Nat Kerman

Immediately after the stress of shopping period follows another stress-inducing period in any Yalie’s life: applying to clubs.

Although most application-based organizations largely exist as on-campus entities, some encourage their members to venture outside the Yale bubble to see new aspects of New Haven. Last Friday was the deadline to apply to City Hall’s Democracy School, an initiative that aims to increase awareness of and involvement in city government. City Hall established the Democracy School more than a decade ago to cultivate interest in and enhance understanding of New Haven city government.

“The goal is to train interested and passionate New Haven residents with the understanding of local government services and structures so they can become engaged activists and take on volunteer roles,” said Michael Harris, Mayor Toni Harp’s special assistant, who has run the program for the past three years.

From New Haveners who have spent their entire lives in the community to Yale students who have only recently been introduced to the area, all residents over the age of 18 are welcome to apply to the Democracy School.

Caroline Smith ’14 — who previously participated in the Democracy School — spoke highly of her experience with the program.

“New Haven was one of the first places I’ve been where I was like, ‘This is what it’s like to live in a city,’” Smith said. “It became a big part of my Yale experience.”

Each year, the Democracy School admits around 25 of its 30 or so applicants.

Over the course of the eight-week program, which begins on Sept. 27 and ends in November, the participants discuss various aspects of governance and how those issues relate to New Haven. The topics range from “Governing the City” to “Quality Neighborhoods.”

“The material of the course is focused on civic literacy and understanding what the city is doing,” Harris said. “There is no one area that we are trying to make sure people come out of the course with the desire to impact.”

Program organizers are currently looking to make the curriculum more publicly available so that residents across New Haven would have the necessary tools to enact change in their lives through city government.

By participating in the program, Yale students have gotten to learn more about the city in which they live, exploring the New Haven government’s efforts to meet the needs of the city and discussing what remains to be done.

The Democracy School represents just one of a number of ways Yale students can become more involved in New Haven. Harris said that most local organizations are happy to be contacted by Yale students and open to having students participate in their efforts.

To learn more about city government, Harris recommended that Yale students reach out to their alders, who he said have a thorough understanding of political issues and city resources.

“[A]s the alderman that represents a ward comprised of largely Yale students, I’m in a unique position where, instead of focusing on things like repaving sidewalks, I can focus on more broad issues that the city faces,” said Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19.

Ariana Habibi |