Let us start out at Au Bon Pain on the corner of Broadway and walk along York Street, past the Hall of Graduate Studies. We cross Grove and follow the curving road to the left, behind the physical plant building and Swing Space. As we leave Grove Street Cemetery behind us on our right, we find ourselves in the heart of the Dixwell neighborhood.
So, a stroll of three blocks takes us off of the Yale campus and into the traditional center of African-American life in New Haven. Past the artificial barriers of the Lanman Center at Payne-Whitney Gymnasium and the walls of the cemetery, there is a community that once was intimately linked with Yale’s undergraduates, and it could be so joined again.
Yale students could be part of the fight to reopen the Dixwell Community House, where once, undergraduates and neighborhood youth came together to study, play and learn from one another. Yale students could be part of the effort to revitalize Dixwell Plaza, where we can imagine a set of shopping alternatives that is not available on the Broadway strip. Yale students could join with Dixwell residents to make the neighborhood a safer, cleaner and better place to live, whether through work on the Farmington Canal Trail or in the community garden on Winchester Avenue.
How is such a partnership possible? First, it is possible because many of Yale’s colleges and the bulk of lower Dixwell are now located within the same political boundary: Ward 22. Ward 22 has changed greatly over the past few years, and, since redistricting in 2002, it includes five residential colleges (Morse, Ezra Stiles, Silliman, Timothy Dwight, and the current residents of Swing Space), as well as a large section of the Dixwell neighborhood. More importantly, a partnership is possible because right now there is a campaign going on, a campaign that will help shape how these very different constituencies interact with one another. A campaign that will decide whether they can find a way to work together for a better quality of life, or whether the distance of years past will continue to be the norm.
The best campaigns are about more than the people on the ballot. In the case of Ward 22, Alyssa Rosenberg, a sophomore in Silliman College, and Shaneane Ragin, a Dixwell resident, represent the possibility for real cooperation between Yale students and Dixwell. An effort like Shaneane and Alyssa’s campaign for Democratic Party Ward Co-chairwomen has never happened in New Haven. Not once have a Yale student and a member of the Dixwell community chosen to become running mates, to work together as co-equal partners in a joint and concerted effort to make the neighborhood stronger. It is only fitting that these two young women should be two of New Haven’s youngest office seekers. They are the future of this city. Their campaign is a partnership between students and New Haven residents that has the power to make lasting change.
But that effort needs your support. The race will be a close one, with three teams competing to become Ward 22 Co-chairmen — a position essential for party endorsements, neighborhood advocacy, and holding elected officials accountable. Although the office up for grabs may not even have a door or a desk, it does have the power to help define the future for Yale students and New Haven residents. We have gone too long with artificial boundaries hedging our possibilities and keeping us away from the retail, community centers and green space of Dixwell that could make our time in New Haven all the more fulfilling. Now is the moment to destroy those artificial barriers and build something stronger in their place, and that starts (but does not end) with a vote for Rosenberg and Ragin on Mar. 2.