Earlier this month, I was recruited to be part of the Democratic Ward 1 Committee, which was made up of roughly 50 students from Ward 1 (consisting of eight residential colleges and Old Campus) and go through the process of nominating an aldermanic candidate. Many other committee members and I felt the responsibilities accompanying the role of committee member were never made very clear. Because of this lack of information, I felt unfit to actively participate.
During convention deliberations, I was disgusted by the ill-mannered remarks of certain individuals and criticized the committee for not providing enough information to its members and for the lack of diversity — before leaving the convention in protest and frustration. Robert Smuts ’01, who assisted with recruitment efforts, had hoped of “bringing in opinions from people who have had experience in organizing around cultural houses into a process where they could have an impact on shaping the next alder. It was unfortunate people were not told what was trying to be accomplished through this process in terms of specific issues and broader goals. There was a poor base of information and a lot of misinformation which made it difficult to accomplish that goal.”
During the question and answer portion of the convention, I posed the question, “How do you plan to build coalitions among people of different cultural and class backgrounds?” I noted that many minority communities feel disconnected from the political process and New Haven issues. Disappointingly, candidates hadn’t thought critically about the importance of working with the cultural centers.
Aldermanic nominee Ben Heal-ey’04 recognized this need and stated, “I am now actively seeking to engage the members of the various cultural houses to discuss their ideas and issues. More than their support, I want to make sure that we understand one another well and that we communicate with open dialogue.” Bringing up these issues to the attention to the aldermanic candidates has hopefully set a precedent for future candidates to recognize the cultural houses as important venues and tools for student involvement and mobilization.
Regarding the need for diversity, cosmetic or numeric diversity is not the same as diversity of interests. Because many students of color have interests and activities organized around the cultural centers, it is imperative students who can speak knowledgeably about the concerns of the centers and the affiliated groups be represented in the Democratic Ward 1 Committee. Although the committee does not have to be a representation of Yale, but rather, a representation of students registered as Democrats in Ward 1, it neither makes sense nor is it a good reflection of democracy if cultural organizations — whose interests often overlap with those of Dwight Hall organizations and the Democratic Party — are not represented.
Ingrid Fuentes ’03, Chair of Despierta Boricua, Yale’s Puerto Rican student group, reflected, “Although it looked like it was diverse, I really didn’t feel like it was. I also felt like some committee members took control of the process and were allowed to do so.” Francisco Lopez ’02, the MEChA Steering Committee Moderator, criticized the conduct of committee member Anika Singh ’01 as “very disrespectful to all the people there who willingly gave up their Sunday for a so-called democracy which seemed a farce and an illusion of inclusion.”
Michelle Mayorga ’03, a member of the Yale Dems, agreed the committee “should have been more representative of the involved Democratic Yale cultural community,” but pointed out “this problem is not entirely the fault of the ward committee appointment process. We need to reach out to the cultural community and have them invested in the process. People who share common democratic ideals should not be outsiders.”
Taj Wilson ’04, the only black male in the committee, stated, “I wasn’t registered as a Democrat when they asked me to be part of the committee, they asked me if I’d be interested, and then I registered afterwards.” Rather than scrambling to recruit a diverse group of students (male and female) for the committee, efforts to include communities of color through the cultural centers could be done at the very basic level of voter registration efforts and education about the need to participate and believe in the political process which will help ensure that these groups and interests are fairly represented in Ward 1.
All things considered, the Ward 1 Democratic Convention has come a long way from previous years when involvement was limited to Yale Democrat party regulars and later included activists from Dwight Hall groups. The next step of including cultural house interests has been made but still has a ways to go.
Liana Chang is a junior in Saybrook College.