A reductive message

The text on the most recent cover of the Yale Alumni Magazine reads, in three descending lines, “Reaching beyond the low hanging fruit,” “Yale College seeks smart students from poor families,” “They’re out there—but hard to find.” This misguided title does a disservice to the article within, which discusses the fact that it is more difficult for the Yale admissions office to engage with potential applicants who don’t attend schools that typically feed into Yale, or who live in areas where Yale isn’t commonly viewed as an achievable goal. It touches on attempts by Yale to bridge this gap, as well as new initiatives and programs meant to prepare students from less rigorous academic backgrounds for the demands of Yale’s course load.

It’s unfortunate, given the admissions office’s apparent intentions—to reach more talented students from low-income backgrounds, and make Yale more accessible—that the cover is reductive to the point that it becomes offensive. People see the cover before they read the article, if they even bother to read it at all. If the school is trying to make itself more approachable to a historically under-represented demographic, the way to do that is probably not to suggest, “it’s pretty darn tricky to find any smart poor kids—but by God, we’re trying!”

That suggestion is especially troubling given that it’s in direct conflict with the article’s claimed goal. The article emphasizes that there are a lot of smart, hard-working students in low-income areas, but that Yale has trouble engaging with them, especially when they live outside of dense urban hotspots. These students are high-achieving; they do have the scores and the GPAs and the extracurriculars. They’re stars, but Yale can’t manage to reach them, or they’re not reaching out to Yale. The reason, at least according to the article, is that Yale doesn’t seem achievable. In other words, it’s too-high-hanging a fruit.

The real problem with the cover is that it only reinforces this image. It makes Yale seem like a place where people need to be persuaded that there really are “smart students from poor families” somewhere “out there,” as though that were some sort of revelation. It makes it seem like Yale isn’t a place where those students from low-income families will be able to fit in, to find a home. Here, it implies, you are wanted for your lack of wealth—because here, that is what will make you notable. It will make you stand out. To me, that sounds frightening.

Yale has plenty of issues regarding class lines and boundaries, but I do believe that there has been a recent, broad, positive push on campus to be more open about wealth. I do think people are talking about class more than they used to, in a different way than they used to; I do believe that we’re beginning to address the socioeconomic disparities on campus in constructive ways. We have a long way to go, and a big part of moving forward will be to build future classes to be more balanced in terms of affluence. That does mean accepting more students from low-income backgrounds—but the way to attract them is by making Yale seem accessible, like a place where they can be celebrated for the people they are and the gifts they bring. It’s not by making them feel unusual for their class. It’s not by identifying them by their money. It’s not by making them feel like numbers. Or fruit.