Jilly Mehlman

The murmurs of disappointment were audible on Friday afternoon as student activists emerged from the Yale College Dean’s Office and announced to the 100 or so gathered students that Yale College Dean Marvin Chun was not in for the day.

“I’ve heard the ‘I’m not in’ a lot. It seems that the administrators don’t do very much here at Yale,” David Diaz ’18 said to the crowd. Diaz is a leader of Students Unite Now, an activist organization that has advocated the elimination of the student income contribution since the group’s establishment in 2012.

Before marching into Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall and asking to meet with Chun, four student activists spoke to the crowd about students’ experiences coping with the student income contribution, which requires students on financial aid to contribute to their educational costs. In contrast to past Students Unite Now demonstrations — which have stressed that the student income contribution creates two different Yale experiences — the speeches at this week’s protest focused on how the policy disproportionately affects immigrant students.

In an email to the News, Chun said that he was at a lunch meeting during the rally and that he has written to representatives of Students Unite Now to arrange a meeting.

In his speech, Diaz acknowledged that the University has taken steps to address student demands in recent years, including through the creation of a domestic summer award that provides $4,000 in funding toward unpaid domestic internships at nonprofit organizations, nongovernmental organizations, government agencies and in the arts. But he maintained that there remains work to be done.

“It’s clear that Yale can hear us, but they aren’t really listening,” Diaz said to the crowd. “While these were great victories, we are still here fighting because until the student income contribution is eliminated, there will still be inequality on this campus.”

In Oct. 2017, the University expanded its financial aid initiatives, pledging to give students with no expected parental contribution free insurance and to reduce these students’ expected summer income contribution to $1,600 for all four years. Those initiatives made 2017 the third consecutive year that the University has rolled out plans to support low-income students.

Over the years, Students Unite Now has repeatedly sought to meet with top Yale administrators to discuss financial aid policy. Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi met with Students Unite Now representatives in 2016, and last spring, the organization asked to meet with University President Peter Salovey, who rebuffed the group’s invitation, criticizing what he described as the group’s confrontational tactics and arguing that financial aid falls within the purview of Yale College.

In response to a rally hosted last March by Students Unite Now that called for the elimination of the student income contribution, Storlazzi and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan told the News that the student effort remains an important and necessary part of a Yale College scholarship.

“[Eliminating the student effort] would compromise other aspects of the institution or would require Yale perhaps to retreat from a need-blind admissions policy, an inconceivable concept, to admit fewer undergraduates, international or domestic, on aid, or reconsider the generous way parental contributions are currently calculated,” Quinlan said at the time.

According to the University’s budget for fiscal year 2018, the average discount provided to a Yale College student on financial aid is $49,491, or 71 percent of total tuition, room and board. In fiscal year 2016, 18 percent — or $191 million — of endowment spending was used to support scholarships across the University.

In his speech, Shaheer Malik ’20 called the initiatives that Yale has announced in past years, such as a $2,000 “startup fund” announced in 2016 for all incoming first years whose parents make under $65,000 every year, “half-hearted measures” that failed to tackle the fundamental problem — the student income contribution.

Angela Sim ’18, whose family moved to the U.S. when she was nine, told the gathering that although her student income contribution is covered by a scholarship, she still has to work to support her family.

“Just as my family immigrated to the U.S. just to find financial precarity,” Sim said, “I came to Yale only to find that Yale wanted me to leave my family at the door, only to be told that I didn’t belong here, that I wasn’t contributing unless I was paying money, unless I was working.”

The rally culminated with the reading of an anonymous statement written by an undocumented student.

“I hope we can take for granted that Yale cannot and does not expect students to work illegally to pay the [student income contribution],” the statement read. “Therefore, the choice is to either make an exception for us or to eliminate the [student income contribution] entirely.”

To make an exception for undocumented students would be inequitable, the statement continued, because it would divide them from peers who have to work hard to fund their education.

On the same day in September when President Donald Trump announced plans to roll back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Salovey vowed in a campuswide email to defend Yale’s undocumented students. The next day, Chun held an open forum for students to air concerns and advised affected students to seek individual legal counsel as soon as possible.

According to the Office of International Students & Scholars website, undocumented students with DACA and a valid employment authorization document can work on campus. The website recommends that undocumented students without DACA contact their financial aid officer to review their aid award and states that such students only qualify for summer fellowships that are not considered compensation for employment.

On its website, the Office of International Students & Scholars documents the latest DACA-related developments on Capitol Hill and urges Yale students and staff interested in renewing their DACA status to consult an immigration attorney.

The total annual student effort — the amount of money all students receiving financial aid are expected to contribute to their education — stands at $4,450 for first-year students and $5,950 for upper-level students in academic year 2017–18.

Jingyi Cui | jingyi.cui@yale.edu