Entering a crowded room at the Yale Visitor Information Center Friday afternoon, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. had to stop for a moment and ask, “Why am I here? What am I supposed to talk about?”
Fortunately for the mayor, the topic happened to be one he could address without preparation — his own city.
DeStefano, Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander, and several other officials from Alexander’s office met with a crowd of University tour guides at the visitor center for an event entitled “Yale and New Haven: A Great University in a Great City.” The presentation, planned at the request of the student tour guides, was the first in a series of three training sessions for the tour guides the visitor center is holding this year.
Alexander began the talk by addressing the students as “ambassadors” of both Yale and New Haven and said that the Yale tour guides have the opportunity to help improve New Haven’s image.
“Nowhere have I ever been in a place where there is such a gap between image and reality,” Alexander said, adding that New Haven’s positive attributes are often overlooked.
While the other Yale officials reiterated Alexander’s points and focused on statistics and pictures illustrating parts of New Haven many students may not have discovered, DeStefano took a different route in discussing New Haven’s public profile and refused to apologize for the negative aspects of the city.
“We have chosen to be a place that addresses all kinds of people,” he said. “We are better off because of it.”
DeStefano said that there would always be poverty in New Haven because the city offers affordable housing, treatment for mental illnesses, and homeless shelters, and that the diversity such social programs bring to New Haven improves the quality of life in the city.
When one tour guide asked what he would have them tell visitors about New Haven, DeStefano said, “This is the kind of place where, if you choose to be here and be a part of it, you can affect other people and have them affect you.”
The presentation ended with a picture session of the tour guides in their new T-shirts proclaiming “More than 60,000 served each year.”
Sarah DeBergalis ’02 said the presentation would add depth to her discussion about New Haven and allow her to meet the needs of visitors who come to see the city as well as the University.
Paige Herwig ’02, an admissions office tour guide, said the presentation would help her tell prospective students more about life outside of Yale.
“Sometimes we’re so busy selling the school that we forget we have to sell the town as well,” Herwig said.