Students visit historic New Haven landmarks

Nine Yalies explored the history of student activism in New Haven in a tour last week designed to motivate student involvement in New Haven affairs.

The two-hour student-led activism tour last Friday visited nine previous sites of political involvement in New Haven to raise student awareness and interest.

James Cersonsky ’11, Co-Coordinator of FOCUS,and one of the four tour guidessaid there is muchstudents have to learn about the long relationship between Yale and New Haven.

Cersonsky said the tour provided “a narrative of what it’s like to be an activist student at Yale and to get a new feel for the University that is not just about classes and residential colleges.”

Not formally sponsored by any organization, the tour was a loose collaboration between students in FOCUS on New Haven, an activist group run by Dwight Hall and Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, and the Undergraduate Organizing Committee (UOC), Cersonsky said.

Rather than visit traditional Yale attractions, the tour guides and studentsstopped by New Haven landmarks including the New Haven County Courthouse, Millennium Plaza and City Hall.

Activism and social justice were the central themes of the tour, from its first stop at the First Methodist Church to the last at the Beinecke Rare Books Library. Outside the Church, Rhiannon Bronstein’11 discussed the long history of union strikes at Yale, noting that since 1968, Yale has had more strikes in its unions than any other university in the country.

The tour transitioned to student activism at the New Haven County Courthouse, where Bronstein spoke about the Black Panther Trial as a model of Yale activism. Yalies actively protested the trial, she said.

“This was a big time when Yale students came together to support activist causes,” she said.

The tour highlighted examples of recent Yale student activism. In front of City Hall, Katie Harrison’11 mentioned the Living Wage Ordinance as an example of student impact on local politics. If passed, the ordinance would increase wages for those employed or contracted by the city and was proposed by Mike Jones’11, Ward 1 Alderman in April 2010.

“Yale students have a voice here through our city alderman,” Harrison said, adding that the ordinance is an example of what Yale students are doing to get involved in politics.

Students involved in FOCUS on New Havenorganized the tour to increase Yalie involvement in the Elm City. Cersonsky, who proposed the idea of the activism tour, said FOCUS’ purpose is to engage students in local affairs.

“[We wanted to provide] a narrative of what it’s like to be an activist student at Yale and to get a new feel for the University that is not just about classes and residential colleges,” he said, addingthe goal is for students to take ownership of the city. The group pairs students with nonprofit New Haven organizations, including the Eli Whitney Museum, New Haven Readsand Community Gardens.

The tour guides encouraged students to become involved and collected e-mail addresses from those interested in getting more involved with city activism. Among those who signed up was Benjamin Kline’14, who said he was impressed by Yalies’ impact on New Haven. He added “[the tour] kinda gave me a better sense of Yale as a center of activism and also how much of an impact Yale student activists have here. I also liked the way that Yale students interact with New Haven and New Haven communities.”

Austin Jung’14, who attended because of his interest in Yale’s history, added he knew a lot about Yale’s architecture, but not much about its activism. Not only did the tour cover student activism, but also addressed the connection between Yale and New Haven, he said. Cersonsky added he plans on organizing future tours later this year.

FOCUS also runs a weeklong orientation program for incoming sophomores.

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