Over 50 percent of students at Yale receive financial aid from the University. On top of that, one in eight students will be the first in their family to graduate from a four-year college. The University consistently prides itself on the financial resources it makes available to these students, who are anything but a minority — while these resources are invaluable, they often only deal with the tip of the iceberg. Yale, in many cases, is ignoring some of the most fundamental resources that first-generation and/or low-income, or FGLI, students like us need in order to thrive.
Oftentimes, we feel as if breaking the cycle means shedding our FGLI identities. A core example of this is on-campus recruitment efforts at top consulting and finance firms, initiatives that only allow small numbers of FGLI students to access social mobility. While a great opportunity, efforts like these fail to disrupt the systems of power that disadvantage FGLI students in the first place. Rather, it asks us to reinforce the current system, accepting that inclusion solely means inhabiting spaces of power while leaving our communities behind, playing into the cycle that disadvantaged us in the first place. For many, opportunities like these are often seen as the only option for FGLI students to truly thrive at Yale, in large part due to lack of administrative support.
Yet communities built by shared experiences and socioeconomic backgrounds are crucial for students like us. At the end of the day, those communities are what got us to and will get us through Yale. The culture at Yale, both from the administration and from our fellow students, pushes us to remain silent about our financial situations. On campus, discussing the class divide, for instance, never breaks past the shallow surface of poking fun at the Canada Goose jackets that slowly emerge as the weather drops below freezing. This is due in large part to a history of neglect by the administration, which often fails to provide resources that enable the FGLI community to exist visibly on campus. We don’t just need more financial aid, grants or fellowships. Instead, we need programs that help us navigate the grants and fellowships that have already been made available. We need to stop assuming that just because FGLI students were admitted to Yale, they are equipped to navigate the world of immense privilege into which they have suddenly been dropped.
Too often, the burden for successfully navigating Yale is put on students who haven’t been prepared to do so. One of these burdens includes building a FGLI community on campus to support our fellow students, a burden that is made more difficult by the lack of a physical center dedicated to FGLI students. Attempts to ask for a FGLI community space larger than our sole room in Saybrook have been denied by the administration. Larger-scale changes we’d like to see implemented also include a financial aid officer dedicated to addressing our concerns and needs, as well as FGLI advisers to help students navigate the maze of being a first-generation college student.
We ask for these resources because the needs of FGLI students are uniquely different from the needs of any other community on campus — they cannot be sustainably ignored. While steps are currently being taken in the right direction, we cannot wait any longer. Being low-income or a first-generation student shouldn’t be an identity that has to be hidden — it should be celebrated. Communities aren’t built and strengthened when resources and power structures pull members away from their communities. It’s long overdue for Yale to offer the support that FGLI students need most.
It was only last year, following the creation of The Community Initiative (an umbrella program dedicated towards supporting FGLI students through Woodbridge Hall), that any serious administrative support for the FGLI community even existed. As such, it’s no surprise that the FGLI community isn’t stronger or more present on campus. When we’re expected to work hard in our classes, juggle on-campus jobs and manage our extracurricular commitments, it’s difficult to also create and maintain student-run networks of support and resources — not to mention engaging in on-campus activism to make sure our voices heard. But what we’ve learned is that this fight is crucial — when we fight to make our voices heard, we make important gains such as the Silliman textbook library. However, we can’t be expected to fight for every small thing we need to thrive. Simply being at Yale doesn’t level the playing field. For access to opportunities to be truly equal for all, students, administrators, professors and students all need to do their part.
On the smallest level, this looks like professors and faculty actually taking the time to explain what office hours are, rather than assuming that their students already know. It also means not announcing in lectures that students “should have learned this in high school.” Students at Yale, and FGLI students in particular, arrive with differing levels of preparedness, meaning that assumptions of prior knowledge can alienate disadvantaged students and discourage them from actually seeking help.
When we first arrived at Yale, we struggled to find a community that understood our experiences as FGLI students, communities that we felt truly at home in. Even as we begin our senior years, this is just now becoming a fact that we are fully comfortable with. Our hope is that incoming first years will be able to discover this wonderful family earlier than we did, that they will be able to claim this campus for their own. For any students that identify as FGLI or want to learn more about different FGLI-affiliated groups on campus, please come meet our community at the Fall Community Dinner. It will be held at St. Thomas More on September 3rd at 6:30pm, where we’ll be waiting for you with open arms.
Paige Swanson is a senior in Pauli Murray College. Neche Veyssal is a senior in Berkeley college. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively. All executive members of FLY contributed to this piece.