After two years at Yale, I have learned that move-in never gets easier. When I was a first year, the chaos of move-in meant frantic runs to thrift stores and supermarkets to acquire furniture, climbing more stairs than I ever imagined and being thrown into a group of 15 peers I had never seen for nightly chats about the “Yale experience.” These meetings, receptions and events were overwhelming. To me, Yale was overwhelming.
Yet at the same time, Yale appeared flawless. I felt lucky and honored to be here, and in my first-year mind this university could do no wrong.
Unfortunately, the allure was short-lived for me as a low-income student.
Even though I am on full financial aid, I get charged every semester. Each year, I still owe Yale a hefty sum, even though my FAFSA has determined that my family makes so little that we should not have to pay Yale. Yale has a million names for this circumstance. I call it the Student Income Contribution. In recent years, Yale has dubbed it the “Student Share” or the “Student Employment option.” The point is that I am responsible for a cost unique to those receiving financial aid. And so, my only option is to work.
I was hired to work events such as Mellon Forums and College Teas, events that Yale is proud to offer to its students. I feel both trapped and embarrassed working these events. I came here to be a student. Instead, after class, I slip into my loose khakis, worn-out dress shoes and black polo to go to work as my suitemate takes an afternoon nap. As the events begin, I stand on shift while my peers indulge in cheese, dessert and insightful conversation. After the event is over and everyone leaves, I stay to clean up after the students and guests and make sure the Head of College’s house is ready for the next event. By the time I get to the library to begin studying, my peers are finishing up and going to bed.
What strikes me most is the indignity of the divide: who gets to be a student and who has to work. As it turns out, getting into Yale was not enough to escape where people believe I belong: working. As a non-white, working-class Latino man, Yale expects me to work. And moreover, the money I make goes right back to the university. I work to make the magic happen for my peers.
This year, I frantically moved all my stuff into my room early to get back to work — preparing for the first years to arrive. All my days were focused on fun for the first years: move-in, first-year reception and other camp Yale activities. At the end, I was overwhelmed, overworked and under-appreciated.
I have grown incredibly close to my friends at Yale and love the communities that surround me. However, the student income contribution still divides us.
As classes begin, I know that this divide is already beginning to take place. Those who are on financial aid will have to work. Those who are on financial aid will have to pay. Until Yale eliminates the Student Income Contribution, students on financial aid will continue to feel disrespected, unsupported and unwelcome at Yale. That’s how I feel.
Josh Diaz is a junior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .