Our Lesser Selves
The student income contribution is really frustrating. I’ve spent almost my entire time at Yale doing work-study, at points working two jobs with a full schedule, and while I have found my work at Yale fulfilling I have never come close to fulfilling the SIC. To make around $3,000 with a $13/hour job: that’s nearly 300 hours, after tax. So sure, there are ways to do the contribution. If you work all year, and all summer. If you work instead of relaxing, studying, doing that n-th extracurricular, or going on even a fully subsidized summer abroad program, it’s possible. The ISA is definitely helpful, but given how much Yale brags about its financial aid department, partial funding for one summer becomes as much a symbol of Yale’s generosity as it is a symbol of Yale’s halfheartedness.
Talking about Money
It is deeply uncool to talk about financial aid except those late night conversations when Yale kids exchange vulnerabilities. Other than that, it is a topic non grata. Nobody wants to be the bummer friend who’s making everything about class. Even if your friends say, “it’s no big deal,” you still sometimes feel low retrograde shame, and imagine that your friends feel low retrograde guilt. And I come from a solidly middle-class community; I imagine some of my classmates' anxieties are more frequent and more painful. Class tensions have been the tribulations that, overcome, made for many of my most cherished friendships. Other times they were fissures that turned into chasms between acquaintanceship and friendship. These fissures are spider-webbed all over Yale’s campus.
In my experience these class tensions are repressed, but bubbling just below the surface. The resentments they elicit often come without warning, and fall upon the closest body that they’ll stick to— like the super nice, well-meaning “prep-school kid” (talk about coded language) who says one tone-deaf thing at a party who, for a group of friends, becomes an allegory for the classist. Of course, everyone misspeaks. No one ever tries to inflame class tensions, and no one can or should be reduced to a single statement or faux pas. But when my financial aid package was being messed with, it was so hard not to think that I was defined by a dollar sign, and that all my peers were defined by dollar signs too. It felt gross and involuntary, which is I imagine part of why people don’t like to acknowledge it.
I would like to think that if kids on financial aid didn’t have our aid packages reduced or taken away, if we weren’t expected to work 300 hours a semester, if we didn’t have to think about being on financial aid all the time, then we would be less quick to judge and make caricatures of some of our more affluent peers. There are these absurd conversations about how “she’s really rich, but she’s so nice.” We have internalized prejudice about rich people being mean or that they deserve a gold star for being decent. Both prejudices are ridiculous. Affluent students didn’t choose their lot any more than financial aid students chose ours. But money anxieties bring out our lesser selves: the less forgiving, less patient, less circumspect people that we are capable of being. It need not be this way. Yale unquestionably has the resources to ease this tension. But does it have the will?