Last semester, I wrote a column for the News arguing that Yale should provide a more equitable financial aid package to Eli Whitney students (“LANDINO: Elis deserve more,” 10/11/18).
Well, this winter break, Christmas came early.
At the end of last semester, Yale unveiled its most significant financial aid expansion plan for Eli Whitney students since 2007, when the University allowed them to be eligible for financial aid in the first place. These reforms make all Eli Whitney students who qualify for need-based financial aid eligible to “receive a housing scholarship in the amount equal to the cost of a standard Yale College room.” In addition, Elis who are also veterans may now “choose to apply for needbased financial aid,” rather than needing to use their GI benefits. Reforming Eli Whitney financial aid coverage to include a housing scholarship will allow Elis to reap more of the benefits that a Yale education offers. Some Elis are part-time students to work in order to pay for their housing, and I suspect this reform will allow more Eli Whitney students to attend Yale full time.
This financial aid expansion is a huge triumph not just for Eli Whitney students, but also for the University. We should all be proud of this reform, and applaud our administrators for it.
But this triumph conflicts with a largely negative narrative of Yale’s shortcomings. I’m not calling for equal airtime for Yale’s successes out of fairness to the University, but no activist effort exists in a vacuum — neither for us, nor for administrators. A success on the financial aid front, for example, can easily lead to further successes for broader financial aid reform. As such, I believe that we should applaud Yale for its triumphs even as we highlight its shortcomings. Doing so will serve as fuel for broader activist efforts, and prevent fatigue in the fight.
Nevertheless, praising Yale hasn’t exactly been in vogue. We’ve seen News’ View articles criticizing Yale for its inaction on our hostile sexual climate and flyers posted on campus claiming that “Yale is complicit” in the heat of the Brett Kavanaugh trial. All of this happened, by the way, on the heels of a YCC presidential debate that sparked a campus-wide discussion about whether or not Yale is institutionally racist.
And so, rather than seeming praiseworthy, these events indicate that our University is painfully failing its students — and that it is unwilling to consider student criticism.
This critical narrative pushes the notion that unless we make giant leaps forward, all is for naught. There is an all-or-nothingness to the issues Yale is criticized for that makes it unacceptable to do anything but completely solve those issues or give up entirely. For ex ample, asking “Is our university institutionally racist?” is a massive issue that simply cannot be solved in one fell swoop. To be clear, the hope is to eradicate institutional racism in the long-term, but smaller steps may need to come first — and be applauded when they do.
The same goes for sexual climate. Making the claim that Yale does not adequately protect us from hostile sexual environments demands that we remain outraged until Yale solves every facet of our campus’s sexual climate. While that should be the goal, we need to remember that it won’t happen overnight.
This all-or-nothing line of thinking means that student activists can’t take a single breath until all of these hugely significant topics — like institutional racism and a toxic sexual climate — are entirely solved.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t aim to solve these problems. But this is a destructive way to look at student activism. Although Yale certainly deserves to be criticized for its failures, if we focus solely on Yale’s faults, student activism can feel depressingly futile. And when students feel like their activist efforts are not being taken seriously by the administration, it’s easy to lose steam and disengage.
It’s time to remodel what successful student engagement means. Successful activism can’t be measured in terms of mile-long jumps. We need to be content with slower, less sexy methods of reform so that we don’t become jaded with our ability to influence policy reform at Yale. This isn’t a take what- we-can-get proposal. Rather, I’m arguing for a kind of gradualism when it comes to student engagement. We need to take adequate time to praise the university for any progress it makes, whether that be a small reform to a financial aid policy that’s been long overdue, or an ambitious redesigning of the way the University addresses sexual climate on campus.
This isn’t to say that small triumphs should be satisfactory in lieu of bigger change. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite: small triumphs should reinvigorate the energies we direct to activism on broader issues. Seeing activism through this lens can help us stay inspired to make change, and motivated to push for it.
SAMMY LANDINO is a sophomore in Hopper College. Contact him at email@example.com .