Last September, as freshmen, we walked through Phelps Gate clutching our schedules of activities. Most of us had spent all summer poring over every Yale mailing, gathering all of the information we needed, from how to choose classes to where we could get the best pizza at 1 a.m. We were ready.
But, at some point, each of us realized there were some very important things we did not know. For instance, we found out that Intro Econ wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and that A One pizza beat Yorkside any night of the week.
But our lack of knowledge ran deeper than that. We soon learned that the complexities of New Haven could not be properly captured in glossy pictures of smiling faces. How were we to call the Elm City home without having basic information about city governance and politics?
Luckily, the freshman activities fair was rife with opportunities to get involved in politics on campus, from the Yale Political Union to Students for a New American Politics. Soon enough, we found ways to remain politically engaged at a local and national level. And along the way, we learned bits and pieces about the real city around us.
After actively seeking this information and slowly expanding our knowledge about the community, we wondered: Does everyone learn this, or is this information limited to the meeting agendas of the Yale College Democrats?
And when we decided to run for the Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee co-chairmanship, we found a slightly unsettling answer. The biggest obstacle we faced was not political opposition, or even apathy, but ignorance. Three of New Haven’s 30 governmental wards contain a substantial number of Yale students. Yet many of our friends, upperclassmen among them, had no idea what an important role Yalies can and should play in civic affairs.
On the Town Committee, we represent Ward 1, which comprises eight of the 12 residential colleges. Because it is populated almost entirely by Yale undergraduates, students have historically become very active in local politics and will continue to do so. This year, another one of our own, Rachel Plattus ’09, became the new alderwoman of Ward 1.
Another example of Yale student involvement in local politics came just last week, when several students attended the aldermanic hearing of the Board of Education in support of community efforts to expel Aramark, a food service and management company, from New Haven public schools. Yalies were among the nearly 130 members of the public to attend and were able to add to the long list of complaints directed at Aramark by drawing on the University’s past experience with the company.
Instances like these demonstrate that students can play a key role in the shaping the relationship between Yale and New Haven by representing opinions as constituents of both communities.
As freshmen, we are far from claiming a complete understanding of the complex political mechanisms of the city. However, it is both exciting and challenging to bring a fresh perspective on Yale and New Haven to the Town Committee. We are eager to work with Plattus and other city officials to bring our progressive values and new energy to the Ward 1 community and the city as a whole.
But our work cannot be done alone. And that’s where you come in. Each Ward has a 50-person advisory body known as the Ward Committee. For our committee, we want a diverse and talented group of Ward 1 Democrats who represent all realms of the Yale and the New Haven communities. As a member of the Ward Committee, you will have the opportunity to define the endorsement process of the next aldermanic election and a greater chance to advise and act on local issues.
Send us an e-mail. We look forward to working with you, whether in the Ward Committee or in the halls and on the streets of Yale and New Haven. Together, we can empower our fellow Yalies to become educated and active in our home away from home.
Adzua Agyapon and Rhiannon Bronstein are freshmen in Pierson College. They are the newly elected Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee co-chairmen.