A majority of Yale students resign their 06520 zip code on graduation day, but every year a few alumni make a smaller move from their dormitories to apartment buildings elsewhere in the city.
New Haven city government is peppered with Yale alumni who never left — or have since returned to — New Haven, doffing “gown” for “town” in a community where the two groups have historically been detached from one another. While some recent graduates have not yet decided to permanently tie their lives to the city, the number of older alumni who are active in city politics suggests that at least some of them will stay in New Haven for good.
Several New Haven-based alumni said their involvement in city government comes from their desire to give back to the community. City policy analyst Kate McAdams ’01, who was not involved in government as a student, said she returned to New Haven after two years in Boston and Chicago because the Mayor’s Office was open to considering new policy solutions to the city’s problems.
“The town is so great,” she said. “It’s unbelievably diverse and there are so many people who are active in town.”
While McAdams returned to the Elm City with little knowledge of New Haven politics, many Yalies stay in New Haven to continue work that they started as undergraduates, either in politics or community service.
As a student in Silliman College, Rob Smuts ’01 worked on voter registration and aldermanic races in New Haven. After graduation, he was offered a job on Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s re-election campaign, which was managed by another Yale alumnus, Julio Gonzales ’99. When DeStefano won the race, Smuts said he accepted a job as a policy analyst in the Mayor’s Office.
“It seemed like just a wonderful opportunity, and I really respect Mayor DeStefano,” he said. “I thought it was a great chance to be part of really doing something neat in this community.”
Today, Smuts is DeStefano’s deputy chief of staff, where he works alongside DeStefano’s chief of staff and fellow alumna Karen Dubois-Walton ’89.
City Planner Karyn Gilvarg ARCH ’75 said a class taught by Christopher Tunnard in her final year at the School of Architecture sparked her interest in city planning, although she has also worked as an architect in private practice. She worked for several years in the New Haven city planning department in 1978 before returning as City Planner in the DeStefano administration.
“When you’re doing a house, you’re helping somebody put together their dream building, or fix a problem, but you’re not doing anything for the greater good,” she said.
When she arrived in New Haven in 1971, Gilvarg said she was sure she would return to her native Manhattan. But she has lived in New Haven for every year but one since 1971 — when she lived in Hamden.
“I became very comfortable in New Haven, because it has enough of the city about it that you don’t feel you’re stranded in the countryside,” she said. “It is much easier to live here, and it is far, far easier with kids.”
McAdams, who has lived in the Elm City since graduation, said she pays more attention to the diversity of the city, which boasts many unique neighborhoods in approximately 20 square miles. While McAdams said her East Rock neighborhood — affectionately named the “Grad Ghetto” — is not far removed from central campus, undergraduate students rarely spend time there.
“It’s a place I just ran through when I was in college,” she said.
Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, which serves as a liaison between the University and the city, sponsors the President’s Public Service Fellowship to provide paid internships to undergraduates who want to work as interns in public service in the city. Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, the office’s associate vice president, said it is a “happy by-product” of the program that many participants have subsequently chosen to stay in the city after college.
The current director of the PPSF program, Reggie Solomon ’98, was a fellow as an undergraduate, and Laura Huizar ’06 said her experience as a fellow at Junta for Progressive Action in Fair Haven made her think about taking a job in the city after graduation, although she is also pursuing other options.
“You get to know people working in the nonprofit sector,” Huizar said. “You know what the needs are here.”
Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 said her volunteer work through Dwight Hall expanded the range of experiences she had in the city beyond those of most students. As alderwoman, Chen said she now works with Morand’s office and the Yale Police on issues that affect both “town” and “gown.”
“I’m making New Haven my home,” Chen said. “I bought a house here, made my friends here. This is really where I am now.”