Since coming to college, I’ve often wondered where I consider home. It’s tough to call it Los Angeles when I spend the vast majority of my year on the other side of the country. And yet, I do — partially out of devotion to my hometown but also because I’m not quite sure that I am a part of the New Haven community. Save for a few instances of volunteering here and there, I spend my days in the ivy-laden bubble that is Yale.
My dilemma, I’m sure, is not unique, but you wouldn’t know that from the rhetoric surrounding the biennial race for the Ward 1 alder seat. The Board of Alders, which serves as New Haven’s city council, comprises alders elected from various districts, called wards, around the city. The majority of Yale falls into Ward 1. There’s just one problem: Nobody seems to know what the point of Ward 1 is. Perhaps we need Ward 1 to connect Yale students with the rest of New Haven. That’s a noble goal. New Haven has been a host for our college years, and students probably have a moral obligation to give back to it. But does having an alder accomplish that? The Ward 1 alder is a representative in search of something to represent. Do Yale students have any major interests in the city? For example, should New Haven be pressuring Yale to end the student income contribution? Probably not — that’s the Yale College Council’s job. Should the Ward 1 alder be facilitating volunteering opportunities instead? Maybe, but we have Dwight Hall for that. Every election cycle, a candidate seems to mention that it’s important to address the “shared challenges” of our community, but I have yet to hear what these challenges are. Besides, even if we accept, as I do, that connecting students with the city is important, allowing most Yalies to stay within the confines of a single ward doesn’t really foster engagement with anybody else in New Haven, does it?
Maybe we need Ward 1 to give Yale students a voice in local matters because, as our current alder, Sarah Eidelson ’12, has quipped, they affect us. But do they? I question whether pretty much anything that the Board of Alders does affects us — aside from approving Yale building plans, anyway. But, even if it’s true that we need a voice, this philosophy seems to be inconsistently applied. Timothy Dwight, Silliman, Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges are all in Ward 22 but make up less than half of its population. Between the number of international students in the ward and the relatively low number of students who vote in New Haven at all, they’re effectively disenfranchised in comparison to the overwhelmingly Yale-dominated Ward 1. Does this mean that the voices of some Yalies aren’t worth as much? I know TD and Silliman are in the middle of nowhere, but come on. It’s been said that Ward 1 is the “young people” ward and gives an “age-based constituency” a voice, but officials have yet to make a strong argument that giving people a voice equates to giving them one singular vote on the Board of Alders.
If the voice of Yale students is so valuable, why not have more than just one? Why not have a nonvoting student advisory panel for the Board of Alders, as both my city and College Park — home of the University of Maryland — do? Is one token “youth” seat enough for our 30 alders? Besides, the youths of New Haven are a category that encompasses far more than just Yale students. Why not open up such a panel to students at Gateway, the University of New Haven and New Haven Public Schools?
Previous columnists have argued Ward 1 should be gerrymandered out of existence, and I’m not opposed to that. But I actually think a case exists against the existence of any wards at all or, at the very least, for far fewer of them. New Haven is smaller than neighboring cities by population, yet has more alders. In theory, this gives constituents a more direct say in city politics, but if Eidelson’s absence in Ward 1 is any indication, I’m skeptical that this actually occurs.
No matter what I write in the pages of the News, the election is still going to happen. As of now, only Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 has thrown his hat in the ring. I know and like him, and it’s great that a native New Havener is running. I’m sure he’ll do great things for the city if elected. But, before this election cycle is over, just once I want the candidates to give me a satisfying answer to the following question: Am I part of the New Haven community, and, if not, should I be?
Shreyas Tirumala is a junior in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at email@example.com .