Robbie Short

The Yale College Council’s new Yale-New Haven relations task force held its first meeting last Sunday afternoon.

Comprised of roughly 17 students, including members of the YCC’s Council of Representatives — a body made of student leaders from across campus — the Yale-New Haven relations task force is a key part of the YCC’s efforts to strengthen the relationship between the University and the Elm City.

“The purpose of this task force is not to sort of just bulldoze our way through New Haven and say these are the issues we see, this is what we plan on doing to help you,” said Sammy Landino ’21, an opinion columnist for the News and the YCC’s Task Force Director. “It’s more to work in a collaborative effort, to have New Haveners define their problems, and to ask them how we can help them best.”

At the meeting, YCC president Saloni Rao ’20 and the organization’s finance director Kahlil Greene ’21 explained the YCC’s existing New Haven-related initiatives. Rao specifically discussed the YCC-United Way partnership established earlier this year.

The collaboration between the Council and the nonprofit will consist of a series of lunches featuring United Way members, monthly volunteering trips and a poverty simulation on Cross Campus in the spring.

Members of the task force also discussed aspects of the Yale-New Haven relationship that they wished to improve, discussing a wide range of ideas including increasing the number of Yale Shuttle stops to different localities within the city and establishing relationships between the residential college dining halls and soup kitchens.

“We didn’t go into the meeting with a ton of concrete goals, because the whole point of this task force in particular was to bring a lot of different people together to talk about these ideas in a way that hadn’t been done before,” Rao told the News. “We had a lot of really interesting conversations about the mission of the task force and the goals of the task force.”

According to Landino, the task force then broke up into four subdivisions, each of which focuses on a specific area within student engagement. At the end of the meeting, members were divided into these smaller groups — Grants, Research and Legislation, Service in New Haven and Student Leader Information Meeting — based on interest.

Rao said that the Grants team will work with local service organizations to administer the roughly $4,000 that the YCC has set aside from its internal endowment for improving relations between the city and the University. Greene added that as a result of new outreach programs by the organization’s business team, the Council will likely have “even more money” to put into the initiative.

The Research and Legislation group will focus on “broader” topics that, according to Rao, students do not have as much control over, including the University’s taxes to the city and affordable housing.

Rao noted that the YCC is looking into using part of its internal endowment as a “work-study” grant for students interested in researching topics that involve the relationship between Yale and New Haven. Greene said that while the research grant is “in the works,” the exact amount of money will be decided after working with members of the task force to “flesh out” programming and the budget.

According to the Rao, the Service in New Haven subdivision will connect undergraduates with service organizations looking for volunteers with specialized skills. While many students volunteer at local nonprofits, Rao said that these organizations also seek people skilled in areas such as graphic design, website setup and publicity.

The Student Leader Information Meeting subdivision will focus on generating a collaboration between student leaders focusing on the Yale-New Haven relationship. These leaders currently have “no central space” to share ideas and best practices, Rao noted.

“The overarching idea is that students in the past have tried to tackle a lot of these different issues, but the YCC has never focused on Yale-New Haven relations before,” she said. “This year, we want to focus on it, knowing that we are the body on this campus that has the ability to bring students from a broad variety of disciplines together to work on a lot of different issues.”

While the YCC has previously instituted Yale-New Haven task forces, Landino said that their work was “pretty unsubstantial” and focused more on policy reports.

Annie Cheng ’20, co-director of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project and a member of the task force, said she attended the meeting because she thought a student coalition through the YCC could involve a “broader support base” across the University.

“Hopefully, this marks the first step forward of Yalies embracing and treating New Haven as home,” Cheng said. She added that she was optimistic about the initiative but would likely have reservations until “tangible progress” was made.

Serena Ly ’20, the outgoing Dwight Hall Co-Coordinator and another member of the group, also said that she was “excited” to see the interest in the Yale-New Haven relations task force, praising the effort to support local nonprofits.

Ly emphasized that the task force needs to have strong communication with actors in the Elm City, to ensure the group does not “impose a perception” of organization’s needs.

“There’s always a need to be constantly thinking about our positions as both students trying to come up with innovative solutions but also students who have much to learn from the expertise and experiences of our community partners,” Ly told the News.

The YCC was established in 1972.

Aakshi Chaba | aakshi.chaba@yale.edu