Archive | October, 2010

A Note On Love

28 Oct

How much do I love spaghetti?

PESTO FACE. I love spaghetti almost as much as I love when you decide not to make fun of me for the giant bathing suit wet spots in this otherwise-choir-of-angels-worthy picture.

How much do I love jello wrestling?

So after giving it some thought, Jess isn't sure she should answer this question. After all, Jess's father reads this blog, too. (But if you really want to know -- I LOVE PIERSON JELLO WRESTLING. It's like the cause and effect lovefest of "If you give a mouse a cookie" but with "If you give a girl a handful of gooey gucky yellow jellow")

HOW MUCH DO I LOVE MY FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND THAT ONE RANDOM WAITER AT THE NEW YORK RESTAURANT WHO GAVE ME A SOMBRERO FOR MAKING MY 21st BIRTHDAY SO INCREDIBLE?!?!

Yeah, that’s right. I love that crew most of all.

A Strawberry Daiquiri, Scotch, and Cosmopolitan, in that order, at my "Costumed Cocktails" celebration. Don't all of your classy drinks usually start their evenings with a few giggles?

My childhood in pictures. Thank you, Grandma, for surprising me by digging these out! Thank you, dance competitions of my youth, for putting me in that fashionable delight of a purple tutu on the upper right!

P.S. In the upper right, there is something eating my mother's head as she cradles my baby self. I've heard rumors of it being one of her 80s-style perms. Not so sure I want those rumors confirmed. XOXO MOM I PROMISE I'M (MOSTLY) DONE MAKING FUN OF YOUR YOUTH NOW

(I don’t have a picture for this one, but THANK YOU Nana & Grampa for the card and for the advice on “not getting too sloshed”! One of the wisest – and most fun – things I have been told all year.)

Only the best dads take their daughters to celebrate a birthday in a restaurant where they make her wear a sombrero! In other news, yeah, that happened.

I can't even feign sarcasm for this one. I just love my family. Though I can add a shoutout to all of you who weren't present that evening -- I, and everyone else making thorough fools of ourselves, missed you in our conga line.

My friends made a scrapbook of 21 pages about me for my birthday?!?!?!?!! I know. Pinch me, please.

AND a surprise birthday chair in the dining hall?!?!?!

Feelin' like the luckiest gal on the planet. Or at least the luckiest gal on the planet wearing her very own giant "It's my birthday" button.

So, in sum:

I love spaghetti. I love jello-wrestling. And I LOVE YOU for making me feel, at 21 years old, that life is goofy, fun, and oh so good.

THANK YOU, CREW!

infinite xos

J

Quotes of the (Loosely Defined) Week

28 Oct

This week is a whirlwind of midterm papers, meetings, kicking about in piles of autumn leaves (yes, of course this merits as much time as my academics), and, as you may have noticed, an overabundance of Tweeting. But in the midst of my late night article-writing, I thought I would share a few quotes from the past week or so that made me stop and think.

It’s all the “who’s getting in the life raft?” kind of stuff.

–Ed Mattison, major advocate about homelessness issues in New Haven from the South Central Behavioral Health Network, referring to a phenomenon in which a lot of social service organizations in the city, many of whom have worked closely with one another in the past, are now having to compete for an extremely limited pool of available funding to run their programs and/or shelters this year. Overall, programs in New Haven have lost 8% of their normal budgets as well as laid off two caseworkers.

Compassion fatigue: You feel like you’re working harder than they are to turn their lives around.

–Pete, a street outreach worker for the homeless in New Haven. Pete was formerly homeless, too, and has since recovered, and he spoke about his struggles to continue trying to help some of his clients even as they fell once, twice, five times off of the recovery bandwagon.

I drive around wanting to know that I do everything that I can do [to help the people on the streets] before pulling into my driveway [at night].

–Pete, of why he stays out late at nights working even though his wife would like him home safe.

For some of them, it’s better to live on the street than in that situation.

–Ed, of the reasons for the sharp rise of women who are homeless over the past few years. Many of the women run away from home and into the streets to escape abuse.

We give ourselves the impression that cynicism is more widespread than it really is.

–Hakan Ayat, the Executive Director of Turkey’s Open Society Foundation and a former World Fellow at Yale. I had dinner with Hakan as part of a Pierson College Master’s Tea last week and he led our table through a workshop about global civics.

This armchair is very comfortable, but we won’t be able to do the rest of it from this armchair.

–Hakan, talking about the sacrifices necessary of the world in order to cooperate well enough to deal with climate change, resource constraints, and overpopulation.

Future generations are subsidizing us, and it’s hard to give up subsidies.

–Hakan, on why we refuse to plan for the crises ahead by planning and rationing what we have now. He also stated that one of the difficulties of preparing anyone for climate change (and/or convincing him or her that it exists in the first place) is that the fallout from our actions won’t be observable for another three decades. Our sense of cause and effect is separated by 30 years.

We need to be perfectly clear that the answer will not always be yes to the customer. Our job is to say, let me show you how to get to yes.

–Lynn Smith, Vice President of Business Development at Start Community Bank in New Haven, about the kind of culture that she wants to foster in her coworkers. I interviewed Smith and Start’s CEO, Bill Placke, today in preparation for an article that I am writing for one of my classes…more details to come.

This is what makes me get up in the morning. This is an entry from our Start art contest and…this young lady who is thirteen years old says, “This is a picture of a few garbage cans on the corner of Howe and Kimberly that represent what most upper class people think of us in New Haven. They think of us as garbage.”

–Lynn, same interview as above, talking about why she is so driven about her work at Start Community Development Bank. The bank is trying to engage the poorest sections of New Haven (primarily those who earn $20,000 or less a year) to help them learn how to use the banking industry to pull themselves up into a life of more wealth, whether that means receiving an extra $500 or $5,000 a year.

As our premise, let’s say that a cube is larger than a tet.

–My First Order Logic professor. Oh, wait, no. As much as I appreciate this class for my professor’s excellent teaching and wit and for the exercise of my mathematical muscles, the distance between this quote and the rest should be evidence enough in my personal case to be excused from my final Quantitative Reasoning requirement. Sorry, everyone in my family who is good at math. Shoulda shared the genetic jackpot.

Love and quotes,

J

Learning about Biz-ness

26 Oct

Biz Stone came to a Yale Master’s Tea today. For those who either don’t go to Yale or stick their fingers in their ears and sing loudly to avoid hearing about each new tech start-up, a quick refesher:

Biz Stone: co-founder of Twitter (and Xanga and lots of other cool things). Total baller.

Twitter: Twitter.com (I use it! My Twitter stream is to the right of this blog). A service that lets you send out thoughts, links, etc in 140-character chunks and “follow” the streams of other users. Biz calls it “an information network, not a social network,” and I would agree – I use it as my RSS feed and a way to find the pulse of what’s going on. And, yes, occasionally to thank my mother for doing my laundry. But only occasionally!

Master’s Tea: events where certain residential colleges at Yale invite luminaries from specific fields (or luminaries in general – think Hillary Clinton & Denzel Washington for starters) to sit down in a fairly low-key environment and “chat” with a group of Yale students.

So, today Biz came. I learned a lot and tweeted even more. But here are some of the real quotational gems; many of them made me think as I work with my own start-up this year, and I thought you might enjoy them, too:

  • If Twitter succeeds, “it’s not a triumph of technology, it’s a triumph of humanity.”
  • A great question he got about Twitter – “What do you want people to say about Twitter in five years? Ten years?”
  • “Opportunity can be manufactured”
  • “Creativity is a renewable resource.”
  • Mistakes cause you to show your integrity and character. You use them to explain what you did wrong, why, what happened, and why it won’t happen again. “Then you tuck it under your belt and move on.”
  • The movie “Wings of Desire” is, apparently, awesome.
  • “To succeed spectacularly, be ready to fail spectacularly.”

