Yale School Of Medicine

Like most science professors, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology associate professor Valerie Horsley spends her time researching, traveling to conferences and applying for grants.

But unlike many of her peers, Horsely has added on one unusual task: campaigning for a local election.

If elected to the Hamden town council, Horsely said she would advocate for “smart financial decisions” and push green initiatives such as instituting bike lanes and improving traffic control in town. She added that she would consider bringing in University faculty members or students to give advice on topics like criminal justice. On the Nov. 5 election day, Horsley will face off against Republican Marsha Walsh.

“I wear a lot of hats. I do a lot of things. I write grants, I teach students, I serve on different committees. I’m used to wearing different roles and using my time efficiently to tackle everything,” she said. “There are a lot of issues in the community that I think we can tackle at the local level.”

Horsley said that she’s fairly confident she will win her election. But on behalf of other town council candidates who are running in hotly-contested races, the professor has been knocking on doors to speak with local residents.

Following President Trump’s election in 2016, Horsley decided to run for the Connecticut State Senate District 17 seat in 2018. She lost the primary by less than 400 votes. Since then, the professor has dedicated more time to politics. In particular, Horsley has pushed for community equality and diversity in science.

“I can think a lot about the cells and molecules in the skin, but I have skills that can be used to solve other problems,” she said.

Horsley’s potential spot on the town’s main legislative body would be monumental, according to Council President Michael McGarry. For one, the majority of members on the council would be female, and Horsley would be the first Yale professor he can remember to have held a spot.

Of course, he said, she must first win the election, which he said is likely given the town’s liberal bent. McGarry predicted with “99 percent certainty” that a majority-female council will come in the near future.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I am highly supportive of Valerie, and I look forward to working with her.”

According to McGarry, many of Hamden’s more than 60,000 residents work for Yale. Having Horsley as a liaison between the two organizations could be helpful for town development, the council president said.

McGarry — who also works as a high school teacher — said that balancing his responsibilities as a council member with his day job can be challenging at times. In the spring, when the body deliberates the budget, McGarry added that the council can get “pretty time consuming.” But Horsley said that she’s prepared for the commitment — especially since it requires less time than a Senate seat.

Professor Horsley’s running for office receives wide support from fellow faculty members at MCDB department at Yale.

“I support professor Horsley’s run for elected office.” said MCDB associate professor Weimin Zhong, “I believe academics need to be more engaged in the political sphere, and there is nothing more direct than being part of an elected body.”

Horsley first joined the Yale faculty in 2009. Since then, the professor has led efforts to start a children’s daycare center on the Yale Divinity School campus that gives priority access to faculty members with young children.

Earlier this year, Horsley won a spot on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate. She is working on organizing workshops on teaching techniques for new faculty members.

“Professor Horsley talks a lot about her experience in a series of workshops, on how to mentor graduate and postdoctoral students,” said MCDB associate professor Jing Yan. “I find her workshop to be particularly helpful, and she’s very willing to serve in the community.”

Professor Yan added that, given professor Horsley’s huge leadership potential, he was “not surprised that [she] chose to run for office.”

Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor in Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at the School of Public Health, said Horsley’s new campaign for town council is inspiring. Horsley frequently takes to Twitter to advocate for more representation in STEM fields and to call out President Trump’s actions.

“Being a Yale professor is no easy task, and she’s running a lab, and she has a family to raise. She’s a superwoman in many ways,” he said. “I don’t know how she does it.”

Horsley received her doctorate from Emory University.


Luna Li | luna.li@yale.edu

Matthew Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu