The Insecurity of Being Poor in Elite Spaces
by José Yobani López Sánchez
Despite my current professional position, I have a pretty shitty laptop, but it’s one I’m honestly pretty happy with. I carry around a Dell that I have to have open at a 110 degree angle in order to see anything on my screen; otherwise, the screen goes dark for a reason I don’t know. It’s only starting to get noticeably slower despite having it for a couple years, it has a lot of space, and I am able to play some video games the couple of weeks I get to go home every year. It has been a faithful pal that has encouraged me with the hype music I needed to complete some of my proudest academic works. Yes, it has failed over time and it will probably fail me a few more times before it becomes too inconvenient to use. But it’s a machine - it’s bound to happen.
Using my laptop in the comfort of my home, where I have a strong internet connection and work on my comfy couch, however, feels very differently than using it among all the customized Macs that people use on campus. All its imperfections - the way the power cord has to be connected to an outlet before I turn my computer on for it to work, the flickering screen, the broken sides, the USB WiFi I rely on for internet connection - suddenly become more noticeable. The sharp contrast in quality turns the comical descriptor “shitty” into an objective one. A couple of months ago I was in a meeting with a coworker, a Mac bearer, when I was experiencing issues with connecting to the internet to get on a Google Doc we shared. I shared this observation, and they replied, “Oh yeah, a Dell will do that to you.” With that brief statement, my computer shifted from my beloved tool to a barrier I resented in that moment.
For those ready with their comments about being sensitive - it’s not about the comment, it’s about the assumption. Hear me out. The reality is that, yes, my computer sometimes doesn’t connect because of poor connection ability, and it is even likely that my computer has this issue more than Macs - but sometimes it’s because, objectively, the WiFi is not that great in certain locations.
Here’s the thing - while I am the only one with my shitty Dell in sight, it is extremely unlikely that this thought will occur to me unless a Mac is also having issues. People with Macs likely rarely encounter this insecurity because “Macs are supposed to be superior.” Regardless of the truth of that statement, it is a perception that anyone who owns a laptop is familiar with, so it is relevant. If the WiFi connection is poor, they are much more likely to assume there’s a problem with the WiFi and not their actual computer. The opposite of what I experienced is probably true; it would probably take someone else to say their connection is fine for them to actually think, “Oh shit, maybe my computer has something wrong with it.”
Too often low-income students at Yale are seen as falling-apart Dell apparatuses that, despite the odds of their limited performance, managed to get an assignment or project completed. In the sea of Macs, low-income students are too often characterized by their “deficiencies,” and as a low-income alum it is hard not to be a part of that - often this background is how we advocate for ourselves and our accomplishments. But because of this perception, too often people approach the need of including low-income students as a question of preparation, of allocating the necessary resources to function to the capacity that a Mac can.
But just as the question of a strong internet connection requires a consideration of WiFi quality in order to have a proper assessment of the challenges, the question of low-income students belonging and of ensuring they are appropriately supported requires a serious, needed, and long overdue consideration of the quality of resources, social culture, and institutional structure of this campus to have a complete conversation. Currently this university is not prepared to support the increasing number of FGLI students because it is not making this active self-assessment, and it does not explicitly question its role in this relationship. Yale University is an elite institution of higher education that focused for the majority of its history to educate wealthy White male students that would be expected to be global leaders. A failure to recognize this history and that it largely influences how this place operates and how it expects its students to learn and change in their years here distorts the conversation so as to present itself as a benefactor to needy students and excludes the socioeconomic context of this question. It limits its understanding to the individual, as FGLI students might do without active intervention, and it makes no room to ask, “How can we as an institution change? How do we create social and cultural change?”
I love the FGLI community here - it is why I am still around, busier than ever. There is nothing more beautiful I have witnessed during my time here than to see another FGLI friend open themselves up in all their beauty, confidence, and wisdom. This place really can’t begin to imagine the colors, life, and wisdom that come with people from these backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong though. It comes with a lot of struggle, and for some more than others our upbringing involves a lot of pain, sacrifice, and trauma that is best left in the past. But, as a good friend once said to me, we are strong and wise not despite these experience but because of them. FGLI students need to be given the platform to express all of this, the good and the bad, with the space and time the conversation warrants. Their identities cannot be simplified to social misconceptions - especially in an elite space like this - if it truly and genuinely wants to support these students appropriately and to its full capability.
Written on my shitty, faithful Dell companion.