Twitter internal company culture quotes:

  • “We can change the world, build a business, and have fun.”
  • “We don’t always know what’s going to happen.” –> leave the door open to innovation in response to unexpected events/usages of your technology
  • “There is a creative answer to every problem.” and you should do something creative before you try the obvious solution
  • “There are more smart people outside of our company than inside of it.” 300 people at Twitter. 6+ billion in the world.
  • “We will win if we always do the right thing for our users.”
  • “The only deal worth doing is a win-win deal.” Treat business relationships like real relationships.
  • “Your coworkers are all smart and full of good intentions.” Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If you think someone’s doing a bad job, introduce yourself and find out how you can help.

Another remark that hit home, especially after my course at the School of Management last year on corporate social responsibility and social ventures:

  • Start-ups have the unique ability to build into their business and culture the idea of doing good so that their altruism can have a kind of compound interest as they grow into bigger businesses. (fyi, Twitter has a non-profit wine brand called “Fledgling” that donates all profits to “Room to Read”)
  • The right business model should be either invisible to users or so useful that it is appreciated by them

Who knew that a little business named after chirping birds could end up saying (and enabling others to say) so much?

Now that’s one Rockin’ Robin.

Notebook Excerpt: Norma

26 Oct

Late this summer, a woman died. She was a best friend to my grandmother and a warm, warm presence in the lives of my entire family, and a former nun with a whole host of adventures to share as we laughed over pub tables. I know, as, I think, does everyone who felt her unwavering belief in the world ahead, that she is still sharing laughter with friends; she’s just sitting at a bit of a higher table now. Though I still have not written anything that does her justice (I would need a novel!), here is a very, very rough first draft of a poem that I wrote this August during FOCUS. The entirety of these stanzas are copied from scribbles I made during a panel about Yale and New Haven…at that moment, my mind (and pen) were elsewhere.

Norma

before, we sat in

three seats with teetering martinis

and laughter from the inside out

(she was a nun to none or one, at least, as me,

with stories of teaching and God and the life she led

since those foreign countries)

she traveled from my 20 years of life to her two weeks of dying in hospital beds

and I had a suddenly-whittled brain of words and hobbled tongue

 

now, it’s just one more conversation

I will not have,

breaking bread,

one more dinner, pseudo-grandma-adult-shaped

intersection of my nights

just one more

quick

surprise.

 

later, maybe

her absence will take the

shape of stiffened

permanence,

hungry hungry

evenings in my bed,

that thank you letter we never wrote

 

and in ten years,

I will be passing these names

tied with story

tied with heart string of

faded loyalty,

fear of time,

of love

 

Grateful.

Where Do You Sleep?

17 Oct

I sleep at home, on my bed. I sleep in my dorm room. I sleep (only on rare occasions, parents, I promise) with my chin propped up by my hand during lecture. What kind of a question is that? It’s something even a toddler could answer.

Except for these toddlers. 42% of homeless children nationwide are under the age of six. 700 children were served by the non-profit New Haven Home Recovery just in New Haven last year. For these toddlers and their mothers, the answer to that question is not simple at all.

I learned these statistics and more at an event called the Sleep Out that the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP), a non-profit that I am on the board of at Yale, hosted last night. For the third year in a row, members of the group joined with other students on campus to raise money and awareness on behalf of the homeless community in New Haven, members of which are in danger of freezing to death on the streets this winter without the help of the shelter system. We put tents up on Old Campus (in the center of Yale’s freshmen dorms) during the day on Saturday; hosted a speaker, a singing group, contra dancing, s’more making, and community sing that evening; and then slept out in those same tents overnight. We raised over $1,300 this year, a record number. But why?

