When Yale officially opened Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges in the fall of 2017, the University changed more than its campus life — it also introduced an additional 600 eligible voters to New Haven’s Ward 22, making the ward one of two Yale-majority legislative districts in the Elm City.
Ward 22 spans from Dixwell to Whitney Avenue and — prior to the University’s expansion — already included students in Ezra Stiles, Morse, Timothy Dwight and Silliman among its 3,000 voters. The rest of Yale students are housed in Ward 1 and — since earning the right to vote in the Elm City in the early 1970s — have historically elected a student to represent them on the Board of Alders, New Haven’s legislative body. Yale students constitute an overwhelming majority of Ward 1 residents, as compared to just over half of Ward 22 after the residential college expansion. While the responsibilities of these wards’ alders are different, both work to improve the town and gown relationship and bridge the Yale-New Haven divide.
“I think it’s pretty cool to have a ward that is 50 percent permanent Dixwell residents and 50 percent Yale students and faculty,” President Pro Tempore and Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison told the News in an interview. “That’s because the needs are very different, but at the same time both sides of the ward can help one another.”
Morrison was born and raised in the Elm City and attended New Haven public schools before graduating from Morgan State University — a historically black university — in Maryland and then pursuing her master’s degree in social work at Boston University.
Morrison was first elected in Ward 22 in 2011 and has served on the Board of Alders ever since. She represents two often-disconnected communities: students in six of Yale’s residential colleges and residents of Dixwell, a traditionally low-income, minority neighborhood of New Haven. In wearing “both hats,” Morrison told the News, she has worked to bring Yale and New Haven together within Ward 22 as well as in her office — her two co-chairs on the Ward 22 Democratic Town Committee represent the University and the city. Lorna Chitty ’20, a senior in Stiles, currently holds the Yale position.
Since the beginning of her tenure, Morrison has held open meals in the college dining halls in an effort to connect with her Yale-affiliated constituents. In doing so, she hopes to encourage Yale students to engage with the city and its residents as part of their education — as she did while studying in Boston.
“Your education is more than the four walls of sitting in the classroom,” she told the News. “Your education is also getting out there in the community.”
While emphasizing what Yale students and Elm City residents can learn from one another, Morrison has also acknowledged the fundamental differences between her two main constituent groups. Unlike Dixwell residents, Yale students’ housing and meals are largely accounted for, and they rarely require their elected representatives’ help in navigating government resources and city services — one of Morrison’s primary responsibilities to her non-Yale constituency. Rather than working on service provision, Morrison said, she often fields requests for information from Yale students and updates them on her activities via a regular newsletter.
Morrison’s dual role makes her responsibilities significantly different from those of her Ward 1 counterpart. Ward 1 is the well-recognized “Yale ward” and is currently represented by New Haven native Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19, who succeeded Sarah Eidelson ’12 after she chose not to run for a fourth term in 2017. This January, Catalbasoglu — who announced over the summer that he will not seek re-election — will likely pass the reins to Eli Sabin ’22, who is currently the only Yale student vying for the position.
Given Yale’s assumption of service provision for its students — who comprise the vast majority of Ward 1 constituents — the alder for Ward 1 is more responsible for the broader legislative goals of the Board than for day-to-day constituent casework.
Catalbasoglu told the News that while he works on constituent services regularly, he does so less frequently than his colleagues. This, he said, has given him the “freedom to look at more big-picture issues — issues like immigration, public safety, public health.”
Sabin told the News that he also wants to work on issues beyond Ward 1 in an effort to “reflect the challenges that affect people in Dixwell and Fair Haven and Newhallville.” Morrison has echoed this sentiment. As President Pro Tempore, she is similarly focused on citywide initiatives.
Wards 1 and 22 — which together house Yale’s campus — are two of 30 wards represented on the Board of Alders.
Mackenzie Hawkins | firstname.lastname@example.org