City enters classroom

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Photo by Grace Patuwo.

While other political science classes are studying national public policy, the 15 undergraduates currently taking former Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s political science seminar are looking no further than the Elm City.

DeStefano’s decision to teach at Yale for the first time this semester comes at a time of growing interest among Yale students and faculty to engage academically with New Haven.

The class, titled “New Haven and the American City,” was first created in 1997 as a lecture open to students from Yale and other area colleges, including Gateway Community College and Southern Connecticut State University, but this year transformed into a Yale seminar that allows students to interact personally with the former mayor. DeStefano’s seminar is one of a handful of Yale undergraduate courses this semester that focus on New Haven. Last spring, Professor Alicia Camacho created an ethnicity, race and migration seminar called “Latino/a in New Haven.” Other classes that focus on the city include award-winning documentary photographer Lori Grinker’s college seminar “Photojournalism and New Haven” and assistant professor of urbanism Elihu Rubin’s ’99 seminar “Infrastructure: Politics & Design.”

Students enrolled in these classes said Yale should take better advantage of what the city can offer in an academic setting.

“We have this amazing city that we go to school in, but we don’t take advantage of it as a learning tool,” said Jeremy Goldstein ’14, a history major currently taking DeStefano’s seminar. “We talk so much about community involvement, but actually learning about [New Haven] in a classroom setting and then going out and seeing it is entirely different.”

Goldstein said DeStefanotook the class on a field trip through New Haven earlier in the semester. The students got on a yellow school bus at Grand Avenue and Olive Street and stopped at different parts of the city, including the Quinnipiac Terrace Housing Project and the New Haven clinic.

Jordan Ascher ’14 also explored the city through “Infrastructure: Politics & Design.” Instead of working on a final paper for the class, Ascher is working on a “vision of Dixwell Avenue,” assessing the area’s history and current architectural and social makeup.

He said thatprojects like this force students to interact with the city — something he thinks Yale students should do more.

“I think students have an implicit and explicit tendency to not interact with the city beyond the three-block radius of campus,” Ascher said. “I think we need to push against that, and I would love to see more classes take on questions in the city.”

Final projects in Camacho’s course, which focuses on the history and development of New Haven’s Latino population, also require students to leave campus. Students must work with a local organization for an average of three hours each week outside of class time, and their final paper is based on the work they do within the community.

Among the organizations students are working with are JUNTA for Progressive Action and La Voz Hispana — New Haven’s Spanish newspaper. Students’ final projects include researching minimum wage and labor issues in New Haven, surveying Mexican immigrants and reporting on the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students.

“I feel like I’m learning along with them because there’s so much that isn’t known yet or isn’t fully discussed or documented about this particular part of New England life,” Camacho said about her seminar.

She added that she plans to teach the course again, though she will be on sabbatical next spring.

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