Students to analyze Yale’s impact on New Haven

Over the course of this year, Yale’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a national progressive think tank for students, will begin researching and evaluating the University’s impact on the New Haven community.

Last week, the Roosevelt Institute launched “Rethinking Communities,” a nationwide initiative to analyze and rate how colleges affect their local communities. Students at various Roosevelt Institute chapters will evaluate schools based on their involvement in local economic development, community-building and education, as well as health, safety and environmental standards. Twenty-one of the Roosevelt Institute’s 115 chapters across the country, including chapters at Columbia University and Cornell University, are participating in the project.

“The goal of the project is to look at anchor institutions and their effect on the community, what steps have been taken to improve the community and come up with a ranking that allows us to compare institutions,” said Rachel Miller ’15, who is co-president of the Yale chapter of the Roosevelt Institute.

The Yale chapter hopes to complete its initial findings by March, begin brainstorming policy recommendations for improvement shortly after and finalize data by May. Andre Manuel ’16, the other co-president of the Yale chapter, said the chapter will then meet with Yale administrators to promote concrete solutions and steps, which may include areas for further investment.

By collecting information on Yale’s role in New Haven, the Yale chapter, in conjunction with other participating chapters, will also help the national Roosevelt Institute develop a scale with which to compare other institutions.

Though the scale’s design depends on the data that each chapter ultimately collects, Associate Director of Networked Initiatives at the Roosevelt Institute Alan Smith said it will be similar to the LEED scale, a national certification system designed to encourage the construction of energy-efficient buildings. However, Smith said there will be less of an emphasis on a point system and more on comparisons with other schools.

For example, though Yale and Ohio State would not be expected to spend the same amount on their local communities, Smith said the scale could help determine a percentage of a school’s budget or an amount per student that would be reasonable.

He added that institutions with a better impact on their communities could be used to put cultural pressure on other institutions that may not be doing as well.

Project leaders Akash Salam ’17 and JR Reed ’16, both of whom are staff reporters for the News, have yet to finalize the exact criteria for evaluating Yale. Still, Manuel said the project will look at the vendors that Yale hires for events — whether vendors take into account fair hiring practices, pay fair wages or are minority-owned businesses.

“It’s important to reinforce that this is not meant to be a criticism of Yale — it’s supposed to fit into the larger national project,” Manuel said. “We do anticipate to see that Yale does great things for community … Ultimately we think Yale could benefit a lot in this project.”

The project may also look at whether Yale invests capital in the community through small businesses and home ownership programs. Miller said she expects to find positive results in this area, as Yale has implemented New Haven Promise, a program that supplies scholarships to New Haven students, and has also encouraged staff and faculty to buy homes in the city through the New Haven Homebuyer program.

One potential area for improvement is Yale’s development of its property in the Broadway area, Miller said, as some New Haven residents are not able to afford to shop at the businesses Yale has put in place.

In order to gather data, Miller said that project leaders will initially rely on collaboration with the University. Boris Sigal SOM ’14, who studies anchor institutions and economic development and has been in contact with Roosevelt project organizers, said many offices, including the Office of Procurement and the Yale Office of State and New Haven Affairs, keep extensive records of the University’s community engagement. The chapter may also collect qualitative feedback from local businesses and those who have been involved with Yale’s programs.

Sigal said he is excited to create document summarizing what Yale does for New Haven that can be distributed across campus.

“It can get us all on the same page in understanding what Yale does, but also help us understand where there may be opportunities to do more,” he said.

By December 2014, Rethinking Communities projects are all expected to have positive motion and start taking action in their communities, Smith said.

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