A little more than six months from now, a few Yalies will wander down Elm Street to cast a vote at the public library in the election for the Ward 1 alder. Ward 1 runs from the bottom of the New Haven Green at Church Street up to Park Street, encompassing all but four of Yale’s residential colleges. Unfortunately, not enough students will participate in this election. I predict that fewer students will vote for Ward 1’s representative to the New Haven city council than voted in this year’s Yale College Council elections.
Of course, it’s easier to vote online than to walk several blocks to stand in line at the polling place. But I see a bigger problem of apathy, of taking for granted our place as residents of this city. I think most Yale students see the Board of Alders as less relevant to their day-to-day life than the Yale College Council, which is saying something. Electing a current undergraduate as Ward 1 alder could facilitate student engagement with the issues facing New Haven.
Sarah Eidelson ’12 has represented Ward 1 since January 2012. She graduated from Yale College four months later. My primary concerns don’t have to do with her efficacy as an alder or the increasing value she may provide with more years of experience on the Board. What I am concerned about, however, is connecting Yale students with the city of New Haven. A current student on the Board of Alders would do more to connect the student body to the surrounding and outlying communities than even the best non-student alder. It’s a matter of access and connecting constituents with the issues that impact the city.
Under University President Rick Levin, the University started a new chapter in its relationship with New Haven. I see the fruits of this renewed partnership in New Haven Promise and the growth of Science Park, initiatives that highlight Yale’s investment in its neighbors and their futures. The undergraduates living in Ward 1, who make up a majority of the population in that district, should engage by voting and running for office in Ward 1.
With the number of students involved in Dwight Hall and throughout the city, we have no shortage of passionate, service-oriented Yalies. But our apathy about local elected office is still worrying. Yale alone in the Ivy League has a tradition of student participation in the local city council. Other Ivy League students serve in their communities but not with equal powers as the elected representatives. Students have, on occasion, been elected to seats on the city council at Cornell and to regional positions at Dartmouth. But these have been one-off events rather than longstanding traditions. Yale’s tradition of students in publicly elected office on the Board of Alders is unmatched. While the dynamics and districting of other university cities do not lend themselves to consistent student representation, here in New Haven we have a unique opportunity.
New Haven provides us with a classroom for understanding how federal, state and city policies shape urban spaces. Whether through affordable housing, gentrification or mass transit, the city is in the process of crafting responsive solutions that fit the needs of local residents.
I hope I will be proven wrong in November; I hope the ballot for Ward 1 alder is filled with student candidates and that students vote in large numbers. While the thick walls and iron-clad gates of the residential colleges provide us refuge from the city when we need it, I believe that we must take a step out into the city that is a new kind of home for our four years here.
Josh Clapper is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .