I love New Haven, and I love Yale. Yet sometimes I hear these phrases said separately, as if you could only pledge your allegiance to one team. Students rally behind their school, locals cheer on their city and the two communities travel down their own paths independent of one another.
I’m running to represent Ward 1 — the “Yale Ward” — on the Board of Alders because the current dynamic can — and must — change. If we want to build a relationship between New Haven and Yale, we need an alder who is actively involved in both of these communities and can bring the two together. For me, New Haven is so much more than Yale. It is my home, and I’m not leaving. My family is here, my friends are here and my heart is here. If I’m elected to be an alder, I won’t give up when things get too hard, because that’s never been an option for me, my family or my city.
In 1992, my father left our small village in northern Turkey and moved to New Haven. It was the best decision he and his brothers ever made. Starting as a dishwasher at the Athenian Diner, he then moved to working as a cook at Alpha Delta Pizza. And finally, with the support of our neighborhood, he opened his own restaurant, Brick Oven Pizza, a few years later. And a little later, I came along.
When I was in elementary school, my uncle was deported. I’ll never forget how it felt to hear that news and to feel like the United States, the country that my family loves, had rejected us. No kid should ever have to feel that way, and I will fight to protect all New Haveners — regardless of where they were born.
However, this didn’t diminish my dad’s resolve to provide a bright future for me and my siblings. I grew up helping my dad in the kitchen, and made my first pizza before I finished fifth grade. With my dad’s encouragement, I succeeded in the public schools here. But not everyone does — too many of my friends fell through the cracks. That has to change.
I can’t help but think about those childhood friends as I go about my days at Yale. This University provides opportunities that were unfathomable to me in high school, and I’ve never taken a moment of it for granted. Yet although there are so many efforts here that make a tangible difference in New Haven, I know that our student body could do more. Imagine what we could achieve if not only Yale students, but Yale itself, were fully invested in the future of our shared city. As an alder, I’ll work to bridge the divide between Yale and New Haven so that we can live up to this potential and make a real contribution to the city we call home.
But should a Yale student even serve on the Board of Alders? This question came up last election: Some believe that a Yale student wouldn’t have enough experience or skin in the game to be a good alder. I disagree. Ward 1 is predominantly composed of Yale students; eight of our residential colleges and all of Old Campus make up almost the entirety of Ward 1. But the question of representing Yale undergraduates is not only a consideration of fair representation.
Instead, this campaign is about bringing people together: students and New Haven natives, immigrants and small-business owners, people who have been involved in community service for years and people who have never set foot off campus. I know that this change is possible, because I’ve seen firsthand what we can achieve together. In 2015, Marriott International tried to buy the land out from under my dad’s restaurant. They drafted the paperwork and were about to close on the deal, but then something remarkable happened: Yale students and New Haveners showed up in droves, rallied together and saved my family’s restaurant.
The Ward 1 alder must break down barriers between Yale students and New Haveners so they can collaborate, cooperate and conquer the challenges that our shared community faces. New Haven and Yale thrive when we’re united, and I’m running for Ward 1 alder to unite my school and my town.
Every Yale student should feel proud of the city that we all call home — even if only for four years. I look forward to hearing your ideas about how we can help Yale and New Haven thrive together. If there’s one thing that growing up in New Haven taught me, it’s that there’s nothing we can’t do when we work together. Let’s get started.
Hacibey Catalbasoglu is a sophomore in Davenport College. He is running for Ward 1 alder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .