A new semester at Yale has begun. The flocks of Canada Geese are out. People are talking about their trip to Europe or some other foreign country. Meanwhile, I have neither of those to showcase, nor do I really care that I don’t. Instead, I spent my break at home in Los Angeles, trying to get a social security number for my newly obtained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals work permit. This permit I hoped would help alleviate some of my costs for attending Yale, while also just providing some pocket money to go out with friends.
Yet, struggles continue. Plane tickets usually go for $300 more or less and add about $50 for an Uber or shuttle to campus. Books can reach exorbitant prices. Other school supplies also add to the burden. Add to this the fact that some students need to buy winter clothing and one could easily be paying around $1,000 for just the first couple of weeks of the semester. For many Yalies, this early spending is just a drop in the bucket. But for many of us, this can be the majority of both of our parents’ paychecks. I do not say this to diminish the struggles of financially comfortable Yalies, but to point out some of the things many of us may not consider early on in the semester.
Being from a family that makes about $32,000 a year with both of my parents working, these early costs are really difficult for me to manage at times. Add the fact that I have a brother here as well and these early costs double, while our family income stays the same. Similarly, Yale’s approach to students like me has very much stayed the same. The student income contribution is still present and many low-income students feel overwhelmed with money they have to get to study here.
Shopping period is stressful for all of us, if not most of us. But for low-income students, there is an additional layer of stress. I had to shop classes and pay special attention to book and textbook costs. I ended up not considering classes I really would have enjoyed because of textbook costs, and I’m sure there are others out there that have done the same. Even at face value, prices can be deceiving. I have experienced having to buy textbooks only to find the professor only needs us to read one chapter of it. It’s not surprising once you find that many times when this happens, the professor wrote that book.
To get cheaper deals, many of us often find eBooks as a good alternative. You can bring them to class with greater ease and they are often significantly cheaper. But now, they are also at risk. With a policy of “no laptops” in classes spreading around campus, eBooks could potentially be ruled out for many students who need to take readings to class. Obviously, this policy has good intentions to help students be more focused in lectures and not end up being distracted by the screen in front of them. And to be honest, it is justified, as I have seen countless instances when classmates are on ESPN, Buzzfeed Quizzes, or some other irrelevant site during class. However, in trying to help some students, the school has potentially hurt others. The problem is that students can afford to pay attention in class even with a laptop, while we cannot afford to pay for a high-priced textbook.
But this laptop policy also has increased costs in other subtle ways. For low-income students who own a laptop, note taking on their devices was a way to not have to buy notebooks, which go for an insane price at the Yale Bookstore. I acknowledge this cost is nowhere near that of textbooks; nevertheless, it does add up and for many of us even $20 spent on notebooks can make a difference. And yet, I also know that all I have described probably doesn’t even cover all the bases. These are just based on my experiences and observations. It could be that there are other issues I did not even mention.
Despite the large amount of progress that is yet to be made, I also recognize that Yale has taken steps to help low-income students by implementing programs such as the start-up grant which gives us a considerable number of funds to settle in. This program is a big step forward in the right direction, but the University cannot think that this is enough. More programs that help us have to be created and low-income students should have more of a voice in campus policies and decisions. It’s only fair. We worked just as hard, or even harder, as our peers to get here.
Carlos Rodriguez Cortez | firstname.lastname@example.org .