Tag Archives: Yale

Their Way Home: Abraham’s Tent

28 Feb

Fifteen minutes away from my dorm room, the lights are about to go out in a parish house. In the Sunday School Room around the corner, Paul pores over his workbook, highlighter in hand. He is studying to be an EMT, and he highlights almost every line in his effort to commit it to memory. “So far the first five chapters have only been about airways. Airways, airways, airways,” he says to the girl next to him. “Who knew breathing was so difficult?”

Phil couldn’t care less about airways. His concerns are more immediate: vanilla, cinnamon, bacon grease, eggs, milk, challah bread, and the one frying pan that he meticulously washes and dries in between uses. He has been trained as a chef and is applying for grants to open a restaurant of his own one day. In the meantime, he keeps his skills strong by making us French toast. “You are all my grandchildren now,” he says. “Which means you’d better find me a job by Christmas, because I’m going to have a lot of presents to buy!” We laugh together, both of our hands dripping with egg yolks as we swirl the bread around to coat it, and I tell him that this is, indeed, the ritual I have with my grampa-by-blood. Maybe full bellies and kitchen conversation carry across family trees.

Cots lined up across the parish house floor

From his cot (cot, in this situation, means one thin, long band of green fabric — think of a stretcher, and add a sleeping man to the top, his bare feet angling out from beneath a fleece blanket that can’t quite cover his long frame), Carlos pays no attention to the bacon’s sizzle. Instead, he is buried in “The Hotel New Hampshire,” a book that gives me a perfect excuse to interrupt his reading and introduce myself. “I’m from New Hampshire!” I offer, to start the conversation. He nods, looks at me, and looks back down at the book, the teardrop tattoos on the side of his face making every gesture look gruffer, and somehow more vulnerable. I keep pressing gently around the edges of the conversation, probing for favorite types of books (fiction) and getting only a handful of words in response until I, on a hunch, ask him if he writes. His sentences tumble out. Fiction. Two book-length manuscripts already, and he would share them with me if only his wife weren’t so mad at him that she wouldn’t send him anything left in the house, not even his boots; he’s spent his winter in tennis shoes. Stories based on his own life, on the people he met on a bus going back and forth to work every morning for years. “No one’s ever looked at them,” he says. “Not Simon & Schuster or anything like that. I think you have to have an ‘in’ or know somebody to be looked at like that.” I walk away a few minutes later and in place of his book, he has a legal pad on his lap, and his pen is moving in quick lines across the pages.

*

Carlos, Phil, and Paul, whose stories are real but whose names have been changed or switched to protect their privacy, are three of the eleven men with whom I had the honor of spending dinners and an all-nighter over the past week. They are welcoming, funny, and homeless. And while I spend my days giving tours, adding whipped cream to my sundaes in the dining hall, casually complaining about my lack of sleep, and weighing one summer travel option against another, they spend theirs trying not to get kicked out of Starbucks, applying for jobs with their case managers, and, above all, “staying on the right track.”

Their commitment to the right track is what brought us together to begin with. The eleven men (who were originally twelve, but one is currently in the hospital, from what I could gather) were hand-selected to participate in a program called Abraham’s Tent. It is an amazing initiative. AT started one year ago when the head of Columbus House, a large New Haven shelter, talked with the head of a local interfaith group about the overwhelming need for shelter beds during the winter months. Even with the overflow shelter, which fits an extra 125+ men, accommodations are scarce during the months when temperatures are lowest. The two leaders wondered how they could share the burden of housing these men, and Abraham’s Tent was born.

AT takes twelve of the men in Columbus House who are most committed to pulling themselves out of the situation and puts them in a sort of moving shelter. They are sober, cooperative with caseworkers, and hopeful. These twelve men spend every week of the winter with a different congregation — sleeping in churches, temples, and mosques. Columbus House buses the men to and from their destinations every day, while volunteers from the congregations arrange dinners and breakfasts and staff the shelter itself. Even now, after knowing about the program for two years, I am still blown away. Why? It works. It works to free up twelve extra beds in the shelter. It works to give these men the individual friendships, conversation, respect, and relaxation that they could never find in a traditional homeless shelter. It introduces surrounding towns and people who otherwise encounter homeless men as statistics or line items to be crossed off of a town budget to these twelve staggeringly human representatives to contradict their stereotypes. And it helps to get these men on their feet — according to our training session, ten of the twelve men from last year’s Abraham’s Tent are now housed. That is a huge success story.

Home base at the parish house

So this year, YHHAP officially became a part of it. Last year, we sent volunteers out to the surrounding towns to help them with staffing. This time around, we “borrowed” a parish house and ran an entirely student-staffed week of our own. Yale student groups bought the food for dinner and stayed to cook their favorite home recipes. Some enormously dedicated YHHAP Board members spent dozens of hours taking care of all of the logistics. Others, myself included, came to converse at dinner, play card games, and stay up for all or portions of a night to be on-duty as the men slept. At 615pm every night, the men arrived. 1030pm, the lights went out for them. 445am, we made breakfast (with the help of Phil’s French toast). 6am, we handed them packed lunch bags and waved to them as they pulled away in their van.

