Risky Business

It’s hard to believe, but an entire economic era has come and
gone since I entered Yale in the fall of 1998. Sky-high technology
stocks sent the Nasdaq up 86 percent in 1999, its best year since
its inception 29 years ago, and created a mood of unparalleled
economic exuberance from Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley. In
the process, a new American hero was born: the 22-year-old gazillionaire
computer whiz with his own e-business startup. Across the nation,
thousands of humanities majors began to wonder whether they should
be studying Java instead of John Milton.
But as the media have recently noted with barely concealed glee,
the bubble has most certainly burst. The Nasdaq saw its worst
ever losses, 40 percent, in 2000, due primarily to the failure
of Internet stocks. Nearly 36,000 technology workers have lost
their jobs. Last January, 19 e-companies bought airtime during
the Super Bowl; this year, only four did. No one has yet dared
to breathe the word "recession," but Alan Greenspan
did admit last month that the economy was at a "standstill."
The heady dot-com era has not passed entirely, however. One legacy
is the dream of the dorm-room entrepreneur-the dream that a kid
barely out of high school could create a successful business
plan and be taken seriously by real investors with real money.
To hear them talk, Yale’s student entrepreneurs are just getting
started and are poised to lead themselves, the school, and the
entire city of New Haven to glory. But the recent failures of
several of the most publicized ventures raise the question: Have
Yalies come to the table too late to get a piece of the pie?
Ask Mike Stern. Until December 2000, he was the c.e.o. of Aquarium
Ventures, which had the recursive mission of finding and funding
other dorm-room entrepreneurs. Aquarium Ventures was, of course,
a venture itself. It was one of the first companies to be funded
by Dagim Capital, a New Haven venture capital (vc) fund started
by a Yale graduate student, Benjamin Karp, and Orthodox Rabbi
Shmully Hecht, who runs the Chai Society, a Jewish social organization
where Yalies network over schnapps. With this unusual backing
and its campus-focused business plan, Aquarium Ventures immediately
attracted attention. As its founder, Stern was profiled in a
number of slick e-business publications such as Fast Company,
Red Herring, and Business 2.0. Fortune magazine asked of Stern
and several other VC founders, "Can these Doogie Howser
VCs find and foster firms that will rate an "A" and
make a profit?" "Running a startup company is like
being a juggler with a thousand different balls in the air. You
can’t let any of them drop," Stern told UMagazine in a
typically self-assured sound bite. Heeding his own wisdom, Stern
took last fall off Yale to work on the company full-time.
According to its website, aquariumventures.com, "[Aquarium’s]
success depends on our ability to identify tomorrow’s great companies
today, and get them moving fast." Apparently, though, that
never happened. Aquarium Ventures closed up shop after ten months,
having invested in only two student companies, Goldthumb Technologies
and Broadcastbuilders.Com. "The economy slowed down,"
Stern explains, "and we were obviously having some trouble,
as everyone else was." Now back in school, Stern has a new
respect for experience. "I would tell anyone to line up
your ducks before you jump in the water . . . Before you start
up, get as much feedback from smart people as you can. God knows
we made a lot of mistakes, but none of them were new."
Failure isn’t the only thing that can hurt student entrepreneurs;
success is dangerous too. Classmates have called Joshua Newman
the "superstar of Yale entrepreneurship." He co-founded
Sharkbyte, a computer consulting firm, his freshman year. "The
firm began to grow until it hit 20 people a year and a half ago,"
Newman said, "then we were bought by a company called Quantrum
and subsumed into it. By the time the company was sold I was
the only student still left. I was in school the whole time-I
just stopped sleeping and going to the bathroom." Seth Sternberg
had a similar problem with the success of Ivy Bound, his college
consulting company. "Last year, Ivy Bound had around 40
clients. That’s 40 families, 40 sets of demands that had to be
satisfied. That’s too much work," Sternberg said. He cut
the number of prospective student-clients this year, and probably
won’t continue operating the company after graduation.
These students’ experiences in the world of business both complement
and conflict with their education in the same way as, say, the
editorship of a student newspaper does. And just as a student
newspaper brings together aspiring journalists, the Yale Entrepreneurial
Society (YES) has become the main meeting ground for student
entrepreneurs. David Pozen founded YES last year with Sean Glass,
Mark Volchek, and Miles Lasater, all entrepreneurs, and has seen
it grow to over 700 members. They run a $50,000 business plan
competition, Y50K, sponsored by corporations and judged by a
panel of investors and entrepreneurs. Yale recently agreed to
administer the Y50K prize, allowing YES to assume non-profit
status. The organization has also been given office space on
York Street to incubate fledgling student businesses.
