An article published in the Yale Daily News on November 4 alleges that students are “taking advantage” of lax security measures at The Bow Wow convenience store and stealing its merchandise. Opened in the fall of 2021 as a replacement for the beloved Durfee’s, The Bow Wow promises a premium grab-and-go dining experience. Its website advertises “a friendly oasis for people on the move.” But The Bow Wow has received a fair amount of criticism: its cramped layout and inefficient self-checkout create lines which extend down the hall; its limited operating hours make it impossible for some to ever redeem their lunch swipe, consequently sacrificing $9.50 of value; and its egregious price inflation limits what a lunch swipe can even purchase, with some products sold for up to three times their retail value.
The YDN article examines how students have apparently been stealing from The Bow Wow, either by not scanning all of their items at the self-checkout, or by skirting checkout entirely. The article’s author includes testimonies from multiple other students who claim to have witnessed instances of theft at The Bow Wow. All students quoted are protected by the journalist’s preemptive assertion that “they personally have never stolen goods from The Bow Wow.”
Perhaps most troubling about the article is its failure to consider its own implications. Somewhat evasively, the article suggests that stealing occurs simply because The Bow Wow was “designed in a manner that many students find conducive to theft”—that students steal only because they are running late. In asserting that students are “taking advantage” of The Bow Wow’s layout, the author strategically dances around the implication that this theft constitutes a moral failure. The article ends with what essentially amounts to a threat: the reminder that instances of stealing will be reported to the Yale Police.
At some point after its opening, The Bow Wow executed a subtle tone shift away from its purported mission to be a “friendly oasis.” New signs appeared on the walls overnight, suggesting a heightened scrutiny of the students who enter: “SECURITY CAMERAS IN USE.” This is not a surprise; these security cameras have been present since the store opened. The Bow Wow obviously keeps track of its stock, as it is a business—its operators are not ignorant to incidental theft, nor do they presume that missing inventory has vanished into thin air. Why, then, is it necessary for a campus publication to “expose” the alleged phenomenon of theft? What does one stand to gain from bringing more attention to this issue?
A move like the YDN article oozes with the exact mentality that enables many of Yale’s most egregious offenses as an institution. Some of this institution’s most senseless practices are only viable as long as individuals (and student journalists) are willing to defend and enforce them—or to testify against their peers, even when the issue does not personally impact them. It’s important to be critical about who’s responsible for the article: one can reasonably assume that the author, as a first-year, was merely accepting a pitch and had very little control over the content in question. The YDN as a publication, however, can be blamed for caring more about the output of sensationalized content rather than about the very students for whom it provides news. And the publication of this specific article was an especially low move. At best, it reads as an unnecessary assertion of superiority, an attempt to throw others under the bus. Given the tangible consequences implied by the article’s final words, however, the piece reads almost like a threat from Yale Security.
So, are quick-fingered students really “taking advantage” of The Bow Wow’s security flaws? In all fairness, I would entertain someone who argues yes, but I think that such a debate only distracts from the larger issue at hand. Indeed, if anyone is “taking advantage” of anything, it is Yale taking advantage of its student body and of New Haven. Yale gladly indulges in a nine-digit tax break from the city of New Haven while sitting atop an endowment of over $40 billion. The University’s financial practices have long been characteristically extractive: upholding the inequitable Student Income Contribution, charging students for printing and laundry, and administering fees for schedule changes. Consider the optics of The Bow Wow selling menstrual products and rolls of toilet paper—what are students to presume, except that they are expected to sacrifice their meal budget in exchange for these basic necessities? (Ask around, and you will find testimonies from students who have done this, both at The Bow Wow and at Durfee’s.)
There is a lingering sense that, beyond the barest minimum, Yale does not care to meet its most vulnerable students’ needs—that it will avoid doing so by any means possible. The University continues to tout its generosity, such as how (barely) more than half of students receive any amount of financial aid. Yale will cite its targeted initiatives for recruiting low-income applicants and even throw matriculating FGLI students a meager sum in the form of a start-up grant. But these gestures amount to little more than a publicity move when the very same institution continues to shake down its student body on a daily basis. These are the motions of an unforgiving machine.
The Bow Wow is nothing more than a symbol of this dynamic, a facade of generosity that masks a much stingier reality. Yale is more concerned with advertising its own supposed generosity in providing shiny dining options which are allegedly affordable and accessible. This is quite typical: Yale will squeeze its student body for every dime possible, and then pat itself on the shoulder for throwing back a few measly crumbs. Some of us have their mouths open wider than others, it seems.
For the rest of us, it makes sense that these ultimately insignificant acts of rebellion—eating on campus without swiping in, pocketing fruit from the dining hall, filling a to-go box for the inevitable midnight hunger—are but a fixture of our survival. And these are not frivolous indulgences; they are basic necessities, many of which will arguably go to waste if not consumed. Whether or not students absolutely need these things to survive, it is immensely demeaning to be constantly “behind” one’s peers in terms of personal finances. Many students feel that they are fighting tooth and nail to stay afloat financially. When Yale does little to assuage these fears, we continue finding our own ways to get by. And given our common interests, we ought to support our peers, rather than attempting to undermine them just to publish more content, as the YDN seems to have done with its article.
I’m not convinced that Yale is so naive as to believe that opening a store like The Bow Wow—one which is offensively easy to steal from—would not inevitably result in shoplifting. They are aware of the lapses in the store’s security, and have handled them accordingly or otherwise accepted them. Surely, Yale does not care about a few missing granola bars. And if they did, perhaps they would hire a few more New Haven locals to more closely supervise The Bow Wow’s self-checkout terminals—or, a radical idea, to ring up student purchases at a full-service checkout.
To be clear, I am not advocating for you to engage in theft or shoplifting—especially not if you happen to be reading this from YPD headquarters. This is not a diatribe against any one student, nor is it a treatise on the merits of theft. It is merely an articulation of frustration. Yes, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to attend Yale, and for everything that the University has provided me. Still, I cannot help but feel at times that this institution regards many of its students as more of a liability than a true priority. My time here has impressed upon me that everything Yale gives to me is handed over reluctantly—or dangled in front of my face until I muster the courage to snatch it.
Perhaps, then, this article is also an act of ideation. It is a plea for a better future, one where stealing is not only unnecessary, but also unfathomable—where all students’ needs are met sufficiently and with dignity, where it would be unthinkable to commit an offense against the institution which really cares for us as much as it alleges to. Until that future arrives, though…
Correction (Nov. 7, 2021): A previous version of this article included the sentence, “Indeed, the YDN will never critically examine The Bow Wow’s exorbitant prices or its frustrating inaccessibility.” In fact, the YDN has published at least one article that confronts the subject, titled “Limited Bow Wow hours spark student frustration.” The article has been updated to remove this sentence.