When I was a sophomore at Yale, I stayed in New Haven over the summer to register voters in low-income neighborhoods around the city. During one of our July canvasses in Dixwell, an 11-year-old boy was hit by a stray bullet while standing outside the market. I remember how devastated we were when we heard, and how strange it felt to return to campus and find that no one knew about this tragedy that had happened just a few blocks from our home. I don’t want to live in a city where children are at risk of being shot, and I certainly don’t want to live in one where that kind of violence is hidden from my peers and me inside the “Yale bubble.”
When we talk about Yale students being engaged in New Haven, what we’re really talking about is how to navigate having privilege in a city that is wonderful but deeply troubled. What we’re really talking about is the same thing that makes us tell people we meet back home that we “go to school in Connecticut”: we feel a confusing discomfort about the privilege we carry as Yale students. The reason it feels so difficult to “get involved” in New Haven isn’t just because of a lack of opportunities, or bad transportation to the neighborhoods, or geographical obstacles. It’s because stepping out of Yale’s campus forces us to ask ourselves some hard questions: What does it mean to live with abundance when other people in our city cannot afford basic necessities? Is it presumptuous to assert our belonging when we may only be here for four years?
I have spent my time here trying to figure out answers to those questions, and in talking to hundreds of other Yalies over the past five years, I’ve found that those are the questions most of you are trying to answer as well. As your alder, I don’t just want to take your ideas to City Hall; I want to help you tackle those questions head-on.
As your alder I have strived to engage students in all the traditional ways. I have answered every email you have sent me and returned every phone call. I have held weekly office hours, met with student groups, facilitated discussion between the Yale College Council and Yale and New Haven Police. I’ve encouraged students to testify at public hearings and driven you to meetings all over town.
I’m proud of my record and of being a responsive, accessible representative. But I didn’t run for office just to answer emails and host discussions. I ran to challenge myself, and all Yale students, to choose to be active residents of this city. These past two years, we’ve voted in greater numbers than ever before, we’ve made our voices heard at public hearings, and we’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors on a host of projects to strengthen our city. With our engagement, more is possible.
In the past two years, I’ve led the development of a $750,000 Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, worked to expand youth spaces citywide, supported the return of walking beats to our neighborhood and advocated for the revision of our City Charter to include a Hybrid Board of Education with student representation. In the next two years, we will need student engagement to deliver fully on the promise of these initiatives.
If re-elected, I hope to inspire more of you to take “engaging with New Haven” into your own hands. There’s no right or wrong way to break out of our bubble. There are the small things we can do — like getting an Elm City ID card and going to visit the public library — that might be symbolic but are active choices nonetheless. And there are deeper, more substantive choices that mean building real relationships with our neighbors outside of Yale and committing to work together to build the New Haven where we all want to live.
It would be easy for us to spend our years here as visitors, with Yale as our welcoming host. But I believe that we want more than that. In the past two years, I have been honored to be your advocate in City Hall, and I hope on Tuesday you will re-elect me as your representative. But more importantly, I hope you will join me in embracing New Haven as our city — for its challenges, its strengths and its possibilities.
Sarah Eidelson is a 2012 graduate of Jonathan Edwards. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.