When I got into Yale, I was thankful to see that the University was committing to providing me a financial aid package that covered full demonstrated need, ensuring that my family had no expected contribution. There was a slight caveat in the package, however. Yale expected me to work a job as my contribution toward my education as a sort of partnership with the administration. At the time, that seemed more than fair for such a great opportunity. When my parents learned of this, however, they refused to let me work and compromise my time at Yale. As low-income parents, they have always worked harder than they had to in order to provide me with opportunities that they were unable to access. Growing up, my parents invested in me beyond their means to make sure that I had time and space to focus fully on academics, go to robust summer programs and participate in engaging extracurriculars. After being offered the rare opportunity to attend an institution as prestigious as Yale, my parents wanted, once again, to make sure that I could maximize my experience here.
I’m fortunate that my parents value my education so greatly and infinitely grateful that they have been capable of covering the Student Income Contribution on my behalf. But even though I’m technically alleviated of the burden of working alongside my studies, it ultimately comes at the expense of my parents, who were originally promised a zero-contribution package by Yale. Even today, I feel guilty that my parents have to work more to pay my SIC, a guilt that shapes the way I navigate my time at Yale. Things need to be considered through a stricter financial lens: “Am I using my time here productively/profitably?” or “Am I saving enough money?” While semantically it is true that the expected family contribution is zero, the principle of the SIC ignores the emotional desire of parents to support their children, to do more than what is expected. At the end of the day, that is what we low-income students are calling on Yale to do — to rise above the minimum, the expected.
Low-income families like mine actively choose to make sacrifices to invest in their children’s future, sacrifices to which we are anything but foreign. When Yale frames the SIC as a fair agreement, they take advantage of working-class students that are all too familiar with involving themselves with their family’s financial situation. Thus, students on financial aid often either work and compromise their time and energy here, or, like me, feel guilty for shifting that burden onto their family. In either case, the SIC reminds students on financial aid of the class boundaries that vividly divide campus every day. Moreover, the fact that Yale does this so readily and insistently reflects a broader condescension toward working-class people. I find it disappointing that Yale upholds a policy where I am valued as a worker first and a student second. My parents pay my SIC because they have always seen me as a student before my contributions as a worker. Shouldn’t Yale think that, too?
In light of the recent admissions scandal that directly implicated Yale, we are further reminded that class dynamics play a significant role in determining conceptions of who deserves access to and belongs on this campus. For those on financial aid, the SIC unfairly asks us to prove that we belong through work and our willingness to compromise on our Yale experience — our value is explicitly contingent on our financial contributions. In this way, the SIC is counterproductive to the missions of financial aid by forcing low-income students to forfeit our potential here. By stifling academic performance and extracurricular participation, the SIC is a prominent example of Yale’s complicit attitude towards class inequalities that partition our student body, contradicting both the goals of financial aid and Yale’s institutional values of fostering intellectual excellence.
At the Students Unite Now town hall last week, students shared their stories about having to compromise coveted research roles in order to work an hourly wage. Some students revealed that they often can’t attend guest lectures or campus events because of the rigid schedule their work restricts them to. Many others shared that they can’t dedicate as much time to their studies or extracurriculars, falling behind as a result. Countless other experiences were shared in a two-hour town hall where no administrators showed up to listen, despite repeated invitations from over 1,000 students.
The SIC tells low-income students that their financial contributions precede their contributions as intellectuals, creatives, athletes, entrepreneurs, as students. I am able to be the student that I am now because of the sacrifices that my parents have repeatedly made throughout my life. For many low-income students, we are only here because our family believed in us, first. I urge Yale to believe in us too.
Jack Huang is a junior in Benjamin Franklin College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org