Once upon a time, the Rev. John Davenport and 500 English Puritans moved into New Haven, occupying the previous home of the Quinnipiac Native Americans. In 1718, Yalies moved into New Haven, occupying the previous home of agriculturalists.
Now, Branford’s Harkness Tower and the monster of Kline Biology Tower cast shadows over New Haven’s neighborhoods.
In the column (“Seeing whether good fences make good neighbors,” 2/18), Shonu Gandhi ’03 points out a division between the suburb of Hamden and New Haven’s West Rock neighborhood. A fence divides the two cities racially, economically and socially. But these fences don’t just exist beyond Yale’s residential colleges.
Even with all of our student organizations, we are still divided by invisible fences between Yale and New Haven and even among ourselves. We just aren’t doing enough to change.
On the one hand, more than half of all Yalies participate in some type of community service before they graduate.
On the other hand, 45 percent of ninth graders who enter New Haven’s secondary schools don’t graduate. And for those who make it to junior year, the average math SAT score is 396 and the average verbal score is 414. In Connecticut, where there is no legal right to shelter, homeless people were turned away from shelters 20,335 times, an 81 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Connecticut Coalition for the Census.
Maybe the problems in New Haven and Connecticut are too great for Yale students to help improve. Or maybe our backgrounds have failed to prepare most of us for attacking the root causes of urban poverty.
Many of us hail from well-off suburban prep schools, where gangs, graffiti and teen pregnancy are not a part of daily life.
From Andover to the Yale cushion, how can we shed our Ivy League mentalities, or at least use them to create a unified approach to our student body and city?
This unity will come from breaking down fences within our student body. More stories such as that of Valerie Klokow ’02 (“From the streets to Yale: A senior’s story,” 2/14) need to be shared campuswide. Instead of the pressure cultural and ethnic groups put on freshmen during their first semester to participate in activities with their ethnic counselors, these groups should come together to provide cultural enrichment for all Yalies. Maybe we are in need of a giant festival to break down divisions of interest that exist in our conversations, attitudes and daily lives.
The fences that exist internally are barriers to our relations with New Haven, too. If we can’t see past our own noses, we can’t help the greater community.
When we are able to conquer these internal barriers, New Haven is the next step. In addition to Dwight Hall’s numerous organizations that deal with separate issues, perhaps a campuswide initiative should be launched. While the University and its benefactors are spending billions of dollars renovating colleges and building new science labs, the University should be joining students and faculty to create campuswide support of improvement in New Haven’s schools and neighborhoods.
It is not enough to criticize individuals for not doing enough community service; Yalies only have a certain amount of time to give to each of their activities. But a University-wide initiative, with every student, professor and administrative employee putting in a few hours, could result in great change.
A day in a New Haven high school might be just what Yalies, faculty and President Richard Levin need in order to recognize the realistic adverse effects of negligence, poor funding and poverty. A campuswide initiative might be too optimistic, but campuswide sensitivity and awareness of the city we live in can be easily inspired and is a sound start.
Instead of Yale’s annual Communiversity Day being a day when New Haven’s local kids are invited to play games on Old Campus, maybe Yale’s students should go clean parks, teach conflict resolution to the Hamden-West Rock neighbors, hold food and clothing drives for New Haven’s impoverished, and take surveys of future improvements that can be made.
These suggestions may be far too grand for one year, but if there is a will, fences can finally be torn down, and we can all be good neighbors.
Sarah Weiss is a freshman in Branford College. Her columns appear on alternate Wednesdays.