Yale Daily News

Club running team president Marcus Lisman ’25 is always thinking about how to make the sport more financially accessible — and with the Yale College Council’s new $10,000 extracurricular grant, current and future members will be able to subsidize the additional expenses of club sports. 

For decades, students have criticized the lack of institutional support to ease the financial burden of campus activity. The YCC grant, which was announced to the student body on Feb. 1, aims to mitigate some financial boundaries by helping first-generation and low-income students afford the hidden fees that come with engaging in some extracurriculars. 

“Being able to race with friends and have those experiences have been a huge part of my Yale memories [and] I certainly believe that everyone should get that chance if they want it,” Lisman said. “I think the grant from the YCC is a great addition to pay for smaller costs like these that the club cannot cover.”

Through the grant, students who identify as FGLI can make requests for up to $25 at a time for anything applicable to their extracurricular pursuits, including dues, equipment and symposium, conference and tournament fees. The YCC does not verify where the funds go, nor do they verify that students are FGLI —  the grant operates on an honor code system.

After learning that many student organizations do not have the internal infrastructure to cover costs for their financially disadvantaged members, YCC President Leleda Beraki ’24 and YCC Vice President Iris Li ’24 began creating a source of funding to break down financial barriers for students.

“Yale prides itself on continuing to build a diverse campus,” Beraki wrote in an email to the News, “but it has to be about more than just getting students here — the question this University struggles to answer is how do you provide structural support to the many identities this space holds? Although financial aid exists to cover academic and boarding expenses, there is a lot more that is promised to students as a part of the Yale experience.” 

Beraki and Li also hoped that this fund would show the University not only that a grant like this is necessary for the success of all students on campus, but that it should become an institutionalized resource. 

Lisman explained that the club running team often finds itself unable to fully accommodate the financial needs of each of its members. Even with current dues payments and support from the club sports office — which pays for lodging and travel along with some additional costs — still lack coverage.

Senior Associate Dean of Yale College and Associate Vice President of Student Life Burgwell Howard said he was happy to hear about the creation of this grant, stating that the YCC’s effort in addressing administrative gaps in financial support can fill in gaps of accommodations that the University itself does not cover. 

Although Yale does have a “Safety Net” program that can cover emergency costs such as winter clothing, medical expenses, or immediate travel expenses, many extracurricular fees do not qualify for funding under the program, Howard explained. 

Additionally, in the 2018-19 school year only approximately 50 percent of funding requests to the Safety Net program were granted. Some rejected requests were instead offered a “small personal financial loan” to meet the student’s need, according to the Yale Safety Net website.

We seek to address the most critical and unanticipated issues and expenses as quickly as we can … [with a] driving factor [being] demonstrated financial need,” Howard continued, noting that decisions are allegedly made with input from Undergraduate Financial Aid and other key stakeholders who may have information on the particular expense. 

The process, however, has raised questions among students who have had their requests denied and who raised eyebrows at the transparency of the system. Generations of FGLI students at Yale have grappled with the struggle.

Patricia Melton ’83 believes that activism of student groups is an instrumental force in amplifying the voices of low-income students and effecting change in overall University culture. 

Although I was an independent student, 1st Gen and FGLI terms did not exist and thus the challenges for these populations were not recognized,” Melton wrote to the News. “The number of PELL qualified and low-income students on the Yale campus were quite small and the culture at that time embraced an assimilationist lens — that of blending into the majority population. One relied on either the college dean’s office for support or one’s circle of friends and family to fill the financial gap.”

She recalled signing up for psychology experiments and borrowing money during her time at Yale to account for incidentals and extracurricular expenses. Melton is now looking forward to seeing how the YCC’s new project will expand access to all elements of the University for FGLI students.

First-generation college student Alexander Kayne ’94, who represented Branford College in the YCC during his college years, emphasized that navigating clubs is a hidden curriculum and that one’s social status goes beyond simply gaining entry to an institution. 

FGLI students typically do not have the background or family resources to point them in the direction of rewarding extracurricular pursuits, Kayne said. Students with college-educated parents or family members likely have some guidance through the process of attending college, including what extracurriculars to join, whether or not they went to Yale.  

Kayla Wong ’25 took an emergency medical technician training certification last semester, which she would not have been able to afford if not for a scholarship from Yale Emergency Medical Services, a registered undergraduate student organization and a Connecticut-licensed EMS agency.

She urges Yale to consider what costs students can practically afford, especially when considering additional factors such as having a campus job, having parents who work full time and grappling with housing uncertainties. 

For FGLI student Lusangelis Ramos ’25, another important element to consider is that FGLI struggles extend beyond club participation. Hearing about the “insane” conference and tournament costs associated with certain student groups can discourage FGLI students from applying.

Extracurricular spaces are important, as they can allow students to make connections with others and further enrich their college experience,” Ramos wrote to the News. “If the university is striving for equity, then it should also prioritize eliminating the barriers that FGLI students face in all aspects of their college life including extracurricular activities.”

Funding for the extracurricular grant comes from the YCC Senate budget. The YCC Senate overall holds $30,000.

Janalie Cobb is an Audience Editor for the News and a former University staff reporter. She is a junior from Chicago in Davenport College double majoring in political science and psychology.
Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!