Both Yale’s administration and the media portrayed the story of a small group of ultra-wealthy families paying millions of dollars in bribes to guarantee their children’s admissions into elite colleges — Yale included — as a surprise. But as I followed the news coverage from my dorm room, staying in New Haven because I couldn’t afford a plane ticket home, it felt all too familiar. Yale’s statements that the admissions scandal contradicted its values sounded about as believable as its claims of affordability to all students. Policies that exacerbate the same wealth inequalities drawn to light by the admissions scandal — policies like the Student Income Contribution — exemplify how students on financial aid are further disadvantaged by a system built to keep us out.
The campaign to eliminate the SIC has included firsthand accounts of the SIC’s direct impact on our lives. If these stories begin feeling redundant, good. Let that show how many students at Yale College are affected by Yale’s indifference to our financial situations, how many students do not want to have to constantly fight for their position at this institution, how many students are refusing to let a school with a $29.4 billion endowment put us into debt. Let it represent Yalies who are first-generation, low-income, middle-class, students of color and every other student for which this institution was built to shut out and shut up. Let the fact that these stories are beginning to feel redundant show that we are not going anywhere.
Working at Bass Cafe is one of the best examples I can give for what it feels like to pay the SIC. When my peers need caffeine to fuel them through a late night study session, I’m behind the counter, making their drinks for them. According to Yale’s financial aid website, on-campus work does not divide the student body by socioeconomic class, but I cannot think of anything more divisive than serving my peers while they go off to study as I remain behind the barrier of the countertop. Yale does not want to remove the countertop. Yale threatens that the removal of the countertop would mean shrinking the number of faculty members, students and resources. In fact, Yale does not even want to admit that the countertop is there.
The countertop is a reminder that when my mother was my age and was accepted at the best university in South Korea, she could not afford to attend, settling for a less rigorous school. It’s a reminder that when my father was accepted into college but could not afford to attend, he enlisted in the military. He later revealed to me that it was one of his biggest regrets. Both of my parents made extreme sacrifices when it came to their educations, unable to afford the opportunities they earned for themselves. When I got into Yale, I thought it was my chance to bring my family out of this cycle of sacrifice — but I was rewarded with its very perpetuation. I started working at Bass Cafe without telling my mother. I knew she would tell me to focus on my studies, too proud to admit that we would not be able to afford another semester or a plane ticket home.
Reading about the admissions scandal, I understood that where others benefited from generational wealth, my family inherited sacrifice and struggle. Where my peers inherited the assumption that they would be treated with fairness and respect, I inherited advocating for myself in the Office of Financial Aid because my mother wasn’t taken seriously due to her accent. Many inherited the ability to think that the SIC is not important, or perhaps even not real. Indifference to the injustice of some students paying millions in bribes, while others skip meals, is both a privilege and a choice. For me, attending Yale meant having access to a springboard to an even brighter future beyond these bright college years. Equity, however, means abolishing the barriers — the countertops, the financial aid office stress and everything in between — that prevents students on financial aid from accessing that future in the same way as our peers.
Yale responded to the admissions scandal by positioning the institution as the victim, not the perpetrator. Statements included references to “fairness,” evoking the idea of a functioning meritocracy at Yale to which the scandal is an anomaly. But the existence of the SIC states just the opposite: Only those on financial aid are expected to work, disadvantaging them for up to 19 hours a week. The admissions scandal is a reaffirmation of what students are already told by the SIC. To view the scandal as individual, a problem affecting only wealthy Olivia Jade-types, rather than institutional, is a fatal mistake. Many of us are angry, and rightfully so — but as we return back to campus, we should ask ourselves: What does anger look like when it’s directed in the right places? Now more than ever, our voices are loud, but they must also be clear and direct. As students who believe in an equitable Yale, we demand institutional change, starting with the SIC.
Caitlyn Clark is a first year in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .