Yale's alumni magazine has an unfortunate cover this month:
"Reaching Beyond the Low-Hanging Fruit," the cover line reads. Then, "Yale College seeks smart students from poor families. They're out there—but hard to find."
The most immediately obvious problem with the cover, of course, is that it casts poor students as fruit to be picked, as desirable consumer goods, rather than fully formed, intrinsically valuable human beings.
Another problem is subtler but possibly more upsetting for the magazine's intended audience: Yale graduates. Saying smart, low-income students are "out there" implies that they're not "in here"—as in, they're not part of the Yale community already. They're on the outside, waiting to be let in.
This is a message that low-income students at elite schools already receive. The article itself describes how it feels to be a poor student at Yale: "excuses muttered when invited out for beers they couldn’t afford, euphemistic explanations about why they wouldn’t be flying home for Thanksgiving." That feeling of isolation isn't unique to Yale, of course. A low-income graduate of Vanderbilt University told The Atlantic's Liz Riggs about his first year at college, "Never before had I truly felt such an extreme sense of estrangement and alienation." Richard Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks cornerback who's been in the news this week for his exuberant self-confidence, described his time at Stanford University,
I was with kids from prestigious private schools, and they were drawing comparisons between Plato and Aristotle. A lot went over my head. I hadn't even read The Iliad yet. I had to check out all these books just so I could know what everybody was talking about.
Yes, Yale Alumni Magazine had good intentions when it decided to take on this issue. Low-income students are vastly under-represented at America's elite universities, which only perpetuates the country's income divide for the next generation. It's important for these institutions to be talking about how to better recruit and support poor students. But this cover shows just how far Yale has to go before all students feel truly welcome.