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About our January/February cover

How do you talk about class in a way that is clear, upfront, pithy, and interesting enough to be on a magazine cover?

That was what we struggled with for the January/February cover story of the Yale Alumni Magazine, on Yale College’s efforts to recruit and admit more low-income students. And we do mean struggled. We rejected dozens of illustrations and headlines as obscure or insulting. What we ended up with was “Reaching beyond the Low-Hanging Fruit: Yale College Seeks Smart Students from Poor Families. They’re Out There, but Hard to Find.” The illustration showed a pin stripe–suited man on a ladder, picking fruit and trying to reach higher. Judging from some of the reactions we’ve received, we didn’t hit the mark.

The Atlantic's Eleanor Barkhorn wrote that the cover "casts poor students as fruit to be picked, as desirable consumer goods, rather than fully formed, intrinsically valuable human beings." Jonathan Pelto and Corey Robin were gobsmacked by the cover but less specific about their objections. On Twitter, Uma Shakti said we were "perpetuating the stereotype of the lowly diamond in the rough."

A few words about what we said. We weren't comparing low-income students per se to fruit, but applying the metaphor to all smart students—the low-hanging fruit being the well-off, many of whom apply to Yale and other elite colleges as a matter of course; and the hard-to-reach being the low-income, who, as the article explains, are less prone to think of the likes of Yale when they make their plans for the future.

As for poor, smart kids being “hard to find”: we weren’t commenting on the numbers of smart kids who are poor—but rather on the fact that Yale has to work harder to find and recruit low-income students, since they're unlikely to seek out Yale themselves. Clearly, we should have communicated that idea more fully.

But we’re proud of the article. We think David Zax’s reporting and writing are terrific. Zax quoted Yale president Peter Salovey ’86PhD as saying that "talking about socioeconomic status is one of the last taboos among Yale students." We hope the reaction to the cover won’t obscure the issues raised in the article or dissuade others from confronting that taboo.

Finally, an important note: the Yale Alumni Magazine isn't published by Yale, but by a small, separately incorporated nonprofit, and our content doesn't necessarily reflect Yale's views. Those who didn't like the cover should hold us accountable--not Yale.

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