 

A few of the tents as dusk fell

 

Here are the facts. On any given day in New Haven, 700 people are homeless. And even this number is probably a low estimate – as someone who has walked the streets at the end of January to help with the CT Point-in-Time Homeless Count in 2009, I completely agree with my friend Matt, who says of the government-sponsored count, “It is guesswork done by smart, caring people…but it is certainly not a science.” Some of the homeless come from the greater New Haven area to concentrate in the city, which is the only place around with a variety of social services. Some of them are veterans, some mentally ill, some battered. Some have records and, despite having served their time, can’t find employers willing to take them. Others are homeless as a form of escape – many of the people who fit in this group grew up with some form of abuse. (For more stats and info, check out YHHAP’s website here.) But the vast majority of the homeless population – those who are not “chronically” homeless, or homeless for more than a year – are people who have had some success in life, but lately their luck has been a little too little and a little too late. They are neither all male nor all older; in fact, the reality is much the opposite – the NYTimes reported that there has been a rise in the number of families in New York shelters in this article (linked) just a month ago.

The difference between the perception of homeless people and the reality is one that Pat Mellion knows all too well. Mellion is the treasurer of New Haven Home Recovery, a non-profit serving homeless women and their children (check out their website here), and she came to speak to attendees of the Sleep Out last night.

NHHR has always served a large number of people in New Haven. They run a long-term shelter for women and children (meaning that instead of staying for only one night and then having to leave in the morning, which is how overnight shelters work, these families can actually have a home base and stay steady — soooo important for kids who need to be in one place so that they can attend school!) and manage 130 units of supportive housing in the city, with two more buildings slated to be added this year. The average stay at their shelter is 151 days (91 for those who are part of a government-sponsored rapid-rehousing program), with the end result being a housing unit that NHHR has found for that mother and child. They get referrals from 30-40 different agencies in New Haven and, between July and September of 2010, had already served 93 children. Because they focus on rehousing families and finding them supportive housing, they are our nation’s best chance at finding a long-term solution for homelessness. Yet even they are overwhelmed by the recent spike in need.

 

"It's overwhelming," Pat Mellion, Treasurer of the Board of Directors of New Haven Home Recovery (nhhr.org), said of the situation for homeless women and children that the organization doesn't have space for.

 

NHHR has had to turn 535 people away from its shelters just since July of this year. This number is up 25% from prior years, and only refers to those whom the agency has officially had to turn away. As Mellion put it, “If somebody knocks on the door at night, we will not turn them away…even if we put them in a sleeping bag on the office floor.”

So, in response to this crisis, what do we do? What can we do?

In my mind, the two questions are different. What do we do? Well, we try our best to fill in the gaps. The shelters are in immediate need of funding (in order to keep the overflow shelter open this year, New Haven’s government took money out of the budgets of every other shelter in the city instead of adding anything new, so NHHR alone is down $62,000 this year in its shelter operating budget.) The $1,300 from last night is a start, and the two incredible fundraising coordinators for YHHAP have raised several thousands of dollars from local businesses to add to that. Next up is the YHHAP Fast, the project that I, personally, am responsible for with my co-coordinator. We organize Yale students to give up their meal swipes for one day each semester (this term, it will be this coming Thursday, October 21!), and the money that isn’t spent on food is instead donated to local organizations. (Yalies, if you haven’t signed up yet, yale.edu/sis -> Dining -> Hunger and Homelessness -> YES.) Last spring, almost a third of the undergraduate student body donated their swipes and we raised close to $12,000. It’s not enough, but it helps.

 

Joe and I looking super stylish at the Sleep Out. If we look sleep-deprived, it's definitely not because we were actually, y'know, sleep-deprived or anything. Go team.

 

But besides what we feel compelled to do, there is another answer here. What can we do? For some people, the answer is “nothing.” Homelessness is someone’s “own” problem. I can understand that point of view. After all, I don’t believe that housing is an inalienable right in the way that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness happen to be. But I think that there is something to be said for the preservation of all of our human dignity by supporting a society in which even when someone hits “rock bottom,” that bottom still treats them like a human.

