The night before the Yale-Harvard game, a visiting student asked me if New Haven was “sketchy.” I told her that if she stayed away from the frats she’d be fine.
I’m not joking. The recent AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct shows increased reports of non-consensual penetration, sexual touching, sexually harassing behaviors, intimate partner violence and stalking since 2015. The most common location: “other location on or around campus.” Since Yale likes to pretend that fraternities don’t exist, this is likely the option that victims of sexual misconduct at fraternities had to choose when reporting their experiences.
Meanwhile, crime in New Haven has been on a steady decline for years. Ten years ago, CBS News declared New Haven the fourth most dangerous city in the United States, with a crime rate of 15.8 per 1000 people. By 2017, that number was cut almost in half to 8.6. A News report from January of this year summarizes the continuing decrease, with crime going down across the board in most categories, except for sexual assault and homicides, which were often linked to domestic violence incidents.
As a New Haven native, I am continually disgusted and ashamed by the disrespect that the city receives from Yale students. The misconceptions toward crime are just an example. Most Yale students treat New Haven as their entitlement. This is most apparent at The Game. As I walked around the city, I saw Yale and Harvard students alike stumbling around the sidewalks like drunken idiots, often walking into the middle of streets as local police tried to control the traffic that was severely disrupted by the football match. In the aftermath, an obscene amount of empty alcohol containers littered the ground on the baseball field and on the path from the tailgate to the Yale Bowl. In an act of incredible irony, a student walked around with a sign announcing that “$40 billion > $25 billion” as students of both schools wandered around with pristine regalia and held Starbucks cups and entire handles of beer, shouting “You suck” at each other. It was a revolting display that reeked of privilege and elitism, and I was embarrassed to be involved with either institution.
To me, the halftime protest offered a glimmer of hope in salvaging Yale students’ relationship with New Haven and the greater world. Harvard and Yale students are undeniably brilliant and passionate, but we are also privileged by our access to an excellent education. Privilege is not inherently bad; the protest showed that students can use their gifts to make an impact. It is only when privilege becomes connected to a sense of entitlement and superiority that it is detrimental, and sadly, this happens far too often. We are in no way any “better” than the amazing and vibrant New Haven community that surrounds us. They don’t deserve to pick up our trash. I have heard ignorant students ask, “Where would New Haven be without Yale?” In its 320-year history, Yale has undeniably hurt New Haven more than it has helped. People should instead be asking, “Where would Yale be without New Haven?”
As I scrolled through social media in the aftermath of the protest, I was appalled by the negative and visceral reactions from people around the country complaining about “rich privileged nerds” “whining” and “disrupting a football game.” I felt this was deeply ironic and a gross mischaracterization of the students. In the scenes before the game, I did see a lot of privileged nerds disrupting the city of New Haven and whining about how their school was better. I realized I could understand how some of these stereotypes could have emerged. I would not be surprised if this is how most of New Haven views us, but I know that there are far too many Yale students who don’t fit this mold and can often get lost behind this overshadowing reputation. During halftime, I saw a diverse group of students from all socioeconomic backgrounds proudly standing up for what was right. I know this is the real Yale.
Watching the protests on television, I, for once, felt a sense of pride in being a Yale student. The value in a Yale education does not come in increasing self-worth, but rather in our ability to transform and enhance the communities around us. Many may think that this comes after graduation in various careers or through charitable contributions. The brave students from Divest Harvard and the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition demonstrated forcefully that it starts right here and right now, in this beautiful city that we are lucky to call “home” for four short years.
ALEX KANE is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .