Forum discusses town-gown relations

Amid the fall foliage, Yale students were reminded Monday night that they, too, are members of the Elm City.

At a forum held in Dwight Hall, an audience of about 30 members discussed how Yale students can better integrate themselves into the New Haven community, and how the University can offer more opportunities for community involvement. The discussion, titled “Yale and New Haven: Strengthening the Bond,” was led by four panelists affiliated with the city or the University and was hosted by the New Haven Action Community Organizing Team, a group which aims to engage students in local neighborhoods.

Monday’s forum discussed possibilities for strengthening the relationship between Yale and New Haven.
Sally Cho
Monday’s forum discussed possibilities for strengthening the relationship between Yale and New Haven.

Ward 30 Alderman Darnell Goldson began the talk by focusing on the importance of coalition building for effecting positive political change. Associations based around labor unions, race relations and education, he said, give those who are passionate about such issues the channels for getting involved in New Haven’s communities. Yet, he was quick to point out that politicking and grudge holding among coalition-members can impede the legislative process.

“It’s great that there are so many different types of coalitions in New Haven,” Goldson said. “But often times the people involved are still harboring fights that happened three, four, sometimes ten years ago.”

The second panelist, Cynthia Horan — a professor of Political Science at Yale and a member of the Elm City Board — said that she agreed with Goldson’s diagnosis of coalitions and added that these groups are exceedingly driven by strong personalities. Urban politics, she said, tend to be top-down and follow the patterns of a zero-sum game, where one group must lose if the other is to gain a benefit.

“Officials like mayors have a lot of institutional power and concentrate all the action in one place,” Horan said. “Financial constraints also complicate matters because there are only so many resources to go around, and the whole process becomes very competitive.”

But despite the flaws of coalition-based politics, the panel members noted that there are plenty of ways to get involved in the New Haven community. The third speaker, Lee Cruz — the community outreach director for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven — stressed action at the local level, where people involved feel that they are part of the neighborhood and get to understand what interests they all hold in common. Cruz recalled, for example, a community-clean-up he attended and spoke fondly of the conversations he had with other participants.

“Local activities can be transforming experiences,” he said. “They allow for people like yourselves to step in at any level, engaging residents. You’ll find some pretty impressive people in New Haven community, I assure you.”

The final panelist, Ward 2 Democratic Town Committee Co-Chair Frank Douglass, added that Yale students especially have a great number of opportunities to serve the greater New Haven area. He mentioned that the resources at students’ disposal — such as money, information and interpersonal connections — impart Yalies with a special obligation to the city’s welfare.

“This is your home for four years,” Douglass said, “You need to get in touch with that and say you have a responsibility to this community.”

Among its organizers and participants, reaction to the forum was positive. Drew Morrison ’14, one of the directors of New Haven Action, said that the panel offered some tangible ways that Yale students can get more involved in local communities, while Aayush Upadhyay ’14, the communications director, particularly appreciated Douglass’ point about students’ responsibility to the city.

Meanwhile, Amalia Skilton ’13, the Democratic Co-Chair of Ward 1, was pleased about how the panel opened up the possibility of community service to members of the audience.

“It was a great discussion that showed how there are all these opportunities out there for Yale students,” she said. “For freshman and first year students especially, I felt that the meeting introduced the issues that New Haven faces every day and how we can work together to solve them.”

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