“If I didn’t want to work, then I should have gone to, like, the University of Alabama or something,” a girl professes loudly as she enters the basement bathroom of the Whitney Humanities Center, her friend laughing as she trails behind her. “Yeah,” the friend responds. “This is Yale,” as if that decidedly concludes the topic.
I look up unabashedly from the sink, soap still lathered up my forearms. It’s 10 minutes before my Directed Studies literature exam, and my mind has been racing with answers to potential questions: What are the characteristics of epic poetry? What is the exact narrative progression of the Iliad? How is Jesus the inheritor of a heroic tradition?
But this conversation made me stop in my tracks — so much so that it actively consumed my thoughts during the grueling three-hour essay exam. This quote might be Sappho. Oh my God, it’s not like the University of Alabama is a bad school. Yeah, definitely Sappho. To call my reaction shock or anger would be an understatement.
I am the first person from my high school to attend Yale and only the second to attend an Ivy League university. Getting into Yale seemed virtually impossible for me when I chose to apply; I grew up in rural northern Michigan, and while I had excellent educators, my underfunded public high school lacked the resources necessary to equip students for an elite education. Many of my classmates could not afford to attend college at all. To attend college was a privilege. To attend Yale? A dream.
When I was accepted to the University of Michigan (my “safety school”) last December, I couldn’t be cavalier; at the exact moment that I opened my letter of acceptance, many of my high school friends received the crushing news that they would not be attending their “dream school.” But more than that, I was excited that I got into the University of Michigan, one of the best public universities in the country, because I recognized that it provided an education I would be proud to receive.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I arrived at Yale, the institution that I spent my high school career obsessing over, just to encounter students making ill-timed jokes about the University of Alabama — or, God forbid — Cornell.
The fact that my peers can look upon an institution like Cornell, which accepted just 10.6 percent of applicants to its class of 2023 and has consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the country, as inherently beneath them frankly disturbs me. That one person could harbor so much hubris that they insist on belittling others’ education choices illustrates that for many students, Yale was not the shot-in-the-dark that it was for me.
To insinuate that public universities or universities with higher acceptance rates are beneath us, unworthy of a Yale student’s time, propagates a toxic culture of elitism along lines of class and ability. It ignores the outstanding accomplishments that occur in institutions of higher education everywhere and fails to recognize the unique privileges that allow many students access to this University, whether that be the ability to attend a private high school, having your high school guidance counselor know where Yale is, or even having a high school guidance counselor. When we refuse to acknowledge and correct for this aspect of Yale’s culture, we support the notion that a system with resources distributed along lines of privilege is normal and fair. As Yale students, many of us will actively benefit from systemic inequality. But to benefit from inequality without acting to dismantle it is to support the continued existence of that inequality, full stop.
It’s time that Yale students, rather than merely “checking their privilege,” actually assume the roles necessary to dismantle it. By making condescending comments about other universities and justifying it through a vote for the Democratic Party every other year or a one-time charitable donation, Yale students are living a double standard that is both deeply hypocritical and deeply unsustainable.
To the student body, I implore you to be both more conscientious of the oft-oppressive systems that permit your presence here. I beg you to be proud of your friends, regardless of their higher education choices, because the opportunity to attend college is not bestowed upon everyone. And, please, I urge you to not merely recognize your privilege. Rather, recognize that the existence of that privilege is morally bankrupt — until you actually do something to dismantle the mechanisms that provided it in the first place. And to the girls discussing the University of Alabama from the WHC basement bathroom? I say, “Roll tide.”
McKinsey Crozier is a first year in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .