As a senior who is planning on staying in New Haven after graduation, I have very mixed feelings about Yale. I certainly have more Yale pride than I ever expected to. Although jingoistic Yale patriotism still disturbs me, I find myself arguing about the wonders of Yale to nearly every doubtful prefrosh. I tell them about the diversity and the amazing opportunities at Yale, the close relations I have had with many of its professors, the University’s history of community activism, and the riches New Haven has to offer. Although intellectually I still believe that different universities are right for different people, I somehow find myself arguing that Yale is best.
Yale’s limited — but present — openness and the dedication it has shown to its students is noteworthy. For me, one of the great ironies of Yale is the preponderance of leftists here — not the liberals who support equal opportunity but are completely comfortable with having a small, rich elite in power — but the children of political prisoners, Palestinian and Pakistani socialist revolutionaries, and advocates of black power. But even so, Yale epitomizes a liberal aristocratic institution — one that will support causes intended to improve people’s lives provided that institutional power structures remain in place.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Yale’s relationship with its workers and with New Haven. Yale’s wholehearted campaign against the Rev. W. David Lee is just one example. Lee, who, if elected, will be the only New Haven resident representative (aside from President Levin) on the Yale Corporation, ran on a ticket to represent New Haven on the board and to improve the town-gown relations Yale often boasts about. He also supports New Haven residents who work at Yale (and make Yale work), and their rights to collective bargaining. I was shocked but surprised by Yale’s harsh and unapologetic campaign for the Association of Yale Alumni’s candidate Maya Lin, a young, progressive woman with great name recognition who would draw many of Lee’s potential voters. In a recent article in “The Nation,” U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown wrote, “How could one pro-worker candidate who aspires to a lone seat on a board of 19 of America’s most influential people unleash the fury of an entire university hierarchy?”
The answer is clear when one looks to the New Haven that Yale sees.
In most of its materials, Yale advertises two New Havens. The first is the New Haven it is trying to create by “developing” the downtown area. This is a New Haven that, through expensive stores, will attract consumers from the suburbs and make Yalies feel safe.
The second New Haven is the impoverished inner city which Yale advertises for the community service it fosters. There is no equal partnership in either representation of New Haven, nor is there space for the New Haven community to have a role in shaping their own future or in building a positive relationship with Yale.
I am not staying in either representation of New Haven. Instead, I am living in a New Haven where people are struggling for basic needs, and for a society in which all share power and available resources.
When asked if I like Yale, I invariably say: I love the people and everything it has offered me, but there are some problems with the institution. To my classmates, I’ll miss you all terribly. If you want to visit, you’ll know where to find me.
Stephen Osserman is graduating from Davenport College.