Despite my current professional position, I have a pretty shitty laptop, but it’s one I’m honestly pretty happy with. I carry around a Dell that I have to have open at a 110-degree angle in order to see anything on my screen; otherwise, the screen goes dark. Despite having had it for a couple of years, it hasn’t gotten noticeably slower until very recently. It has been a faithful pal that has encouraged me with the hype music I needed to complete some of my proudest academic works. It has failed over time, and will probably fail me a few more times before it becomes too inconvenient to use. But it’s a machine — it’s bound to happen.
Using my laptop in the comfort of my home, where I have a strong internet connection and can work on my comfy couch, however, feels very different from using it among all the customized Macs that others use on campus. All of its imperfections — the way the power cord has to be connected to an outlet so that I can turn on my computer, the flickering screen, the broken sides, the USB Wi-Fi I rely on for internet connection — suddenly become more noticeable. The sharp contrast in quality turns the comical descriptor “shitty” into an objective one. A couple of months ago, I was in a meeting with a co-worker (a Mac bearer) when I began experiencing internet issues while attempting to access a shared Google Doc. As I shared this observation, they replied, “Oh yeah, a Dell will do that to you.” With that brief statement, my computer shifted from my beloved tool to a resented barrier.
For those ready to comment on sensitivity — it’s not about the comment, it’s about the assumption. Hear me out. Yes, my computer sometimes doesn’t connect because of poor connection ability, and it is likely that my computer has this issue more often than Macs — but sometimes it’s simply because the Wi-Fi is spotty.
Here’s the thing — while I am the only one with my shitty Dell in sight, it is extremely unlikely that this thought will occur to me unless a Mac is also having issues. People with Macs rarely encounter this insecurity because Macs are supposed to be “superior.” Regardless of the truth in that statement, it is a perception instilled into anyone who owns a laptop. If the Wi-Fi connection is poor, a Mac user is much more likely to assume that there’s a problem with the Wi-Fi rather than their actual computer. It would probably take someone else saying that their connection is fine for them to consider, “Oh shit, maybe there’s something wrong with my computer.”
Too often, low-income students at Yale are seen as falling-apart Dell apparatuses that, despite the odds of their limited performance, somehow managed to remain useful. In the sea of Macs, low-income students are too often characterized by their “deficiencies,” and as a low-income alum, it is hard not to adopt that mentality. Often this complicated background is what we highlight to advocate for ourselves and our accomplishments. But this perception can lead people to automatically assume that problems regarding our ability to thrive here lies within low-income students themselves, flawed Dell computers that can be repaired with enough work. And as a result, people fail to consider Wi-Fi quality, the surrounding social and cultural environment that influences the quality of relationships and conversation for everyone, Dells or Macs — when attempting to adequately support FGLI students.
Ensuring that low-income students belong and are appropriately supported requires a serious, needed and long overdue consideration of the quality of resources, social culture and institutional structure of this campus. Currently, this university is not prepared to support the increasing number of FGLI students because it is not making an active self-assessment. It does not explicitly question its role in this relationship (if it recognizes it at all). Yale University is and has always been an elite institution of higher education, whose original purpose was to prepare wealthy, white male students to become global leaders. A failure to recognize this history and how it continues to influence the environment today distorts the conversation, presenting Yale as a benevolent benefactor to needy students. It limits its understanding to the individual FGLI student, leaving no room to ask, “How can we, as an institution, change? How can Yale create social and cultural change to adapt to its changing student body?”
I love the FGLI community here — it is why I am still around, busier than ever. There is nothing more beautiful that I have witnessed during my time here than to see another FGLI student open up in all of their beauty, confidence and wisdom. The communities these students represent, sometimes for the first time on campus, provide perspective in unimaginable colors. Don’t get me wrong; that journey can come with a lot of struggle, and for some their upbringing encompasses a lot of pain, sacrifice and trauma that is best left in the past. But, as a good friend once said to me, we are strong and wise not despite of our experiences but because of them. FGLI students need a platform to express all of this — the good and the bad — with the space and time that the conversation warrants. If Yale truly and genuinely wants to support these students appropriately and to its full capability, their identities cannot be simplified to social misconceptions — especially in an elite space like this.
Written on my shitty, faithful Dell companion.
José Yobani López Sánchez graduated from Yale College in 2018 and is a current Woodbridge Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .