33. Failing to do so is to further marginalize graduate teachers based on class, race and gender.
I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the SUN photo campaign and rally for these causes before Thanksgiving break, and I’d like to remind everyone that the fight is not over. We must see the end of the student income contribution. All undergraduates deserve the time to contribute perspectives and creativity to extracurriculars that they choose. We must see contracts for Local 33. Graduate teachers deserve reasonable support from the University to bring a necessary wealth of backgrounds to academia and professional spheres. Until Yale listens, now is the time to fight for an academy that belongs to everyone. It’s time for an academy that’s ours.
Naomi D’Arbell Bobadilla is a first year in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .