A pile of pizza boxes enticed this year’s new crowd of graduate and professional student senators into the third floor meeting hall of the Graduate and Professional Student Center of Yale Thursday night.
Jason Marshall, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, kicked off the organization’s second meeting with a get-to-know-you icebreaker. The 40 student senators in the room, most of them recently elected by the students of their schools, took about 10 minutes to meet in small groups and share their most embarrassing moments since arriving on Yale’s campus.
Jon, a first-year student at the School of Medicine, mentioned an incident that every upperclassman fears.
“I was wandering around looking for my orientation, when someone came up to me and said, ‘Freshman Orientation’s that way,'” he said.
Other students shared stories of sickness and difficulties with the English language. A large number of the students present at the meeting were international students.
One of the goals Marshall said he has this year as the Senate’s newly-elected president is to bring more key speakers to the group’s biweekly meetings to share expertise with the student senators. The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 on what politics is like in New Haven.
Healey emphasized the need for there to be an active Yale student body in local politics.
“The census counts every student, although they don’t think they make a difference. And I’m saying you should, I’m saying you really should,” said Healey.
Healey even incorporated some audience participation to prove his points, asking the senators to raise their hands if they cared about civil rights, if they had ridden a bike and even if they breathed. He followed the questions with explanations of the most current local political issues in New Haven, such as the movement to pass an ordinance recognizing same-sex domestic partnerships in the city, efforts to incorporate bike paths into the city, and the concentration of high asthma rates within inner-city New Haven as a result of the city’s industrial legacy.
Healey told the senators that their activity in local politics could be extremely rewarding.
“It matters whether or not Ikea is going to come, and it matters whether or not we will have a new Chapel Square Mall,” said Healey. “The power you have in this city is really big.”
After his brief rundown of New Haven politics, Healey opened the floor to questions. Several students asked about the issue of parking near Yale. The majority of students in the room were car owners and agreed that parking could be extremely frustrating, particularly on Orange Street with all of its construction and during the winter with snowplowing ordinances.
Healey responded by emphasizing the students’ ability to influence these matters through their aldermen.
On the issue of Orange Street parking, he said, “It’s good if you call your alderman and say ‘This sucks,’ but better if you get five people on the block together and say ‘This sucks’ when you vote.”
Healey also suggested that international students, of which a large part of the Yale graduate and professional schools are comprised, should not be afraid to get involved.
“What matters more than those who vote is those who care to engage in the issues,” he said.
Healey ended his presentation by noting the small numbers of voters that have been turning out in the aldermanic elections. Although there are about 1,000 registered voters in his ward, only 100 people turned out for the aldermanic primaries.
After Healey’s presentation, the Senate took a pizza break and then continued to discuss relevant issues within Yale’s graduate and professional schools, such as social events at Gryphon’s Pub, an Oktoberfest party, obtaining tickets to see Darrell Hammond, and approving the funds to renovate the five offices in GPSCY. Besides organizing social events, the Senate plays an important role in advocating for graduate students. In the past, it has helped add dental insurance to graduate students’ health plans and provided language classes to suit graduate student schedules.