New Haven is our home.
While many students have not yet taken this statement to heart, others have acted on it. But calling New Haven home isn’t a motto about self-identification. Like in the hometowns where we each grew up, we have a civic right to participate and shape the decisions made here. Often overlooked, though, is our complementary duty to give back to the place that has given us so much. If we view the complex relationship between college students and the city as one of both rights and responsibilities, then another truth becomes clear: Ward 1 is also our home.
Ward 1, encompassing Old Campus and eight residential colleges, has served for decades as the nexus through which students interact with the rest of New Haven. Through its alder, its ward co-chairs and its representatives on city commissions, Ward 1 allows Yalies both to exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities. So while Ward 1 is largely a student ward, in most ways, it is no different from any other ward in the city.
But why care about Ward 1 in the first place? To the naïve eye, students’ only needs are, or should be, fulfilled by Yale. Why get involved in city affairs if our housing, tuition, health care and many other services are tied up with Yale alone? Because, to paraphrase President Obama, “Yale didn’t build that.” The sidewalks you use, the safety of your walks to class, even the water you drink — all come from New Haven city government. Even the Yale Police Department is governed by New Haven’s Board of Police Commissioners. And, of course, rare is the Yalie who never once steps off campus, beyond Yale’s aegis. Every day, undergraduates rely upon New Haven’s resources, and Ward 1 is how we have our say in them.
But perhaps more importantly, to separate Yale and New Haven is a false dichotomy. Influential as it might be, Yale is still an organization incorporated in New Haven, just like Claire’s, Stop and Shop or the Shubert Theater. The TFs who grade our papers, the students who check out our books in Bass and the administrators who decide our University’s direction are all New Haven workers like any other. In honor of New Haven Bike Month (PSA: it’s in May), here’s an analogy: It would be nonsensical for someone to care about bike wheels but have no care at all for bikes. The same applies to Yale and New Haven: One is a part, the other is a whole.
With this in mind, how should the Ward 1 alder best represent us? First, our alder should press for student interests — but also recognize that, on a fundamental level, we students generally seek the same goals as other New Haven residents. Everyone in the Elm City, students included, desires a safer, cleaner, more employed and better educated city. Our alder should thus aim to find consensus solutions to these problems with input both from constituents and from fellow leaders across the city. By working within this framework, an alder can avoid charges of paternalism while also keeping a close eye on the unique needs and wants of the student body.
Of course, Ward 1 alders need not worry quite as much about filling potholes, dealing with landlords or the other day-to-day tasks of alders elsewhere. Past Ward 1 alders have used that freedom to work on living-wage initiatives, public financing for municipal elections and improved access to education and youth services. But all of these pursuits still rely upon both strong relationships on the Board and strong connections on campus.
This vision may seem grand if most of us will only call New Haven home for four years. But far from minimizing the need for involvement in city politics, our short tenure precisely demonstrates the importance of Ward 1 alders. We all have an obligation to give back to the city that has so generously hosted us in our shared home — and we only have four short years to do it. The job of our alder, then, must involve channeling and focusing student efforts to fulfill that responsibility. Ward 1 alders not only must show Yalies that they should care about New Haven, but also must demonstrate how to best put that care into action.
New Haven is a city of hyperlocal government. I don’t know of any other city of similar size with wards so small or alders so rooted in their communities. While working on local politics may not seem as glamorous as international relations or the campaign for the White House, it’s here in New Haven that change actually gets done. So use your home in Ward 1 to get involved. Because it’s not only your right; it’s your responsibility.
Jacob Wasserman is a junior in Saybrook College and a Ward 1 co-chair. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .