Confusion spreads after email incorrectly suggests Yale COVID-19 policy uses financial aid as punishment
An email sent by a peer liaison to their group of PLees last Friday incorrectly suggested that students who attend gatherings that break multiple clauses of the community compact — including the 10-person maximum, the mask requirement and the social distancing clause — may have their financial aid offers adjusted or revoked as a form of direct punishment.
“As of now the rule is that if you are caught at a gathering of more than 10 people, not socially distanced and not wearing masks, your financial aid can be revoked,” the email read. “Again the consequence of breaking that aspect of the Community Compact is loss of your financial aid.”
This is false, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd told the News on Saturday. Rather than reducing financial aid to punish students for noncompliance, she said, students who commit serious violations of the Community Compact may be asked to leave campus and their financial aid packages would change accordingly.
“When a student shifts enrollment status mid-semester, as some have already done voluntarily, they receive a new term bill based on a prorated recalculation of their housing and meal costs; their costs will go up or down, based on the direction of the shift,” Boyd explained in an email to the News.
“If the student is on financial aid, their corresponding aid will also be adjusted up or down accordingly,” she continued. “Other elements of a student’s aid offer, including support for travel and technology costs, will not be reduced if the student’s enrollment switches between remote and in-residence.”
The peer liaison declined multiple requests for comment for this article and requested that they remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
Why aid would change
Currently, there is no policy that would allow Yale to alter students’ financial aid as a form of direct punishment. However, a student’s financial aid package may change if they are asked to leave campus.
The aid adjustment for a student who switches from on-campus to off-campus enrollment takes into account the comparatively lower housing and food costs associated with living off campus. Conversely, the adjustment for a student who switches from off-campus to on-campus enrollment takes into account the comparatively higher housing and food costs associated with living on campus.
According to the Yale financial aid website, “students enrolled remotely are expected to have significantly lower living expenses.” For the first semester, a student enrolled in-residence with no financial aid would be billed $37,475 in direct charges, which include tuition, fees, room and board and meal plan, while a student enrolled remotely with no financial aid would be billed $28,875 in direct charges, which only include tuition and fees. Room and meal costs are not billed to students enrolled remotely, Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Scott Wallace-Juedes said.
Wallace-Juedes confirmed that he was “not sure where that email originated or started from” and emphasized that financial aid is “not something that’s used as a punitive measure.”
According to Wallace-Juedes, the only factors considered are “demonstrated [financial] need,” “enrollment status” and “learning location.” When a student leaves campus to study remotely, the “billed expenses [for tuition and fees] are … the same,” he said, while room and board costs are adjusted to reflect the cost of the student’s time in residence.
Confusion among students
By Friday evening, a screenshot of the original email had been shared in residential college group chats. One student, William Garcia ’24, wrote “Equity went right out the … window” in his Davenport College GroupMe chat. Another student, Justice Brown ’24, expressed confusion about the contents of the email. “I’m just wondering where in the Community Compact this is stated,” Brown wrote.
In a GroupMe message obtained by the News, the peer liaison who sent the original email told one student that the supposed financial aid policy existed but was “not written down because the policies are constantly changing.” The peer liaison added that a superior “made it a point to let [peer liaisons] know that policy” at a meeting last week.
There is no mention of financial aid as a potential disciplinary tool in the community compact, which all on-campus students were required to sign before their arrival, nor is there a specific clause allowing for the introduction of new consequences during the semester. Though the compact emphasizes that “guidance and protocols will likely change, sometimes abruptly,” it makes clear that the penalty for defying the compact is a forfeiture of “the privilege of remaining on campus.”
According to students who have now had the situation clarified, the chaotic student response on Friday night may have stemmed from a misunderstanding caused by some combination of two existing Yale policies: the potential for removal from campus and the corresponding change in living costs — and, therefore, financial aid. However, neither of these policies are new, so it remains unclear what prompted the sudden confusion on Friday.
Still, the rumor seriously affected the emotional states of students on financial aid, many of whom felt unfairly or disproportionately targeted by the supposed rule. Some voiced concerns that a rule targeting financial aid would effectively force low-income students to withdraw completely from the University by significantly increasing their required contribution.
Fatoumata Soumare ’24, who is on the zero parent contribution financial aid package, said she already feels a “constant state of pressure” as a first-generation, low-income student. For Soumare, who was “relieved” to hear that Friday’s confusion resulted from a misunderstanding rather than some deeper policy issue, any disciplinary threat to need-based financial aid would have only added to that sense of “panic.”
Lily Dorstewitz ’24, a QuestBridge scholar, shared similar sentiments, explaining that she already experiences enough financial stress on a daily basis. Dorstewitz said that a policy jeopardizing her aid would have caused her to go into “panic mode.”
“I do my best to follow the community compact,” Dorstewitz said. “But it’s different following the community compact to keep everyone safe than following the compact to make sure I don’t lose my scholarship. If I were to do something or get reported for something, there is a concern for me that my scholarship would get taken away. I don’t think that’s founded in any kind of threat or policy on Yale’s behalf, but … I definitely worry about that kind of thing.”
According to the Yale financial aid website, 64 percent of undergraduate students received “financial assistance” during the 2017-18 academic year.
Xavier Blackwell-Lipkind | firstname.lastname@example.org