Last Thursday, Students Unite Now hosted a Town Hall on the Student Income Contribution. We spent hours sharing stories about the costs the SIC has on our lives and why Yale needs to eliminate it. I was there. Over 200 other students were there. The administration was not.

Sharing your story is hard. It is hard to speak openly about being low-income at Yale, about our experiences of racism, our struggles with mental health, the opportunities we miss out on, the hard choices we have to make. It is hard partly because Yale has a culture of high expectations: all of us, to some extent, feel like we have to be perfect — always engaged, always happy, always productive — to belong here. These expectations fall more harshly on low-income students of color. We have already had to overcome structural obstacles to get here, and we know that we have to keep working extra hard to meet those expectations while we’re here — those structural obstacles haven’t gone away. Though Yale promises an equal-opportunity campus, those obstacles persist in many forms, including the SIC. We feel the same pressure to be as perfect as our white, wealthy peers do, but we have to fight harder to meet those expectations.

At the Town Hall, I spoke about my struggles with mental health, a story I have always felt I had to hide because it makes me feel like I fall short of these expectations. I am a working-class student of color with depression. I struggle to do homework, participate in extracurriculars and spend time with friends, as I constantly fight incapacitating feelings of worthlessness and exhaustion. My three years at Yale have been isolating and lonely. I feel ashamed to speak honestly about my depression, fearing I will be seen as worthless and pathetic for struggling on campus. The Student Income Contribution exacerbates the way I feel by telling me I have to have “skin in the game”— that I have to prove my worth to belong here, while my wealthy, white classmates do not. I’ve spent all my time at Yale feeling like I have to hide what I go through from everyone.

To stand in front of a crowd of more than 200 people and admit that I have depression was terrifying. Even my family did not know about some of the experiences I shared. Giving that speech was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done at Yale. I was going up against years of pressure to hide my struggles, and that made me incredibly anxious. In the hours leading up to the Town Hall, I ran the words over and over again in my head, wondering if I would be able to say them.

Looking out at the people in that room made me realize I could. I was releasing the burden of years of hiding my everyday struggles, and because more than 200 of my friends and classmates came out to support me, I felt heard. I had a community in that room, a group of people who were listening to my experiences, who saw I was hurting and wanted to build a better campus for me and for everyone. I was no longer alone.

Many other people spoke about their experiences with the SIC, telling stories just as difficult to share as mine. This made me wonder where President Peter Salovey’s priorities lie. The administration can call the SIC whatever it wants, but after listening to our stories, no one could argue that it is fair: we know that it has costs on all our lives because we have lived them. If President Salovey had been at our Town Hall, he would know this too.

We first invited President Salovey to our Town Hall in early February. He refused. In the following weeks, we collected over 1,000 letters asking him to reconsider. Over 1,000 students and allies chose to send an individual letter because we understand the impact of the SIC. This matters enough to us that we chose to speak up about it, even though we are busy, even though it is hard. President Salovey’s absence makes me feel like this doesn’t matter to him. It makes me feel like me and my communities don’t matter to him.

I know where my priorities lie. They lie with my friends and my classmates and building a better Yale for all of us: a Yale without the Student Income Contribution, where low-income students of color can participate fully. This is the Yale we were promised, the Yale we love and believe in, the Yale we deserve.

I know it doesn’t end here. Our Town Hall was one step forward, and we have more to do. I also know it won’t stop being hard to speak up. Every time, I will feel terrified. But I can do it because I know I am not alone. We are not alone. More than 1,000 people sent letters supporting our campaign. More than 200 people listened to me and my friends last Thursday. We are fighting for full financial aid. Our priorities lie with each other.

Where do Yale’s?

Jake Diaz  is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at jacob.diaz@yale.edu .

  • Calvin Jones

    Sad to say but it is much harder for students to avoid feelings of worthlessness and depression when they are at a university that is just too hard for them. I have to think that the sudden explosion of college students who need mental health services is partly a function of too many such students in the wrong school.

  • Bonnie DeRooy

    I commend your strength in sharing your story Jake. I know how hard it can be to admit and own depression. The next step is to own it and to manage it.
    You have worked very hard and achieved so much or you wouldn’t be where you are today, remember that and acknowledge that for yourself when you feel the deck is stacked against you.
    I know a Yale grad who had to do just that… they came to the University from broken homes, after the death of a parent and having to work their way through high school while achieving 4.+ GPA along with strength and resilience that would carry them through every obstacle put before them. They struggled to earn the SIC but gained valuable experience in the process. They struggled to fit in where some students’ allowance likely exceeded their parent’s yearly income. But they didn’t let that stop them from sucking all the experience Yale had to offer.
    It is a hard truth that life beyond Yale is quickly approaching for you and the real world won’t care or give allowance for your story. You will be expected to perform along with all the others and you may want to seek help from Yale’s mental health services, speak to career counselors, make all the connections you can with your peers and use them as the tools they are to build yourself up.
    The SIC is there to provide you an opportunity to prove what you’re made of, to sharpen your character and to help you appreciate what an opportunity you have in your scholarship to excel beyond your wildest dreams. Good luck to you and keep telling your story but, add to it an ‘even through this struggle…’ story!

  • ShadrachSmith

    Self-pity parties rarely draw crowds beyond the whiners.