Normally, columnists on these pages save self-examination for the final issue of their senior year. They write farewells to their University, with all of its idiosyncrasies and charms, call for final reforms, and impart one last lesson to students who still have another year to make the most of their time here. But most of the time, graduating columnists don’t reflect on why they sat down at their computers every other week to produce 700 to 850 words on Corporation elections, patriotism at Yale, or the role of athletics in admissions. Most don’t have to; the general assumption is that columnists write because they have (or think they have) something to say. But when Maureen Miller suggested in the April 1st Yale Herald that I was somehow failing in my obligations as a female opinion writer because my column has “too narrow a focus to address the broader national debates to which the usual testosterone team chooses to contribute,” I realized that the reason I write is perhaps as important to me as what I write about.
I penned my first column almost two years ago in support of Ben Healey’s campaign for a second term on the Board of Aldermen. I wrote then, and I believe now, that “Yale students have a strange habit of disenfranchising themselves. We register to vote, but we can’t bother to go to the polls on Election Day … We appear to care greatly about every issue from gay rights to statehood for Palestine, but while we are willing to attend all the meetings in the world, few of us ever make the trip down to City Hall.” Committing to a column was a form of committing to citizenship; it meant staying informed, sharing my experiences and every other week, giving a push to the folks who can make things happen.
I didn’t start writing because I had a uniquely female perspective on New Haven issues, and while I’ve written about a number of topics that matter to many women — good jobs and the right to organize, the quality of youth programming and equal rights for gay and lesbian couples — I hope that my voice is most clearly that of a New Haven resident.
I don’t write about national issues not because I don’t care about them, but because implicit in Miller’s argument is an attitude exhibited by Yale students of both genders: New Haven somehow matters less than the national stage; that it is better preparation for life beyond graduation to join the Yale Political Union than to work on a local campaign or to testify at City Hall. I write about New Haven because it is simply more important to me that readers of the Yale Daily News regularly open the paper and find a column about the city they live in than that there is another piece, by a woman or a man, about any single exhaustively debated national issue. I deeply respect and enjoy reading the writing of my male and female colleagues on this page, but I also understand that we came here via different routes and have stayed here for different reasons.
I don’t write, at least not primarily, to stir campus debate or to prompt letters to the editor. Rather, this column was born out of the same sense of urgency that led me to help lead rallies for gay rights at City Hall my freshman year, to run for Democratic Town Committee my sophomore year, and to sit in at the admissions office this February. Because I am a Yale student, I am a New Haven resident, and I feel responsible for both making my home strong and making it better.
Another critic of this column recently told me that I come across as an attack dog, if an effective one. While it’s true that this column is motivated by strong feelings and strong opinions — and it’s true that I’d be happy, if bored, if all Yale students embraced a progressive vision for New Haven and their University’s role in it — a stronger, and less partisan, sentiment is my real reason for writing. After moving a number of times as a child, I found my first real, adult home in New Haven. It isn’t simply this city’s economic revitalization and great restaurants that I fell in love with, but rather the passion residents show on so many issues, and ultimately for the city itself. Yale students come to college with the same kind of audacious ambitions and boundless energy that make New Haven’s mayor want to run for governor, that make New Haven strive to be a truly great city. Yale and New Haven have the potential to be a perfect match. If my column ever convinced a Yale student that a New Haven politician was worth voting for, or that a New Haven neighborhood was worth investing time in, then, no matter my gender or the state of commentary on campus, I’ve done the job that I set out to do.
Alyssa Rosenberg is a junior in Silliman College. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.