Yale junior Josh Diaz sees no reason he ought to have to work a bursary job as a student at Yale, while other students from wealthy families, whose parents are paying $72,100 this year, do not.
I was hired to work events such as Mellon Forums and College Teas, events that Yale is proud to offer to its students. I feel both trapped and embarrassed working these events. I came here to be a student. Instead, after class, I slip into my loose khakis, worn-out dress shoes and black polo to go to work as my suitemate takes an afternoon nap. As the events begin, I stand on shift while my peers indulge in cheese, dessert and insightful conversation. After the event is over and everyone leaves, I stay to clean up after the students and guests and make sure the Head of Collegeâ€™s house is ready for the next event. By the time I get to the library to begin studying, my peers are finishing up and going to bed.
What strikes me most is the indignity of the divide: who gets to be a student and who has to work. As it turns out, getting into Yale was not enough to escape where people believe I belong: working. As a non-white, working-class Latino man, Yale expects me to work. And moreover, the money I make goes right back to the university. I work to make the magic happen for my peers.
This year, I frantically moved all my stuff into my room early to get back to work â€” preparing for the first years to arrive. All my days were focused on fun for the first years: move-in, first-year reception and other camp Yale activities. At the end, I was overwhelmed, overworked and under-appreciated.
I have grown incredibly close to my friends at Yale and love the communities that surround me. However, the student income contribution still divides us.
As classes begin, I know that this divide is already beginning to take place. Those who are on financial aid will have to work. Those who are on financial aid will have to pay. Until Yale eliminates the Student Income Contribution, students on financial aid will continue to feel disrespected, unsupported and unwelcome at Yale. Thatâ€™s how I feel.
Mr. Diaz’s attitude would, of course have been absolutely inconceivable to members of earlier classes at Yale. Students from humble backgrounds fortunate enough to have been admitted to this elite college in earlier (and better) days thanked their lucky stars at having been given the priceless opportunity to move upward in the world and were only too happy to work hard to earn it.
I make a practice of reading lots of old novels and memoirs offering accounts of undergraduate life at Yale in different eras. Mr. Diaz would be appalled, I can tell you, to learn what real inequality was like in the 19th Century. Poor boys worked regular jobs and lived in miserable hovels in the New Haven slums, eating the cheapest food and often skipping meals, to get through Yale. People without family money had little opportunity to partake of the pleasures of student life, and poor students were certainly not treated as equals by the rich.
I was recruited to attend Yale by an alumni representative from the Class of 1926. He was a wealthy and successful executive, but he had come to Yale the son of a poor Presbyterian clergyman from New Jersey. He absolutely needed to work his own way through Yale. That meant not just earning a small “student contribution,” but earning the money to pay for his tuition and for his room and board somewhere.
He would have dearly loved, he once confessed to me, to have won a letter on the Yale Football Team, but he simply did not have time off for football practice. He had to work. He somehow managed to win a letter finally in LaCrosse, which apparently involved a much smaller time commitment. He also did not have time for singing groups and he had no money to join fraternities or clubs like Mory’s. He was tapped by no Senior Society. But he did not feel in the least wronged. He was grateful to Yale and devoted to her service all his life. If he were alive to read Mr. Diaz’s editorial, I expect that he would be simply astonished at that gentleman’s perspective and depressed at the changes in values and education that are responsible.
And, oh yes, I had bursary jobs myself. I can remember, for instance, having to get out of bed before dawn to go make toast in Commons. I also bused trays, and loaded the dishwasher. I used to wear a necktie under my white coat and I’d make a point of appropriating a carnation or rose from one of the vases on the tables for a boutonniÃ¨re. I decidedly approved of the bursary job system, and I liked the feeling of doing my bit to pay for being at Yale. I didn’t like getting out of bed early, and I definitely disliked burning my fingers handling hot toast, but I took pride in doing the right thing. Unlike Mr. Diaz, I was quite conscious of the enormous favor Yale was doing me, and I was very much aware that lots of others had had to work before I ever came along.