“Just walk through that door and go up the stairs,” one of the dining hall workers assures me. I’m skeptical, largely because the door says “EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY, ALARM WILL SOUND IF DOOR IS OPENED.”
But, I mean, when you’re promised lunch with Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun, sometimes you’ve got to break the rules. I mentally prepare myself to ruin lunch for everyone in the Trumbull dining hall as I edge open the door but am greeted by silence and a set of stairs soaked in shadows.
Eventually, I find the room. As Dean Chun sits down amidst a handful of students, the volley of question and answer begins, friendly at some points and frustrated in others. One of the girls asks about the Student Income Contribution and whether the administration has made progress on the issue. Visibly frustrated about President Peter Salovey’s recent remarks that student employment is good for building student confidence and self-reliance, as well as statements that “no one is forced to work since students can take out loans,” she pushes back against Dean Chun and his office.
As the anger mellows, I ask Dean Chun to clarify what exactly the student income contribution is. Is it, as most students think it is, money that Yale has and would give in financial aid but takes away to encourage work? Or is it money that Yale wouldn’t give you in financial aid anyways and an arbitrary term they use to divide up the money that you would be paying regardless?
If what Dean Chun said to me that Friday afternoon is true, then it is the latter. The student income contribution means that Yale was going to give you $60,000 in aid anyways and then arbitrarily divides up the remaining $6,000 or so into parent and student contributions. It’s not that they were going to give you $60,000, then reduced it to $55,000 so that they could label the reduction the student income contribution.
The lunch continued, with issues like extended dining hall hours coming up. Over the next hour, I listened to Dean Chun express his own frustration with Yale’s inability to enact certain changes. He explains to us that extending dining hall hours is almost impossible due to the union contract and would cost too much. Yale Dining already runs at a deficit because a college our size should only have three dining halls.
More often than not, the Yale administration paints Yale College students as a tidal wave of unjustified anger, over issues from dining hall hours to the student income contribution to the renovation of Commons. But our anger is about more than these issues — it’s about the administration’s unwillingness to engage with us on them, answering our concerns directly. Aside from sparsely publicized town halls and lottery-based lunches with the Dean, few of us get answers to our questions from Dean Chun or his office, which handles everything related to Yale College. If you don’t want us to be angry, provide us with facts and answers to our questions, rather than treating us as children who are angry for nothing.
Some ways that the Yale College Dean’s Office could approach direct communication with students include college-wide emails with facts and explanations or regularly scheduled town halls. Dean Chun’s job is by no means easy, filled with both just and unjust criticism on the part of frustrated students. But providing students with facts about the issues that affect us and explaining hot-button issues would likely alleviate that line of fire, making things easier for his office and Yale students at large.
A stellar example of this is Provost Ben Polak’s Yale-wide email sent this Thursday, in which he thoroughly outlined infrastructure projects that Yale is currently pursuing, specifically underground ones. I, for one, took interest in finally getting information about the Schwarzman Center, especially in specifics of what spaces it will have and what it will be used for, a question that has largely been responded to with silence. (The email was also a work of art on its own, ending with, “We celebrate the parts that rise above the surface, but some of our greatest treasures are hidden underground.”)
The majority of Yale College students will graduate without having lunch with the Dean, or having to push through an emergency exit door to do so. However, if the Dean’s Office commits to transparency and head-on engagement with the student body, then maybe this campus will be filled with less anger, fewer myths and more fact-based dialogue. It’s high time we brought facts and dialogue out of the shadows.
Katherine Hu is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .