Every student trained at the New Haven Police Academy is required to watch a movie called “Know Me: Re-examining Police Perception and Treatment of Youth.” Surprisingly, the short film was not produced by the police department, but by a group of high-school students who work with Youth Rights Media, a nonprofit in New Haven. The success and usefulness of this video is a testament to the importance of listening to New Haven youth, a demographic that adults — and many Yalies — are all too ready to ignore.
The classes that we take and the events that we attend often emphasize the value of learning from certain sources over others. For example, the Master’s Tea, a distinctive Yale tradition, is something that we sell to pre-frosh as an example of the advantages of the residential-college system. They provide an opportunity to interact with all kinds of people through a unique non-academic learning experience. Master’s Teas bring a variety of visitors to campus: authors, musicians, artists, politicians, journalists, academics and others with whom we would normally not be able to interact. Like all Master’s Tea guests, New Haven’s youth can offer a similarly enlightening experience.
For Yale students and the New Haven community alike, listening to our city’s youth is a rare opportunity to engage with the ideas and insights of younger people, and learn from the residents of the city in which we live. Unlike studying from course packets, listening to these young people is an unmediated experience, as well as an opportunity to empower those people and populations who we would normally only read about. Speaking in a public forum is also an opportunity for young people to gain a valuable skill that we often take for granted.
Today, Dwight Hall Urban Fellows is hosting a Master’s Tea in Silliman College that will feature youth participants from Youth Rights Media, Solar Youth and LEAP, three youth organizations in New Haven.
Youth Rights Media trains students in both media production and community organizing. Students write for the local media, organize events and campaigns in their communities, and make films on topics such as the police’s perception and treatment of youth, injustices in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system, and class, race and neighborhood divisions in New Haven. Youth Rights Media, whose tagline is “Making Media, Making Change,” is an example of a program that allows young people from the city of New Haven to create their own projects, start their own programs and enact social change.
Another example of such a program is LEAP, which has been active in New Haven since 1992. Working with over 300 students, LEAP facilitates mentor relationships between older and younger students and provides them with the training and resources to create their own neighborhood programs. Solar Youth is a similar program with an environmental focus. By exploring various ecosystems in New Haven, cleaning up areas of the city and passing on knowledge to other students, those involved are able to determine the changes necessary in their own communities and then to take action. As with LEAP, older children in Solar Youth run programs for younger children that combine a focus on the environment with building relationships between children and teens.
Each of these three programs serves an important need in the New Haven community. In addition to providing activities for students outside of school, they empower their participants to create their own programs that address the needs that they see in their own communities. These programs encourage youth to engage in the political and social issues that they see for themselves every day. More importantly, by training young people within the New Haven Community, these programs support a rising generation of leaders who will ably enact community change from within instead of looking to the outside for perspective.
Some of the most passionate and interesting work that we do at Yale is rooted in our non-academic experiences. Today’s Master’s Tea invites young people from the city in which we live to fill some of the gaps in our textbooks.
Lea Krivchenia is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Tina Wu is a senior in Calhoun College.