The rapid growth of YES seems to indicate a latent demand for
business opportunities at Yale. Mark Gretens, the CEO of Elm
City Ventures, another New Haven vc firm started by Yale business
and graduate students, says, "Everybody feels that the human
capital at Yale is tremendously under-leveraged." Almost
all the student entrepreneurs I talked to invoked the examples
of MIT and Stanford, both of which have long-established business
plan competitions and resources for student entrepreneurs that
have added to their allure for programmers and other new-economy
types. Emulating this forward-looking image, Harvard announced
last year to great fanfare that it was relaxing the rules regarding
students running businesses over the University network; Yale
still occasionally enforces a policy against commercial activity
in the dorms, belying the term "dorm-room entrepreneur."
"We’re far, far behind a lot of our peers in terms of creating
an entrepreneurial environment," says Newman. "Yale
got a late start but is catching up fast."
Unfortunately, Yale has to do this catching up in a much less
favorable economic climate than that of the last few years. "It’s
too late for Yale to become another mit," says Gretens.
Sternberg recounts a harrowing popped-bubble experience: "I
had a meeting with an incubator on the day the Nasdaq dropped
500 points and then came up 500 points on the same day. I was
in my car, driving to New York, and I heard it on National Public
Radio, and I was like, ‘Oh no, I hope they’re not listening to
this.’ [The downturn] hurt a lot because all of a sudden [investors]
were like, ‘Hey, you don’t have experience really’. . . . My
sense is that there’s a kind of general discouragement. Being
an entrepreneur is not sexy anymore."
But fortunes aren’t made by the easily discouraged, and Yale
business types have managed to find a silver lining in the gathering
economic clouds. New venture capital firms started by students,
alumni, and others continue to be enthused about investing in
New Haven. Newman says, "[Since the tech downturn] we have
received fewer business plans, but of a much higher caliber."
So far, his fund’s only investment, Higher One, founded by Glass,
Lasater, and Volchek, is doing well. David Cromwell, the Lester
Crown Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Yale School
of Management, and a member of the advisory board of yes, agrees.
"The fundamental long-term outlook still is very promising
for serious entrepreneurs . . . There are always those who are
attracted to get-rich-quick schemes. Hopefully the shakeout has
made such people look elsewhere, which is good since they probably
would not have succeeded anyway. New Haven had a slow start in
the dot-com game, and I believe that the market decline will
have almost no effect on entrepreneurship in the city."
Indeed, some observers see in the growth of student entrepreneurship
an opportunity that New Haven desperately needs. Last spring,
Joel Schiavone, a businessman with enterprises all over Connecticut
and now a candidate for mayor of New Haven, requested that YES
host him for a talk at Yale, appropriately titled "The Importance
of YES." According to the YES newsletter, he called the
organization the city’s single greatest resource for entrepreneurs,
extolling its promise for developing the city’s private sector.
Cromwell also believes that YES has "big potential"
to alter the city’s economic outlook. "New Haven is not
a large city. It will not take many new successful ventures to
make a big impact on such a small place. Five or ten new startups
a year would make a big impact, and if one out of twenty of those
should make it, say, to ipo [Initial Public Offering] stage,
it could have a very big and lasting effect. The economy around
Boston is booming, in part because of new ventures started by
recent graduates of universities in that area." Cromwell,
however, has his own reasons to be bullish on New Haven: He has
his own VC firm, Sachem Ventures, whose investors include Yale,
and which also has stakes in Higher One.
Pozen sees Yale’s location as an advantage over other Ivy League
schools because of the greater opportunity to advance the local
economy. He speaks with pride about his organization’s impact
on New Haven through a program called Community Consulting. Despite
its socially-conscious name, this consists mostly of students
interning at local startups, with a few also teaching entrepreneurship
at local charter school Amistad Academy. He adds, "The greatest
potential for us to be an engine of change for New Haven is the
[Y50K] competition. If you can create a business with 40 jobs
and millions of dollars in revenue, that’s a huge thing, not
just a nice thing." The city has begun to lend its support.
