My name is Karissa McCright ’21, and I pay the Student Income Contribution. As a first-generation, low-income student, I am no stranger to work — I’ve had two jobs since I was 16. I am also no stranger to the idea that I must “contribute” to my education in ways other than academics: I paid for every AP test, SAT, SAT subject test and ACT on top of the cost of sending my test scores to colleges. In my senior year of high school, my Christmas present from everyone was helping cover my college application fees. So when I came to Yale and yet again was told that I have to contribute financially toward my education because I’m poor, I accepted it as normal.
That is, until my suitemate asked me to talk about the SIC and presented me with this radical idea: My student contribution is me, me being a student here. Me succeeding academically, doing awesome extracurriculars and performing undergraduate research. Yale is Yale because of its students. How am I supposed to be a student when I am working 17 hours a week? How am I supposed to be competitive for medical school when I can’t work in a lab and instead work elsewhere to cover my SIC? How am I supposed to feel like I belong on this campus when the administration tells me that I do not belong unless I contribute financially in a way that Yale doesn’t ask of students who are not on financial aid?
As a first year, I worked 20–25 hours on the weekends at Chili’s in East Haven as a server. I would cram my assignments in during the week, all because I spent my weekends dealing with rude customers who seemed to think that Chili’s was the equivalent of a five-star restaurant.
I even served my teaching assistant for biology once — a situation that was a little weird and embarrassing. He asked me why such a smart girl like me was wasting her time waiting tables when better, on-campus lab opportunities were available. That comment was classist to begin with, but his underlying question was why I would choose a job like this one. The truth is that while serving as a waitress is mentally and physically exhausting, the money is amazing if people actually decide to tip you. (On that note, tip your servers!) I had to work this job because it was the only way I could make enough money to pay my SIC. The idea that students would need to prioritize concern for money above academic endeavours was foreign to him, but this choice is a constant in my life.
Unfortunately, most of the on-campus jobs I was qualified for as a first year only offered about four to five hours a week. I can’t pay my SIC, and my car payment, and my car insurance, and my phone bill on top of buying Christmas gifts for my family and being able to save for medical school on four to five hours a week.
The updated financial aid website claims that 60 percent of students have an on-campus job, and that those who work to pay the SIC only work an average of five hours a week, one hour more than the average student without the SIC. This isn’t a coincidence. Five hours a week, it happens, is literally the maximum hours you can work per week for the majority of on-campus jobs. These statistics don’t consider all the students who have to work off campus jobs because on-campus jobs aren’t providing them with enough hours.
Last semester, I worked two on-campus jobs, one in Sterling Chemistry Lab as a lab technician and one in the Timothy Dwight College dining hall. I was limited to working four hours per week as a lab tech, which is why I took on the second job. This semester, the dining hall needed extra help and offered me more hours, around 17 per week. But because the maximum amount of hours for an on-campus jobs is 19 per week, I had to make the difficult choice between a lab job that would look awesome for medical school but didn’t offer me enough hours and a dining hall position that would give me enough hours but did nothing for my medical school application. The bottom line is that I had to choose between being competitive for medical school and paying my SIC. Watching my peers become more competitive for medical school in ways that I cannot, simply due to my background, continues to make me feel inferior.
The students that Yale expects to cover the SIC and “contribute towards their education” are people in lower socioeconomic classes, who are disproportionately people of color. These are students whose hard work and determination have already overpowered the systematic obstacles that society has placed in their way to prevent them from reaching the highest level of academic rigor. I contribute my ideas in the classroom, my time to extracurriculars, my love to my friends and my voice to this campus. I contribute. Yale promised me full financial aid, but I have yet to see it. What eliminating the SIC means is simple, but powerful: Every student should have the freedom to take full advantage of this campus, to feel like we all belong.
Karissa McCright is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at email@example.com