At Yale, Arya Singh overcame her fears — and found a new side of herself

Trusting in the community helped Singh find value in sharing her experiences as a person with a disability, and discover a passion for health policy.
Arya Singh

Arya Singh ’22 (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

Arya Singh ’22 has had an exceptional Yale career by any measure — winner of the Francis Gordon Brown prize for academic excellence, leadership, and service to the university; concurrently attending the School of Public Health for a master’s degree as she finished up her senior year; leadership positions both on campus and off. But she says that what stands out to her is how typical her time at Yale has been: hanging out with friends, cheering at the Harvard-Yale game, attending HalloWoads (the annual Halloween dance party at Toad’s Place).

Though she’d had a connection to Yale through her father, Dinakar Singh ’90, and had fallen in love with the campus on a visit during high school, attending herself wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Singh, who has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder, uses a motorized wheelchair, and the topography of Yale’s campus and the age of some of its buildings presented accessibility challenges. But her sense that the university would make it work for her was borne out in her first days as a resident at Pauli Murray College.

Seeing Yale’s ability and willingness to act and commitment to adapting has been incredibly powerful,” says Singh.

Even her most difficult moment during freshman year — a newspaper article that used an interview she’d given for a class project to paint a grim picture of her life at school — paved the way to some of the most significant parts of her time in New Haven. She wrote a response, which led to speaking engagements at the Yale School of Medicine, volunteer work at the Hole in the Wall Gang, and a position on the New Haven Commission on Disabilities.

It also opened up the possibility that she could embrace her disability — not to define her, but to redefine what it meant to those around her.

In high school, I would never have been willing to share that part of myself with my friends because I felt so strongly about keeping them separate,” Singh says. “It was really special to see that me having these unique experiences as a person with a disability can add value and can be something worth people listening to and paying attention, and part of who I am and a friendship.”

Arya Singh with friends
Arya Singh with her friends and Yale classmates, Sharon Lin and Tiana Lopez, on Temple Street in September 2021.

That lesson influenced her academic goals as well. In her younger years, she had little interest in studying medicine or public health. That changed when she took Professor Howard Forman’s “Health Economics and Public Policy” class her sophomore year. “It was the first class that really shaped what I wanted to do with my career,” she says. “It both objectively and intimately touched on the things that I've experienced in my own life, but on the provider’s side.”

Singh will graduate this year with a major in the history of science, medicine, and public health and as a Yale Education Studies Scholar; she’ll complete her Master of Public Health (health policy) degree next year.

I went into Yale being super scared and thinking, ‘I hope that this works, but this could be a disaster for me,’” she says. “Trusting in the integrity of the community, which is what sets Yale apart, has carried me through the past four years.”

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