The journey began with two hats in a store window. I was walking back to my apartment from the train station the Monday after spring break and found the words “Peace” and “Violence” glaring at me through the window. Unable to avert my gaze, I tossed aside the three duffle bags strewn over my shoulder and craned my neck to get a closer look. Two camouflage hats with brilliant red- and orange-blended brims came into view. The store manager was quick to notice my fascination, and darted over to open the door for me.
I was ushered into a world of New Haven urban culture, one so far removed from the majority of students on Yale’s campus. He picked up one of the hats and threw it over his head backwards, tossing the other — “Violence” — onto my head in a swift motion.
With Big Sean’s “Control” blaring through his surround speakers, we made ourselves comfortable in adjacent seats and launched into a discussion about our respective music interests, and our thoughts about the city.
It soon became obvious that New Haven meant entirely different things to each of us. My New Haven is defined by the unending stream of tour groups, surveys on Cross Campus, and springtime barbecues on the manicured lawn of Old Campus. The store manager listened with unabated curiosity, yet also with full awareness of his own oblivion. He didn’t understand any of these terms because he’s never been close enough to see them. That his perception of New Haven is entirely different from mine is no surprise; I go to Yale and he doesn’t. What’s alarming is that we’ve never even deemed it acceptable to journey into our different sides of the city.
I ended up bringing one of my good friends back to AllStar a week later, and it was a win-win. My new friend was elated to have another Yale patron, and John and I scored hats for a Spring Fling debut. I was shocked by how surprised the owner was — he clearly assumed that my polite interest in returning had been for appearances only.
The coolest facet of these hats is their reversibility — the “Violence” hat says “Peace” on the other side, right above the adjuster strap, and vice versa with the other. As John and I marveled at our new purchase, we promised to bring back more friends on our next visit. The store owner was still incredulous at this prospect — he and his friends couldn’t help but laugh at the two white kids in Polo shirts. The sad part is, their suspicions will probably be confirmed by the end of this year unless, by some miraculous chance, more Yale kids actually venture outside the comfortable confines of College and Chapel.
I think it’s time to break down the invisible demarcation that separates Yale from the rest of the city. The mutual benefits of this paradigm are obvious. Students are exposed to an entirely new atmosphere, and store owners get to interact with the very people they’ve been trained to never expect visits from. And with the ever-vigilant Yale Shuttle service at our disposal, we have no excuse for continuing to ignore the vast majority of our city.
As a former member of the men’s cross-country and track teams, I have experienced the wild side of New Haven on many occasions. I’ve seen people cooking drugs in their backyards at 10 in the morning, as the team meandered by on our Sunday long run. That said, to live in any urban setting in our country comes with an inherent risk of meeting people that could present danger. New Haven is no exception, and for us to use this as an excuse to justify staying within the Yale bubble isn’t fair to ourselves or to the community around us.
We shouldn’t view it as an obligatory mission of ours to go downtown. If you don’t want to, you shouldn’t. But be wary that, by choosing the latter, you’ll be missing out on a wildly different and more culturally diverse world that isn’t handed to us in the halls of WLH.
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