COVID-19 has left a devastating mark on our country: Over 400,000 Americans dead, an economic crisis rivaling the Great Recession and unprecedented stay-at-home orders have changed lives immeasurably over the course of a year. College students across the country find themselves in unrecognizable situations, with many forced to take online classes from home, and those with the opportunity to live on campus facing stringent restrictions.
Yale has risen to the immediate challenge of providing improved online classes and facilitating on-campus housing for the majority of the student body. The effects of the pandemic, however, are not one dimensional. Students face a plethora of challenges spanning every aspect of their lives, each one affecting their ability to excel in both personal and academic settings. Yale’s Young Democratic Socialists of America, a student group leading an initiative to address this issue, asked students about what they were struggling with and what they needed most in response to the crisis. Here’s how some answered:
“Mental health access. [It’s] really hard to know what resources are available and what you have access to.”
“[The] most pressing issue is [the] value of education. On financial aid, I don’t feel like I’m getting enough for what we’re getting right now during COVID.”
“Medical care in general is super inaccessible. [It] takes forever to get… Medical care for students could be faster. Yale has more than enough money”
Yale is an institution that commands great wealth, connections and power. It states that its purpose is “expanding and sharing knowledge, inspiring innovation and preserving cultural and scientific information for future generations.” We know that Yale is capable of performing awesome feats, and its recent COVID initiatives prove that it’s able to construct a competent pandemic response. However, to truly fulfill its mission, Yale must ensure the comprehensive academic success of its student body, and that means confronting the underlying challenges students face in this trying time. We know that Yale is capable, and as such, we demand that Yale acquire the will to address the following concerns.
First, financial aid: Yale claims that its financial aid office “meets the full demonstrated need of every undergraduate.” What the website fails to mention, though, is that need is demonstrated on Yale’s terms. The coming year’s financial aid application remains unchanged in the face of a pandemic that has changed the financial situations of so many working-class Americans. According to Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Scott Wallace-Juedes, this demand has already been met. However, students interviewed by Yale YDSA in the earlier survey were frustrated by the Financial Aid Department’s lack of transparency and remain confused on how to update financial information outside of the appeals process. Right now, the only hope of demonstrating new financial need for many students is by submitting an appeal to the financial aid office after receiving an offer. Students who submit appeals must write letters pleading with Yale for an adequate offer and evidence of their new financial situation, and, even then, are often rejected. Yale’s endowment grew by $1.2 billion this year. Why isn’t the money going to students who need it most?
If you’re on a leave of absence this semester, Yale’s out-of-touch financial aid policy might not concern you right now. But if you rely on Yale for health insurance, you’re also out of luck. Students who are remotely enrolled right now have limited access to the services provided in the specialty care and hospitalization plan. Those on leaves of absence, in order to receive any coverage at all, spend $7,332 on an unsubsidized affiliate or self-pay coverage plan to receive the services that they would usually get from Yale. This policy disproportionately impacts low-income students, many of whom would be uninsured without health insurance from Yale. Yale has an Academic Travel Rider program, which provides health care to graduate students off campus. The programs in place right now, though, neglect the needs of undergraduate students outside of New Haven. During a pandemic, Yale must prioritize the health of all of its students.
Finally, the pandemic has had devastating impacts on many people’s mental health, illuminating long-standing issues with Yale’s mental health offerings. According to the Yale Mental Health and Counseling website, students who wish to be connected with a provider must first wait up to one week (or longer, if they’re reaching out in the fall) for an intake appointment. After this, they must wait “a few weeks” to be connected to a permanent clinician. Because students may not use MyChart to begin the process of finding a provider, they must endure weeks of waiting, even if their mental health issue is urgent. If Yale has the technology to make these connections so much faster, why subject students to weeks of waiting?
We know that Yale has the capacity to solve these problems, yet they’ve demonstrated over the last year that they won’t do it of their own accord. Without pressure from all of us, Yale will be happy to uphold a dysfunctional status quo.
CAROLINE REED and EDWARD FRAZER are first years in Silliman and Benjamin Franklin Colleges respectively. They are both members of Yale Young Democratic Socialists of America. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.