For most of us, the first time that we encounter homelessness is during childhood. We look at someone on the sidewalk and are confused, upset, scared, and full of questions. We’ve long-since lost that feeling. Now, we walk by with our hands on our wallets and continue our conversations. And we do nothing wrong by walking by.

But in an ideal world, I think we would still be filled with those childlike questions, because in America today, homelessness still doesn’t make sense. We would see this person as one story out of many (and a story, indeed – how often do you wonder what this man or woman or child originally wanted to be like when he or she grew up? Not a panhandler, with almost complete certainty), and even if we don’t give physical change, we would push for change of some other kind. This doesn’t have to come from the government – I don’t mean for this to be a politicized message. These things we can reach for on our own. A change in respect, whereby we say “hello” while walking by. A change in understanding and assumptions, whereby we recognize that the faces of homelessness are varied – and, often, are women and children, too. And a change in the solutions that we are content to give as a society – not just a short-term fix to get someone off the street, but a longer-term set of checkpoints between “here” and “there.”

 

Insert big metaphor about looking out into the future here. Effective, no?

 

Back in Time, 80s style

15 Oct

The Safety Dance is Yale’s annual ’80s night. If you ever thought Yalies were too cool, too studious, or too worried about potentially embarrassing Facebook photos showing up in their future election bids to throw themselves into a ridiculous theme night, think again. Large scrunchies, unite!

Here is my personal step-by-step guide to making this night all that it can be, even as it turns me into a true one of these:


How to prepare for the Safety Dance, Part One: The Attire

1. Hit up a thrift store. Consider spending $5 for that neon fuchsia suit jacket. But is it really authentic ’80s? Here, you use a lifeline. “Ask the audience” results in one bored cashier raising an eyebrow. But “Phone a friend” gets you on the line with a true expert…

2. …Your mom! After all, she lived through this stuff, didn’t she? “Oh, honey, don’t bother buying that! I can bring you up something from my own closet. I’m sure I have something that would work.” Sure enough, the next day, she shows up with a purple blazer with PADDED SHOULDERS.

3. Celebrate your new acquisition. No one else in your suite has anything that compares to this gem.

4. Stop celebrating. Consider what said acquisition meant. Phone home immediately. “Wait. You mean you actually WORE THAT? Like, in your REAL LIFE?”

5. Time out. Public Service Announcement to all parents: unlike leggings and high waists, padded shoulders will never, ever, ever, evereverevereverEVER come back in style. You can move them from closet wear to dress-up box now. You really can. If you really need to be “hip” and find something “retro,” pretty please, look elsewhere.

(We still love you, though. Especially when we end up using said fashion mistakes as our main ensemble for the evening)

Part Two: The Songs

1. If you really want to know the words to all of the songs at the ’80s dance, you must either:

  • take lots of long car rides with your dad
  • wear large headphones and walk around in leather jackets moaning, “Rock is dead. It has never been the same since [insert standard top hits guy band here] broke up” all year long
  • spend the 48 hours leading up to the dance cramming as much decade-appropriate music into your Pandora playlist as possible

2. Warning: if you choose option three (and, given the alternatives, you will choose option three), you may find yourself incorporating strange phrases into your everyday vernacular. Much as travelers in a new place find themselves quickly picking up the local language out of necessity, you, too, will find yourself altering your speech patterns just to fit in. Example:

Normal person: “Come on, Jess, we have to get to dinner”

Safety dance prepper: “Toora loora toora loo rye ay

NP: “Oops! Wrong way, looks like we’ll have to turn around.”

SDP: “Right round like a record, baby.”

