Most Yale undergraduates do not identify themselves as New Haven citizens. The student who remains here after his four years are up is an exception. The student who can give directions to different city neighborhoods is a rarity. Few undergraduates call New Haven home.
So we attend Yale, and for four years we are homeless. We return rarely to the places where we grew up, and each time we do, we are slightly more estranged from them. We live in a city and never feel like a part of it. The situation is ridiculous.
Especially ridiculous are the people that blame New Haven. “It sucks here,” they say, and with that opinion-stated-as-fact they justify never exploring, never moving beyond Yale’s walls.
New Haven is a great town. People come from all over Connecticut to spend time here, to shop, to dine, to go to shows and concerts, to visit museums. New Haven is also an interesting place with a complex history. Certainly the city has issues, but these issues are no reason to beat a retreat. In fact, they are good reasons to become involved; we must step up to the issues, we must work to put forth novel solutions to the problems that plague so many cities across America.
It is unfortunate that students come to Yale expecting not to like New Haven. It is even more unfortunate that freshman orientation into the city consists almost completely of sessions on safety. “Cityscape” and “FOCUS on New Haven” are excellent programs, but they reach relatively few students. Many think little about New Haven beyond their limited interactions with it: lock the bike, do not prop doors, go to Toad’s on Saturday nights, go to Wooster Square on special occasions, do community service.
It is terrific that community service thrives at Yale. Sadly, the student body’s high involvement in Dwight Hall activities is not indicative of a feeling of belonging, a feeling that must exist if we are to truly make a productive contribution to the city and benefit from living here. Too often we regard ourselves as visitors, as do-gooding tourists, rather than shouldering all of the pleasures and responsibilities of New Haven citizenship.
Involvement in local politics is a route to responsible citizenship with a great deal of potential, and the need to foster this involvement is one major reason for the creation of a Yale Green Party. The Green Party is committed to grassroots democracy; it is accessible and responsive to ordinary citizens, and this is a huge factor in its success in New Haven. The qualities that make the Green Party successful are the same qualities that make it an excellent way for all students to become truly involved in their community and to fight for its social, economic, and environmental needs.
There has recently been a good deal of back-and-forth on this page about city politics, and the need for this healthy back-and-forth to be a basic part of political life at Yale is another important reason to support the Yale Green Party. But there is no argument about New Haven’s need for progressive change and Yale students’ need to know New Haven, to belong here. In working with city issues and policy, working to shape a truly progressive agenda for the city, and working to achieve the goals of said agenda, we will achieve New Haven citizenship. Moreover, in so doing we will become part of a great movement to empower ordinary citizens.
Now is an exciting time for the Green Party. People across the nation are becoming aware of the importance of this movement. In New Haven, the Greens are changing how politics are done at the local level. It is clear that the challenge presented to the current system by this progressive, responsive minority party is good for the city. In Connecticut, we must work to effect a similar change at the state level.
This can be an exciting time for Yalies, too. It is time for more students to feel that this is not only our school, but also our city. It is time that we develop city pride as well as school pride. The Yale Green Party will help to bridge the senseless gap between living in New Haven as a Yale student and living in New Haven as a New Haven citizen.
Rachel Wasser is a sophomore in Silliman College. She is a founder of the Yale Green Party.