I am on almost full aid. I pay more than my parents do to come to Yale, and I’m almost completely financially independent from them.
Being a student on financial aid at Yale is the first thing that I saw myself as when I was coming here. Particularly with how huge the scholarships are and how high the tuition is. None of my friends at home are paying so little for their college tuition back at home, so I feel really grateful in that way.
But I came to Yale feeling like I am totally indebted to this university. I’m just lucky to be stepping foot here.
My first year, I really defined myself as a low-income student. I remember we had to write thank you letters to people who gave us scholarships. I think it was also stressful knowing that I had to get this term-time job, and not having any idea how I was going to do that because I felt like I was drowning in school work. But I saw myself as this low-income student, and like I was being judged as one, and I carried myself that way.
The way the feedback loop worked was that I constantly needed to justify to people how I was different from them— but it’s hard when that difference comes from not having as much money.
Some basic examples of what I mean by this— I didn’t know what the Hamptons were in my freshman year. I remember in the Calhoun dining hall, I asked what the Hamptons were, and people made fun of me. I felt like I had to defend myself— I had to explain, "You don’t understand, I don’t come from that kind of background." And Lulu Lemon- you know what it is? It’s a yoga brand. It’s like $90 for a pair of yoga pants.
I would talk about my home, my background, and being different. It was a feedback loop in the way that other people kept making me feel different, and I kept talking about it more. That’s definitely been a theme in my time at Yale.
Now, I’ve been able to make my background a point of pride that doesn’t need to be explained if I don’t want it to be. There are fewer moments when I feel so different from other people because of my financial background.
I work three jobs: I’m a Peer Liaison at the Native American Cultural Center (NACC), I tutor and am a board member of the Urban Improvement Corps, and I’m also a Master’s Aide for Calhoun. I’m lucky in that I love all the jobs that I do. I love working with freshman, which is why I’m going to be be a Froco.
I had this huge realization recently that I invest the most time in areas that I feel like I’ve been personally wronged in. That’s why I do a lot of stuff with freshman mentorship and urban education. I came from a town with schools that were really poorly resourced, so I feel this huge passion to do something about that. A lot of these jobs, I would do them even if they weren’t paid.
But it definitely influences the amount of time that I can be in the library. I remember feeling so weird in freshman and sophomore years (I started working at the NACC as a Freshman) and I remember thinking...why do I have so little time to be in the library? How is everyone else in the library all the time? But I wasn’t spending as much time with my classwork because I had to do this other stuff. Because that was part of the “deal.”
When you think about the fact that every minute counts at Yale, those are a lot of minutes that I’m not taking care of keeping up my GPA. When you’re already here struggling with problems of self-worth, and then you also don’t have as much time to make sure you’re achieving on the same academic plane as your richer peers, that creates a feedback loop. It’s the feedback loop of self-worth: I’m working, and I already feel like I’m worth less, and I don’t have as much time to study for my exams…
The people that I find the most connection with at Yale are usually low-income, or on financial aid at least. And I think it’s strange to be low-income from a mostly white town, because there are not that many people who are from a rural white area. Being poor and black in a city is different from being poor from a white, rural town. I didn’t struggle as much as some of my friends of color on financial aid. But the way I see myself at Yale, the way I connect with people is that I have more in common with people on financial aid.
I feel like in cities, everyone is in competition for the best schools and people are trying to fight their way up into these great, funded schools that will give them a good education. If anything, coming from a rural background, there was less opportunity to feel like you’re different. At home, there’s only one school. Everyone’s houses are worth nothing, and the school is funded by property taxes, so it had no money. There weren’t camps or museums or places to go to experience different cultures. So I feel like coming from a rural background, you’re just dealt the cards that you’re dealt, and you make what you can out of them, because that’s all that’s possible to do.
Being low-income in a city, you see people that are traveling, people that live in very high-income backgrounds. If you’re from the city, you're exposed to people with wealth in these different kinds of ways. I just wasn’t exposed to wealth like that at all.
When I came to Yale, I had one very specific way I thought about wealthy people. It turned out to be totally limiting and wrong, but this was because I just had no encounters at all with the upper middle-class.
I kind of felt like the NACC was a good place for me because there were a lot of other low-income students there. The NACC people understand me more than other communities might, because I can be real with them.
But when we were doing Peer Liaison training, we broke up into groups based on parents’ education levels. It was really deep. One other NACC PL and I went to the first-gen group, and almost everyone else was in the parent PhD group. People might look at the NACC and say native students all have the same experience, but we just don’t. I just don’t have the same experience as my native, wealthy peers. In the same way, you can’t equate the experiences of students of color with different income backgrounds. With Native students— most of us have these communities back home that are facing really serious income difficulties, and those are very strong ties that pull us in a lot of different directions.