Recently, yes has held meetings with Henry Fernandez, New Haven’s
economic development administrator, to discuss the role the city
can play in promoting y50k. "There are going to be banners
down Chapel Street," says Pozen, "that say ‘YES and
The City of New Haven Present Y50K.’ The city wants to develop
a culture of entrepreneurship."
The techno-savvy argot of these clean-cut young men (they are
nearly all men), and the staggering sums of money they toss around,
lend their activities a certain gravitas. But the "culture
of entrepreneurship" notwithstanding, the true potential
of university students and recent graduates to rejuvenate New
Haven’s commercial economy has to be questioned. So far, most
of the successful student startups, at Yale and across the country,
have grown "one customer at a time" by providing a
service. Usually it’s a service that students are uniquely qualified
to provide, whether because of their cutting-edge technological
expertise (building websites) or simply their status as students
(counseling prospective Ivy Leaguers). The likelihood of any
of these companies creating a significant number of new jobs
for the broader New Haven community is, therefore, not very great.
In addition, ambitious student entrepreneurs are increasingly
finding the business-to-consumer model "too much work,"
as Sternberg said of his own company. They are attracted more
to the high-risk, high-reward world of venture capital-where
others make your money for you. Newman put the money from the
sale of his first company into yet another vc firm for student
ventures, Silicon Ivy, which now has $10 million to invest. Sternberg
is currently working on a book for other young entrepreneurs
on "how the VC ecosystem works." Students, as Stern
points out, have little to lose in vc: "People in school
have the lowest risk. The bulk of college students have loans,
but they’re not supporting families, and they don’t have years
invested in one career." This carefree position, however,
is exactly the opposite of New Haven’s. Relying on Yale-related
venture capital firms to create the kinds of jobs the city needs
is like relying on Beinecke Library to improve New Haven’s public
In the end, the legacy of the e-business revolution might look
a lot more like traditional developments in Yale’s history than
those involved would like to admit. New opportunities are being
created, but thus far they extend mostly to students who closely
resemble the average Yalie of days past-male, affluent, and well-connected.
The effects on New Haven will probably be side effects, as the
University pursues its traditional goals. Even if the timing
of Yale’s entry into the tech world had been at the crest of
the wave, it’s unlikely that New Haven would be coming along
for the ride.


Anya Kamenetz, a junior in Davenport College,
is a managing editor of

Poet of the Land of Promises

When I was five years old, a poet came to my house and sat at
my kitchen table. I couldn’t pronounce his name, but I could
see the respect my parents, both writing professors, had for
him. He had a heavy-browed, gray-haired head and a gentle, accented
voice, and he laughed with my father about passing the town of
Pepsi-Cola (Pensacola, Florida) on the plane: "There must
be a whole state of Coca-Cola," he said. When I was 16,
we met again in his home city of Jerusalem. He read his poetry
to a group of American teenagers in both Hebrew and English,
and talked about the dream of peace. "Here is a man who
has really figured out a way to live," I wrote in my journal
that day.
On September 22, 2000, the poet passed away. Yehuda Amichai,
whose career spanned half a century, was the quintessential writer
of Israel and Jerusalem. So how did his archives end up here
in the US, at the Beinecke Library? The answer illuminates a
tension that ran through the poet’s entire life.
Yehuda Amichai chose his own name, which means "My People
Live." Born in Germany in 1924, he immigrated to Israel
with his family in 1936. He was one of the few poets of his generation
to attend a religious school, and although he was a lifetime
agnostic, biblical and liturgical language flowed through his
poetry. Benjamin Harshav, Yale’s Blaustein Professor of Hebrew
Language and Literature, first met Amichai during Israel’s War
of Independence in 1948 in the Negev, Israel’s southern desert,
when his brigade was relieving Amichai’s. Amichai, four years
older, was already a seasoned soldier, having served during World
War ii in Britain’s Jewish Brigade.
