On a 90-degree New Haven afternoon this summer, I sat with eight other inspired teachers listening to the ideas and proposals of 65 New Haven middle schoolers. Sarah Eidelson was there with us.
My fellow teachers and I in the U.S. Grant program had reached out to Sarah and asked her to lead a workshop on engaging in local politics. Rather than give a speech, Sarah listened to our kids speak, asking them what they thought were the biggest problems in New Haven, and what we need to do to solve them. Sarah treated my students like the experts they are, listening with such intent and urgency that you would think we were at a high-profile meeting. I later found out that Sarah brought these proposals to the Board of Alders, reading and re-reading them as a reminder of the work that needs to be done.
After seeing her work with these kids, it’s easy to understand why Sarah has been so successful in serving New Haven’s youth. Listening to the needs of young people has fueled her effort to bring $1.25 million into the city to fund groundbreaking and grass-roots youth violence prevention programs. She has supported putting two students on the Board of Education in effort to make their voices heard. Sarah fights for these young people whom I care about deeply and has worked to fund the organizations that have saved many of my friends.
In my three years here, I have struggled to find my place in this city. We all talk about finding our place on campus, finding our thing or our people, but have we all found our place in New Haven? It has been tricky to navigate the power of Yale as an institution and a name, difficult to meet people outside of the “bubble,” disorienting to come home to a gated castle. I love Yale and New Haven, and it is out of this love that I taught here this summer and fight for the changes I wish to leave behind. Sarah, only ever a phone call away, has supported me through every step of this fight.
Last April, I was in Woodbridge Hall with 47 other students, sitting in for the right to engage with the Yale administration on the issue of divestment. On the steps outside Woodbridge Hall was Sarah Eidelson, pounding on the locked door, demanding to be let in, refusing to stop until she was allowed to join us.
At closing time, 19 of us stayed behind to risk arrest. I tried to act relaxed and positive, but I was pretty scared. As we were read the Undergraduate Regulations this phrase stood out to me: “risk permanent separation from the University.” As we learned of our infractions, Sarah was there to support us and make sure everyone was safe. That day I felt Sarah’s genuine anger and concern. It showed me that she will fight for us and for what we believe in, whether that means standing up to the Yale administration, corporations or our local government. How do I know? That day I saw her do it.
Sarah has helped change my understanding of what it means to be a student and a New Haven resident. A few days ago, I was sitting in her living room where volunteers were gathered before heading out to register voters and talk to people about the meaning of this election. It was standing room only, packed with people I admire: fellow student activists, community organizers, committed alders, inspired young people. We were all there because of the vision we share for a more just and inclusive New Haven.
It has taken me a long time to find my place as both a Yale student and New Haven resident, and I have knocked on a lot of doors this week, possibly yours. The reason? You’re a New Haven resident too, and together we can cross the imaginary boundaries that divide us from our neighbors and make our voices heard.
Alina Aksiyote is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .