Undergrads look to improve town-gown

Middleman, a new student organization that aims to connect Yale students to neighborhoods beyond campus, has launched a new blog to document the city’s arts culture and local politics.

The blog, which went live on Feb. 18, features articles, slideshows and video interviews about the Elm City. The organization’s president and primary contributor to the blog, Alan Sage ’14, said much of the content comes from a wide network of contacts he created while studying the city’s hip-hop scene for a summer research project. In addition to blogging, Middleman hopes to use this network to facilitate connections between groups on campus and areas of the Elm City outside Yale, Sage said.

“Our mission was to develop a network of people throughout the city and use their resources to improve relations between Yale and New Haven,” Sage said. “A lot of efforts could be better directed if people knew more about the city.”

In the process of writing a book about New Haven’s hip-hop culture this summer, Sage said he connected with many of the city’s most influential artists, and through these connections became acquainted with many local business owners and other city residents. Though pieces on the blog may touch on sensitive issues of crime, Sage said they will not report incriminating facts but rather focus on big-picture trends.

According to the blog’s video director Michael Lomax ’14, photos and videos will convey “a personal feel,” as they will allow the city’s residents to tell their own stories. One 10-minute video interview, which Middleman will upload later this week, features a local rapper named Frank Mellow describing a history of NHPD brutality as an inspiration for his music.

The video, Sage said, is an example of the ways in which New Haven’s hip-hop scene can be viewed as a lens through which to view many of the problems that plague the city. He added that the blog does not aim to show that people like Mellow need Yale’s help or community service, but rather to provide them with a means to share their stories.

Tone B, a New Haven-based rap artist, said Middleman is filling an important role in improving town-gown relations. If Yalies became more familiar with the city’s art scene, he said, the psychological gap between students and their surroundings might begin to close.

“The lack of communication draws a big barrier between New Haven natives and Yale students,” he said. “Yale is surrounded by the ’hood, but when you get people from even the suburbs, they act like they don’t want to interact with the people around them.”

Prior to the creation of the blog, Middleman — which was founded last fall and receives funding from the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee — explored other ways to connect student organizations and city residents. Along with the Urban Collective, a Yale urban studies discussion and advocacy group, Middleman coordinated a talk in October about the history of the Dixwell neighborhood. Additionally, they organized several dinners at which community leaders including former rapper Hugh Gallman, DJ Ronald Moody and community activist Darrell Allick had dinner at Yale with Middleman members over the course of the semester.

Sage said one of Middleman’s most successful initiatives has been its partnership with Elmseed Enterprise, an undergraduate-run microloan organization that provides small local businesses with small loans and technical assistance. Jenny Dai ’14, Elmseed’s director of Spanish outreach, said Sage was able to connect Elmseed with three clients last semester.

Pepe Vega, the owner of Nitro, a sports apparel store on Whalley Avenue, received a $3,000 Elmseed loan in the fall that helped him expand his collection to include women’s shoes in an exchange facilitated by Middleman. Vega said the expansion would not have been possible without the loan and that his customers view the University in a more favorable light as a result of students’ attention to the store.

“Before Alan came along, Yale seemed like it was unreachable for anyone around,” Vega said. “This is definitely a great thing he’s doing — it will bring the two separate communities together.”

As of Monday night, Middleman’s blog had 10 posts.

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