After the War of Independence and the establishment of the state
of Israel, Harshav and his friends at Hebrew University started
a small literary journal. Likrat (Toward) published "probably
Amichai’s first poems," Harshav says. According to Harshav,
it was a period of intellectual and social upheaval. "It
was a very political time, the last days of Stalin," he
says. "The whole country was on tzena (restraint). Very
strict rations; I mean, you got one egg a week. In 1951 suddenly
there was a feeling of detaching from the ideology. We called
it ‘Putting Zionism in quotation marks.’ Socialism, too. We were
tired of ideology, phraseology. ‘Don’t talk Zionism to me’ meant
don’t talk abstractness, philosophy." Amichai’s poetry fit
right into this mood, with its insistence on the simple and the
concrete. One early poem reads, in its entirety:
These five short lines contain the essence of Amichai’s poetry:
emotion conveyed obliquely, through an instantly recognizable
Amichai studied literature at Hebrew University and then taught
primary and secondary school for a time. His first book of poems,
published in 1955, was called Now and in Other Times. "That
was so revolutionary in Israel, where the past was everything,"
says Harshav. "And suddenly he says ‘Now.’ What do you feel
now? What do you experience now, personally? Love, making love.
I would say Amichai was born in 1955 with this first book of
poems. It was then that he became Amichai and he never went back."
In Israel, Amichai was sometimes accused of "insufficient
Zionism." But Amichai never ignored politics, he simply
drew a stronger line than most between the poetic and the political.
"He wrote about peace and love," said Barbara Harshav,
a lecturer in Yale’s Comparative Literature Department who, with
her husband, translated much of Amichai’s poetry into English,
"[This,] in a country of war and hate, is a political statement."
Amichai’s poetry was also a statement about the future of the
Hebrew language. "Amichai was accused of not knowing Hebrew,"
Benjamin Harshav said, because his language was so stripped down
and focused on the entities of the modern world: helicopters,
oil rigs, tanks. "His real achievement was putting the language
of the everyday into Hebrew poetry," Barbara Harshav said.

After initial critical reaction, Israel responded positively,
raising Amichai to the status of a national treasure over his
career of five decades. "Every soldier had in his kit bag
a book of Amichai poetry," Barbara Harshav said. "I
remember very clearly some years ago being in a bookstore in
Jerusalem and seeing a grandmother come in to buy a book of Amichai
poems for her grandson as a bar mitzvah present." His front-page
obituary in The Jerusalem Post noted that his last book of poems,
Open Closed Open (1999) , stayed on the bestseller list for weeks,
an almost unprecedented phenomenon in Israel for a book of poetry.
He was the recipient of Israel’s highest literary honors. And,
as Benjamin Harshav notes, "He was able in his later years
to make his living from the poetry. That’s rare everywhere, but
in a small country, it’s incredible."
This popularity soon spread beyond his small home country. Extensive
translation secured Amichai’s world reputation. His work was
translated into 33 languages, from Finnish to Chinese. The unusual
success of these translations is tied to his particular poetic
concern with image, not language as such. "He was one of
the easiest poets to translate because of his images-except when
he worked in Biblical language, where the allusions can get lost,"
Barbara Harshav said. "Benjamin and I worked with him very
closely on [Even a Fist was Once An Open Palm with Fingers (1989)],
and there were a few of the compliments you hope for as a translator.
[Amichai] said, ‘Really, for the first time I feel that this
is what I wrote.’" Knowing English well enough to evaluate
his own translations, Amichai was restless and worked with many
different translators, from poets and others who knew little
Hebrew, like Ted Hughes and Stephen Mitchell, to native Hebrew
speakers like Chana Bloch. Hughes, a longtime friend, said, "He
was known and loved the world over." Benjamin Harshav points
out that Yale professor J. D. McClatchy’s Vintage Anthology of
World Literature included about 20 Amichai poems and says, "This
is what Amichai always wanted, to be a world poet." Rabbi
James Ponet, who hosted Amichai in New Haven several times over
the last 20 years, recalls the first meeting between Amichai
and American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, which occurred at Yale
in 1996: "Pinsky was very excited to meet him-stretched
out his hand and said ‘Hello, maestro.’ I think he really saw
Amichai as the giant leading the way."
Yet no matter how well-respected, how universal his sentiments,
or how translatable his images, Amichai remained inextricably
grounded in his home soil of Israel. He saw action in every major
war of his country, serving as a sergeant major in the reserves
until the age of 55. And it may have been the battlefields of
Israel that kept Amichai from receiving literature’s highest
honor. Most of his obituaries noted that he was a perennial nominee
for the Nobel Prize, which is given only to living writers. "I
think the issue was that they wouldn’t give it to an Israeli
until there was peace," said Benjamin Harshav. "His
archives coming here, to a world university, is almost a consolation
prize for his not receiving the Nobel," said Ponet.
