When it came time for the Yale-Harvard game last year, John Sanders ’05 was ready. In fact, he’d been ready his whole life.
“I always wanted to go to Yale. I grew up on Yale football because I lived near the [Yale] Bowl,” Sanders said. “I learned my swears around ‘Harvard’ — you know, ‘Harvard sucks!'”
Yale often touts its geographic diversity, citing an undergraduate student body with members “from all 50 states and over 50 foreign countries” on the Yale College admissions Web page. But it neglects to mention the many Elis who can identify with Sanders –those with home addresses down the block from freshman dorms, and those who can go home for laundry and might take disparaging references to ‘townies’ personally.
“Vanderbilt [Hall] faces out onto Chapel Street and I live on Chapel Street,” Sanders said. “So I moved two miles down the same street.”
While many natives agreed with Jesus Tirado ’04 that going to school so close to home “has its minuses and pluses,” one local Yalie pointed out that being from New Haven can help you stand out from the crowd.
“It’s the best conversation starter freshman year,” Greg Yolen ’04 said.
To most Yalies, who can count their distance from home in miles, not blocks, going to college in one’s hometown might seem strange — after all, everyone knows that one of the perks of college is getting away from home. Many local students say that they, too, had qualms about staying close to home. But in the end, the quality of the university won them over.
“I went down to visit [Harvard], and it was like night and day,” Sanders said. “I knew Yale was perfect for me. I realized it didn’t matter how close it was.”
Liz Kinsley ’05 said staying in New Haven for college was “kind of like a sacrifice that I was willing to make.”
“I guess I couldn’t escape the fact that my idea of college was Yale,” she said. Kinsley is also carrying on a family tradition — both of her parents graduated from Yale.
Sanders said the seeds of bright college years were planted in him at an early age, too, despite his later “second thoughts.”
For others, Yale was unknown territory despite its nearness.
“I didn’t know anything about Yale and I thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll take the tour,'” Yolen said. “When I realized objectively that Yale was an incredible school — I never looked back.”
Proximity to home has some tangible advantages.
“I go home every so often,” Yolen said. “My mother will always cook for me.”
Many New Haven natives said their visits home are sporadic, but they appreciate the convenience of a short trip when they need or want to see their families.
“It’s really helpful when I do need to go home,” Kinsley said.
Sanders said he immersed himself in Yale’s campus during his first semester here.
“I actually ended up going home less than my roommate, who lives in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Parents’ potential to barge in did not seem to be a concern to many natives.
“I knew my parents would be pretty cool with giving me my space,” Marc Ruben ’02 said. “Over my time here, they’ve taken to not driving through the middle of campus.”
Some student townies embrace their city vigorously.
“I love New Haven — and I definitely am usually on some kind of crusade to get people to like it also,” Ruben said.
Yolen urged incoming Yalies to get to know the city beyond the confines of the 12 colleges.
“Downtown New Haven is not just Broadway and Chapel Street. It’s a pretty big city,” he said.
For some, like Yolen, disparaging attitudes toward Yale’s home city have occasionally become a point of contention with classmates.
“You’ve got to respect the townies,” he said. “It’s fun and really irritating to catch a Yalie putting down locals — and just being able to say, ‘I’m from New Haven.'”
Kinsley said she likes New Haven because of its size, diversity, and liberal atmosphere.
“I almost wish that I wasn’t from New Haven so I could end up here,” she said.