Bridging town, gown key to citizenship

Two weeks ago, I sent out a call to nominate people who have exemplified good citizenship in New Haven or strong approaches to citizenship that would benefit all students. I was surprised to only get three responses; there are far more people and organizations who are doing a wonderful — and frequently unheralded — job of making it clear that Yale students and New Haven residents are one and the same. But the suggestions and nominations I got were telling, and I’ll let them speak for themselves this week.

L. David Peters ’05, a first-year student and Silver Scholar at the School of Management, argued persuasively that Yale students can set themselves up as citizens by choosing where they live.

“I have one suggestion,” he wrote, “the one that I’ve chosen to adopt during my time here as a graduate student: live in a neighborhood that isn’t packed with Yalies. Too many undergrads live off campus in what are essentially student enclaves; too many graduate students live in the ‘grad ghetto,’ cut off from the rest of New Haven. I like to think of citizenship as an individual’s effort to build social capital. With that definition, citizenship can be as simple as being a good neighbor — shoveling one’s walk; having a laugh across front porches on a nice day. But there’s more: by living in a neighborhood that is more a part of New Haven and less a part of the Yale community, I have the opportunity to engage in neighborhood block watches, a homeowners or residents association, beautification efforts and more. By choosing to buy a home in New Haven, in a diverse neighborhood, to put down roots here — even if just for a few years of graduate school — I’ve chosen to become a citizen of New Haven and not just a student of Yale.”

Elizabeth Gulliver ’08 sent in two examples: “The first is the Roosevelt Institution … which has focused a great deal on New Haven in its various policy pieces. While this type of civic engagement may not be as tangible as some of your other examples, I think it shows that student engagement with the city is dynamic and extends through all levels of city life.”

The other suggestion was Elmseed Enterprise Fund. Elmseed is a non-profit, student-run micro-lending resource that works to grant loans to people in New Haven who have been denied by traditional lending sources because they have bad credit or cannot afford collateral. In addition to giving loans, Elmseed teaches its clients business lessons in topics such as advertising, accounting, etc.

The third suggestion was New Haven Action, an organization that has swiftly established itself as a significant force not only on Yale’s campus, but in the movement to make New Haven a more environmentally friendly place to live. New Haven’s Environmental Justice Network honored NHA in December for its role in bringing clean energy to the city. Since then, NHA has moved to bring better lighting to the Dwight and Dixwell neighborhoods as part of a campaign to increase safety.

All this good work aside, New Haven Action deserves special recognition for two reasons. First, they’ve behaved like a citizen’s group rather than a student lobby, moving to meet community needs and opening offices off-campus in the Dixwell neighborhood so their staff will be accessible to the community. But they’ve also recognized the power of — and power used by — Yale, the single-biggest institution in town, and launched a clean energy campaign within the University, as well. Second, NHA has made unprecedented efforts to include students from all New Haven-area colleges. As a result, the work they’re doing will bridge the great unspoken divide between Yale and the city’s other higher education institutions at the same time that it seeks to make clear that Yale students and New Haven residents need not belong to separate categories.

In my next column, I’ll recognize some individuals in the senior class who have made exemplary contributions to bridging the student-citizen divide during their time here at Yale. Keep the nominations coming.



Alyssa Rosenberg is a senior in Silliman College. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.

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