NP: “What time is your alarm set for tomorrow morning? Could you wake me up -”

At this moment, SDP, who has been patiently trying to control herself for the entirety of the conversation, loses her cool, finds the nearest platform, leaps up onto it, and breaks into glorious song that sounds a little something like this:

Part Three: The Dance

1. Channel Michael as often as possible. Yes, that Michael.

2. Do the sprinkler. The shopping cart. The “I’m trying really hard to make this look ironic but it’s really because I don’t have any other moves” Egyptian walk whether or not “Walk Like An Egyptian” comes on.

3. Above all, don’t forget to get a bit…

Speaking with the authority of a baby born in the last gasp of the ’80s (’89 shoutout!), I guarantee that these tips + a complete disregard for your personal image + the willingness to wail out the lyrics when you are freeeeeeeee(EEEEEEE….nope, still going…Eeeeeeee…almost done! which is good because your lungs are failing…EEEEEEEEE)-falling will add up to one night of everyone, including the adults out there, feeling forever young.

On Citizens and Police

6 Oct

It feels like abuse to me.

It feels like abuse because watching the video and hearing an officer, post-tasing a student, yell “Who’s next?” causes the center of my stomach to clench in a tight and painful ball.

(Warning: college student language here)

It feels like abuse because I listened to the radio interview with two arrested students (both of whom I know), and they told me that not one of the arrested students had his (they were all male) rights read to him – in fact, in several cases, it sounded like the opposite.

It feels like abuse because – let’s be honest – I’m used to conceptualizing police as there to protect me, or, in the occasional moment, to protect me from hurting myself or from hurting others (isn’t that really what enforcing laws is supposed to accomplish?), and these images of SWAT teams and semi-automatic guns charging into a room full of dancing students challenge those conceptions.

And it feels like abuse because even if I trust that the Yale students involved will be okay – that the university will help them to hire lawyers and share the full story of what happened at Elevate – I know that if this happened to us, it is also, most likely, happening to others around the city and state. And they, unlike us, may not have the resources to pursue justice, whatever that justice might entail.

Okay. So. We’ve established that I’m uncomfortable with what happened this weekend between NHPD officers and Yale students. And if the dozens of comments on the YDN, New Haven Independent, and New Haven Register articles are any indication, I’m not alone.

But I’m also not done thinking this through. Yes, my initial reaction is straight-from-the-gut sadness at what I’ve heard. But I’m also in disagreement with many of the sentiments coming from members of the Yale community, things like: “This is why Yale should leave New Haven,” or “How stupid are they to come after underage drinking?” or “Yalies deserved what was coming to them — they all think that they’re better than the law,” or even the most typical teenage rebellion of all, “F&%* the police!”

Because let’s face it — the police did something wrong on Saturday night, even if there is more to the story (which is to say — even if we did things wrong as well). Maybe they went on a power trip, maybe they did indeed feel some class dynamics, or maybe they just felt threatened by a room full of people who were probably both scared and nervously laughing under their breath. But on other nights, members of that same police force – and so many other public servants around the country – are instead responsible for doing so much right. This story of police officers from the same New Haven Police force saving a man’s life is the reality far more often than the Storm Trooper parallels that are being drawn about Saturday night, and it is only by acknowledging the good intentions of the vast majority of officers that we can move forward from this.

But move forward to where? And how?

On our end, we need to recognize that the police have every right to enforce laws in our city, whether they be laws about overcrowding, underage drinking (even if they only found one person this time around, let’s not roll our eyes and pretend it’s not a legitimate target for their authority), or, at the extreme, murdering another person. We need to recognize that when they come dressed for combat, often that is because these cops actually deal with combat — and that the violence outside of city nightclubs won’t go down without their help and without them being willing to put their lives on the line to make our streets safer. We need to recognize that they are patrolling an urban area with enormous disparities in age, wealth, background, and criminal records. And we need to recognize that before we criticize their jobs, we ought to consider whether we would be willing to give them a try instead, even just for a night or two. In my case, the answer, though it makes me a bit embarrassed to admit it, is no. I, at least without an enormous amount of training and selflessness, could not do what they do. All it takes are a few reads of the Indy’s “Cop of the Week” profiles for me to know that.

And before you jump on me for leaving your – our – side of this out, let me take a seat on the other side of the debate table for a moment.

From the perspective of a student and a citizen, even as we recognize your job as policemen and women and commend you for it, we ask that you respect us in return. Even as you wear gear that prepares you for the worst possible scenario, is there a moment in which you could allow us to act our best? We, in almost all instances, want to help you. We value you, we want to cooperate, and – yes – we are terrified of your guns. So help us! Instead of blazing through the doors of a club of students with your guns waving and not explaining the reasons for your presence, take a moment, assess the lack of resistance, and talk to us. Tell us why you are there. Tell us what you expect from us and what we can expect from you in return. Treat the situation like we both belong to the same community (because – and I feel so so strongly about this – we do) and have some goals in common – goals like everyone in the club abiding by the law and leaving safely, goals like citizens doing their job by informing police about potential trouble and acting as stand-in vigilantes as necessary, goals like the city in return valuing the police force enough to agree to a raise in union wages. Perhaps these questions sound, to you, naive. But I ask you to take a moment to remember that, when we first grow up in our communities, we are all naive about what it means to interact with an officer. It does not come naturally. We see and hear conflicting messages from the media, from American history, from our friend’s dad who works in the station. We don’t know what to expect when we really, truly are asked to confront you for the first time. And for many of those Yale students, the raid at Elevate was their first time in direct contact with you. That’s a precious moment, and we can either leave it the way that we did on Saturday, disillusioned, hurt, angry, confused…or we can leave it understanding your job and why you asked us to act certain ways in your presence in order to make doing that job easier.

Hand-in-hand with our naivete and thus nervousness comes this desire to document your actions. A beautiful thing about this country is the way that it allows its citizens freedom of speech and of the press – a freedom that makes the old adage about the pen being mightier than the sword actually have a chance at verity. Yes, you have the right to carry your guns – we know that. It makes us both grateful and terrified, depending on which way they are pointing. But in return for us respecting your right to control the boundaries of our interactions through your weapons, you need to understand that our powers of observation are our own way of ensuring our safety and comfort during our meetings together. Both tools are dangerous — a trigger finger on a gun or on a camera has the power to change someone’s life within seconds. Your bullets are more immediately lethal, but a well-crafted article (or, I should say, a few seconds of video like those shown above) can have consequences with an even farther reach – one that moves beyond just the people present in that moment and into a national or global public sphere. So if you agree to be trained to use your weapon, let us, in turn, have a moment for self-defense. If we are not impeding you during your investigations or arrests and are merely observing, let us reinforce our eyes with gadgets. If you are doing your job, let the record show it. If we aren’t doing ours, let the record show that, too.

These are difficult issues and dialogues that all too often happen in terms of individual cases. In those scenarios, someone will always be seen as the “victor” (Yale students if they are acquitted, New Haven police if they can indeed prove that they were provoked). So before any of this happens again, let’s do more than hold press conferences trading anecdotes across newsprint and Twitter feeds. Let’s do our best to get some real conversation going, through our public remarks, yes, but also by encouraging our campus leaders to enroll in city-sponsored initiatives like the New Haven Police Citizens Academy. A course designed to increase communication, understanding, collaboration, and respect between New Haven citizens (and again, yes, this INCLUDES Yalies) and New Haven police officers sounds like the perfect place to start.

The New Haven Field Trip Society

5 Oct

At the beginning of this year, I gathered friends, crayons, and panlist members and started something new. (Perhaps, one could argue, I started something “new…Haven.”) It is a field trip society. It tries to move the boundaries of our self-defined “community” so far outwards that neither we nor local residents notice them anymore. It seeks to make us get up, go, learn, meet, explore, and then, perhaps, belong. And when someone asked me a few weeks ago to write them a piece explaining our mission, I did it like this:

Some people call them crazy. Some call them time-consuming, escapist, exhilarating, or nostalgia-inducing. I, however, simply call them “field trips.”

Remember those? The museums, the mountain hiking, the parental permission forms, and that one day free of the classroom when we earned our “real world” stripes (oh, the days when helping a historical reenactor lead a town meeting was enough to gain you street cred.) It was kind of cool, those few hours of exploding the familiar and singing bad ‘90s pop songs on the school bus. And then it disappeared.

Until now. This fall, I and a group of other quirky, adventurous, wanderlust students decided to do the unthinkable: bring back the field trips. Bring back the sense of discovery and the connection to places and people outside of our normal daily circuits. Bring back the magic. And with that, in August, 2010, the New Haven Field Trip Society was born.

Its mission is simple: to facilitate field trips from Yale’s campus into the wider world, most specifically the greater New Haven area. On top of this, NHFTS aims to make interesting people and places collide with each other. That’s why, in addition to having a huge array of potential destinations, we have a huge array of members, and our favorite trips are the ones that begin with introductions. It’s not all that many organizations that collect spontaneous people. We’re one of them.

So far, we’ve gone on a sunset schooner-ride in the New Haven Harbor, tried homemade pepper jam and fresh-picked blueberries at the Downtown Farmer’s Market, painted murals in Fair Haven at a service event with people from the neighborhood, and jammed at the CT Folk Festival. We’ve invited members to ribbon cutting events more than a half an hour away from campus and neighborhood parties just around the corner. And that’s just the beginning. Our “explorganizers” (no self-respecting society is complete without some tongue-in-cheek board titles) have suggested master classes with area metalworkers, tours of the city’s old baseball landmarks, midnight canoe rides, joint service days with local organizations, and undercover missions to the homes of local celebrities. Not to mention the culinary conquistadors out there; we have a list of area restaurants to fill every spare minute of our days…and every free inch of our stomachs (yes, Mom, even our second stomachs.)

Row, row, row your...schooner?

There is a lightheartedness to all of this, of course. A sense of frivolity, even, in the freewheeling expeditions that we lead. We are the Ivy-League equivalents of the Lost Boys, marching off into the sunset with funny-looking caps on our heads and leaving our Yale responsibilities behind. And that, in itself, is a beautiful thing: to take our resume-laden self-presentations down a notch (or several notches) and force us to interact under more unfamiliar settings. We regain playfulness and break away from our expected social packs. We even, on occasion, laugh so hard that we make new friends and adopt new places as our own. In the most elementary-school way, it’s extraordinary.

It’s also extremely important. As Yale students, we come from hometowns to a campus and expect the two to be roughly equivalent. After all, just like the neighborhoods we left, Yale hosts events, fosters relationships between suites, and builds monuments to its own history. Because of this, for many students, being a scholar and being a citizen may seem like the same thing. But there is so much that they miss. The city outside the university is not “outside” at all, in the sense that it only exists beyond our doors; it envelops us, we are a part of it, spatially if not mentally. This campus is just one portion of a metropolitan area that has its own uniqueness, its own depth and struggles, its own government, its own favorite places and local yokels and neighborhood activists. We would be fooling ourselves to think that the world begins and ends at Phelps Gate, and we would be depriving ourselves of a whole lot of fun. The New Haven Field Trip Society exists to knock down those walls around campus and expose the city for what it really is: our home. And if that sounds like a cool mission to you – or if you really want to live out the adventures that you crave – I invite you to join us. No permission slip required.

If I can't rope you into joining me, can I hula hoop you into an expedition? Not even if I do it in front of a whole festival full of bemused people?

Welcome to the Society (and, for future purposes, email me to get on the panlist or click here to read more.)

Yours in urban questing,

J