While shopping period mania sends many Yalies running around campus considering everything from chemistry to gender studies, some students are focusing on a subject much closer to home.
Growing student interest in the University’s host city has led to an increase the number of New Haven-centered classes offered in recent years, professors said. The Community Based Learning program pairs classes with research opportunities in New Haven, allowing students to receive credit for community service.
Political science professor David Cameron said the relatively large number of New Haven-focused courses offered in recent years has not always been common.
“A couple of decades ago, Yale had a really wonderful concentration on study of the city, but at some point it just ceased,” said Cameron, who is director of undergraduate studies for the Political Science Department. “For years we really didn’t offer very much in urban studies or anything related to New Haven, but in the last few years, we’ve had a substantial increase in the number of courses in those areas.”
Lecturer Paul Bass ’82, who currently teaches two seminars on New Haven — “Race and Violence in the American City” and “New Haven Since Urban Renewal” — said town-gown relations have improved significantly since he first came to New Haven.
“Now, students are more interested in and caring about the city they live in,” said Bass, the publisher of the New Haven Independent, an online newspaper. ‘These classes allow students to engage in their host city of four years and also examine larger issues that face all urban cities.”
Bass’ seminars are both capped at 18 to 20 students, but Bass said about 40 people expressed interest in each seminar.
Students in Bass’ “Urban Renewal” seminar participate in Dwight Hall’s Community Based Learning program, which matches Yale classes with city organizatons to allow students to do community service for course credit. There are usually one to four CBL courses offered each semester, she said, including some English classes.
Two courses this semester will offer the CBL program: Bass’ seminar and political science professor Jacob Hacker’s “Inequality in U.S. Democracy.”
In Bass’s “New Haven Since Urban Renewal,” students will conduct community based research at non-profit agencies such as Empower New Haven, an organization that focuses on urban housing and development.
Through the four-year-old program, students have investigated ways to help immigrants adjust to New Haven, studied how green spaces affect public heath and examined public housing, said Carolynn Molleur-Hinteregger ’07, the student coordinator of CBL.
Some students said that though they are satisfied with the quality of courses offered, they hope more classes focusing on the city will be designed in the future.
Jonathan Pitts-Wiley ’07, who took a seminar with Bass last year, said more New Haven courses should be offered to dispel misconceptions and stereotypes about the city.
“The focus should be on the students so that issues such as New Haven’s past economic difficulties can be made known,” he said. “We may not go out to the community, but if students knew about the situation we’re in, perhaps they’d feel differently about the city and change their opinions.”
Pitts-Wiley is a columnist for the News.
Cameron said study of New Haven is important, but students must examine the city as one piece the study of urban politics.
“New Haven is an interesting city, but you can’t really generalize from New Haven to New York or Shanghai,” Cameron said. “We want to cover urban politics beyond New Haven but also teach on the city we’re located in.”
A team-taught lecture, “New Haven and the Problem of Change in the American City,” is frequently offered in the spring but will not be held this year.