Tomorrow morning, we will watch them leave for good, on their way to their next destinations. Jim, who has a young son with grades good enough that Jim can’t stop bragging, will continue to study for his GED at night and work full time moving boxes for Schick during the day — he, and several of the other men, repeatedly talk about how much they regret not being able to get more education when they were younger. His dream job is landscaping. He likes how dirt smells and needs to be outside; even in the coldest blizzard of the winter, he left the shelter during the day to get some real air in his lungs. Buzz, on the other hand, would clean toilets all day if it allowed him to be self-employed instead of beholden to a big company. Bob, who plays a mean game of rummy, said over a three-hour game of checkers that his perfect day would be spent choreographing martial art scenes in Hollywood movies. He reads about stage combat techniques every time he goes to the library. And Chris, who says that he is thankful every time he wakes up for being able to get out of bed in the morning, can’t stop talking about the apartments that have been reserved for these men at the end of the program, provided they follow all of the rules. The units will be prepaid for three to six months to give the men a chance to get on their feet, and it’s an opportunity that Chris plans to seize with everything he has.

Tomorrow, these men will wake up together. They are a small group among many, but to dozens of Yale students, they are the faces – our faces – of what is often brushed aside as a chronic, anonymous societal ill. We don’t have the answers to any of this. Heck, we don’t even have long enough blankets to cover the feet of these sleeping men. But in a world where we say thank you for waking up safely every morning, we have beds, and volunteers, and some mighty good French toast — and that’s enough —  that’s what we can do — for right now.

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It’s Not Just the Girls. DKE’s Chants and the Real Message for All of Us.

4 Nov

Four forums and an avalanche of opinion pieces later, our campus is in danger of moving beyond the DKE incident without realizing what is truly at stake.

It is our public sphere, and the language that we use to shape it. In its most nuanced form, what we speak amongst ourselves goes beyond English; it is “Yale-English,” with phrases and definitions that we have, as a community, decided over time to institute and accept. These phrases vary from the mundane and convenient – L-Dub, Master’s Tea, shopping period – to the context-and-campus-history-charged – Chief Perroti emails, the Flower Lady, tap night – but we expect them all to be interpreted in a certain way upon utterance.

It is this belief in the meanings of our sentences that glues our social relationships together into some hodgepodge of connections that form Yale’s public sphere, and this belief that allows us to trust in dialogue, instead of violence, when we wish to be heard. We write, speak, and tweet to one another because we believe that being listened to means something, that if you hear my carefully-selected pattern of vowels and consonants over someone else’s, you might change your mind. The rise of personal computers has only served to reinforce this trend, and even Yale’s top administrators regularly craft emails as their way of communicating with students. Rather than God, Yale’s currency today might be printed as, “In language we trust.”

Now consider again this line of students, all male, as they march through Old Campus. “No means yes,” they scream into the darkness around them. “Yes means anal.”

It bears repeating. No means yes. Yes means anal. This is not a statement of fact, or even a mere fudging of them. This is a full redefinition of our Yale-English writ large into the night sky. And it takes away, not just from the women among us, but from all of us who might, at some point in our lives, choose to utter, “No,” that most sacred aspect of our public sphere: the right to be understood. What we say, the DKE brothers tell us from the safety of their group, is not what we mean. And what we mean (clearly!) is that we would like to be raped.

A public sphere exists because a group of people agrees to use language, not violence, to make decisions to achieve a common good. This, then, is DKE’s crime: endangering the very existence of our public sphere. Their destruction of the purpose of language leaves people with no option but to resort to brutality and deceit. For where our words carry no weight, we will use our fists. And where our verbal meaning will be twisted, we will lie and lie again to twist interpretations farther. If we listen to Gibbon in his “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” it is precisely the mockery made of language that caused that great empire to fall; no community can thrive if its titles are petty shams. And on the heels of crumbled public spheres come solitude, distrust, and – yes – violence.

It is worth noting that DKE brothers have turned to this same public sphere to offer their apologies in bits and pieces through various forums. Now that they – instead of the theoretical women of whom they were speaking during their chants – have something important to express, they turn right back to the very words that they hollowed of definitions. “No, we didn’t mean to imply that rape is okay. No, we weren’t out to offend anyone. No, no, no, we weren’t thinking.” But no means yes, remember? It is a tangled web that they weave when they attempt to take our voices from us; in the end, they also muzzle themselves.

I recognize as I write this that I know some wonderful people in DKE, as do many of us on campus; that they are not the only ones to take our words for granted and to use titles for corrosive purposes (“Yale Sluts” being just one ghost of history ready to be conjured up); and that they are not the first, nor will they be the last, who need to consider this message.

Language is powerful. Words matter. And changing the meaning of what any member of our community says without her or his permission is dangerous to our entire public sphere. So when we sit here and talk about “never again,” let’s all take a moment, think about what we are saying – and this time, let’s mean it.

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.

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.