Yale College should implement a community service graduation requirement. Such a mandate would improve the lives of New Haven residents, enrich students’ experience at Yale and strengthen town-gown relations.
In elementary school, I hated homework. Unable to get me to do my work, my parents sent me to New Haven Reads, a free after-school tutoring program for New Haven children. There, my tutor, a Yale undergraduate, helped make the homework easier to understand. With their support, I began engaging in my classes, doing well in them, and I eventually got into Yale myself. What was merely community service to my tutor was life-changing for me. But my story is just one of many.
The kind of help I received years ago is still a crucial part of Yale’s ethos today. Dwight Hall sponsors a multitude of service initiatives. The Yale Day of Service helps alumni from around the world reconnect through community service. Even President Salovey wrote in a News op-ed to the class of 2021, “It is my hope and expectation that each of our new students will find ways to contribute to our home city.”
While student-run organizations and service days can encourage Yalies to engage with New Haven, we can and should do more.
The “Yale Bubble” cliché is one grounded in reality. As a result of my 21 years in New Haven and my time at Yale, I can confidently say that too many students do not venture off-campus and make the most out of their undergraduate experience in New Haven. This insulation can lead to tension between the city and the school. And mandatory community service would work to alleviate that.
The community service requirement would be like a QR requirement. Yale students would be required to work on a community service project in New Haven before they graduate. So as not to pose a burden to low-income students who already have to pay the student income contribution, hours spent on community service would be in lieu of hours spent working student jobs.
Mandatory community service would improve the lives of New Haven residents, as ordinary community service from Yale students did for me years ago. But another benefit is that when New Haven grows, so does Yale — their fates are intertwined. When New Haven is a better place to live, Yale is able to attract new prospective students and make faculty eager to work here.
And finally, as a result of the many opportunities for Yalies to contribute back to New Haven, students may discover an academic or professional passion during their service that they would not have otherwise found.
As members of the Yale community, we are all surrounded by immense privilege. We owe it to the city we call home for four years to pay back that privilege in some way. In doing so, we could discover newfound passions and maybe even help a young student with his homework so that he, too, can one day attend Yale.
HACIBEY CATALBASOGLU graduated from Yale College in 2019. He currently serves as New Haven’s Ward 1 Alderman. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .