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Addressing Class at Yale | The Nation

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Addressing Class at Yale

Yale University

A carved brick at Yale University (Marc_Smith/Flickr)

This opinion column was originally published by the Yale Daily News.

Recently the Peer Liaisons created a Tumblr called Class at Yale. On the site, they ask Yale students to anonymously submit responses of fifty words or less to the question, “What are your feelings about class at Yale University?” Over the last week, the blog received over sixty responses on topics ranging from financial aid to clothing choices. Although still small in scope, the Tumblr indicates that as a campus we’re starting to get better at talking about class. Now it is time to start looking for concrete results.

President Salovey asked us to consider discussing class more in his freshman address last August, calling the topic one of the few remaining taboos at Yale: “The uncomfortable conversations that you will certainly have—in Commons or in your common room—represent opportunities for true understanding and true friendship with classmates whose families are far different from your own.”

The conversation about class has been growing. Student publications have put out a markedly large number of articles on financial aid and income differences on campus. Now, the Class at Yale page has moved the conversation to a public online forum.

The Tumblr has done a good job of highlighting the varied perspectives Yale students have on class, displaying responses from students of different socioeconomic statuses. But reading through the fifty-word remarks, I couldn’t help but wonder about the ultimate goal of all this discourse. Was it to make people feel more comfortable when issues of class arise? Or simply to recognize the discomfort that class evokes?

Some of the opinions voiced on the Tumblr address these questions. And it seems that everyone has different answers. One post suggested that talking about class doesn’t dispel tensions—it forces us to acknowledge harsh realities: “It’s so important to have this kind of open dialogue about it, because without dialogue, we’re all just living in this fairy tale that we share the same background. We don’t.”

Another anonymous user echoed a sentiment similar to Salovey’s freshman address: “This blog, I believe, is not meant to be a place for complaining, but a place at which people can help each other understand their differences without taking for granted what each person has gone through.” Posts on the Tumblr cited a wide range of other reasons to talk about class, including improving the discourse around New Haven’s poverty, changing the way class discussions are frequently reduced to a rich-poor conflict and calling out “entitled rich-kid behavior at Yale.”

All of these thoughts are reasonable. But it’s time to start explicitly discerning what our long-term goal is in intentionally shifting the class conversation. We can, and should, make our discussions on socioeconomic status more focused.

Last year, the student activist group Students Unite Now circulated a petition asking the university to build a center with resources for low-income students where honest discussions on class could take place, a concept similar to the cultural houses. Right now seems like the prime time for Yale to do this. Students have been discussing class much more than they were even ten months ago. It’s time for more serious conversations that include faculty and administrators.

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Yale appears to be making a commitment to improving the college experience for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The Freshman Scholars at Yale program was started in an attempt to ease the transition to college for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It seems to have been very successful and will presumably be continued in future years. Salovey’s remarks on class were also a step in the right direction, even if they were accompanied by a strange remark somewhat dismissing the time commitment of term-time employment: “Gone are the days when students spent many hours waiting tables.”

Campus publications, the Freshman Scholars program and Salovey’s speech have effectively forced discussion on socioeconomic status at Yale. The posts accumulated by the Class at Yale Tumblr are a testament to this, and it is critical that safe spaces like this blog exist. But Yale needs to find a way to solidify its commitment to providing resources alleviating disparities between students. Opening a center for class is a logical next step.

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