So how exactly did they get to Yale? Amichai’s friends and acquaintances
here offer different explanations, but mostly they come down
to money. "It could be argued that his archive belongs in
Israel," said Geoffrey Hartman, Sterling Professor Emeritus
of English and Comparative Literature and a friend of Amichai’s
since the 1950s. "Unfortunately, Israel does not seem to
have public funds to properly care for this important legacy.
That is one reason why Amichai’s manuscripts are better off at
Yale." Ponet adds another reason: "I know he wanted
to be able to leave some money to his family, and the Beinecke
was able to pay him something substantial. I know he felt bad
about it. He had to choose between leaving his papers in the
country and leaving some money to his family-one of his daughters
is in her early twenties." Vincent Giroud, the Beinecke’s
Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, hesitates to give the
Library’s exact figure paid for Amichai’s papers. He notes only
that the prices for such acquisitions generally range from about
"10,000 pounds" to "astronomical" figures
adding, "I think we paid a fair price." How exactly
the deal was made is another delicate matter. Hartman says he
was originally approached by the Beinecke about Amichai’s papers
several years ago, and obtained the poet’s provisional consent,
but that "various complications ensued." Giroud says
the sale was negotiated through a few different dealers over
a period of ten years. He adds, "It’s obvious that for an
archive so important as that of Amichai’s we needed the permission
of the national Israeli archivist." To the charge that the
archives should have remained in Israel, Giroud says, "It’s
a legitimate concern, but the only answer we can give is that
it’s available to them here." Davi Bernstein, an undergraduate,
is working on the initial inventory, translating Amichai’s instructions
for the archivists and putting a catalog online as quickly as
In this information age, the resting place of scholarly material
may be a matter of largely sentimental importance. Yet there
is cause for sadness in the idea of a country that cannot afford
to keep the letters and manuscripts of its greatest poet. It
is especially sad for Israel to lose him now, shaken as the country
is by yet another convulsion of violence. Amichai’s poetry sustained
the theme of being twinned in fate with his country: "When
I was young, the whole country was young," he wrote. A week
after he died, on September 28, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel
Sharon stepped onto the Temple Mount, revered by both Jews and
Muslims, touching off the recent violence that has claimed over
160 lives to date, the majority Palestinian. "I, may I rest
in peace," read one of Amichai’s last poems, "I don’t
want to wait until I die to have peace . . . I want peace right
now, while I’m alive." As I listened to these words at Amichai’s
memorial service, in the hushed, translucent marble space of
Beinecke, the ironies multiplied. An old man’s wish for rest
echoes his country’s forgotten cry for peace; but even as we
celebrate his life, the struggle rages on.


Anya Kamenetz, a junior in Davenport
College, is a managing editor for

Higher Education

On a warm Tuesday night in September, I am sitting in the
living room of an off-campus apartment when two other Yale students
walk in. One is on financial aid; the other does not receive
aid. They have come here, to a friendly apartment, to share a
bowl of marijuana and a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. As
they pass the pipe and the soda around the living room table,
I ask them if they’ve heard of the July 1998 amendment to the
Higher Education Act (HEA) that suspends the financial aid of
any student convicted of a drug offense. They hadn’t, but they
don’t seem too worried.
If the police were to pass by our well-lit, first-floor window
and look inside, both my friends would be vulnerable to drug
possession charges. For my wealthier friend, these first-time
charges would probably lead at most to a fine and community service.
But as a result of the HEA amendment, my other friend would stand
to lose her means of receiving an education because of one conviction
for drug possession. Few students at Yale know much about this
law, and many of those who do don’t see a reason to object to
it. But a small group is trying to change that.
The 1965 HEA established categories of federal aid like Stafford
Loans and Pell Grants to "open the doors of college to all
students." Every few years, Congress re-authorizes the Act,
fixing interest rates on loans and adding new programs and initiatives
to reflect the latest trends in education. In May 1998, the amendments
to the Act included a provision introduced by Congressman Mark
Souder (R-Ind.) Any student convicted of a drug-related offense
would lose all his or her federal financial aid for at least
one year, perhaps permanently, depending on the severity of the
crime, the number of offenses, and whether the student passed
subsequent drug tests. This provision is retroactive, though
juvenile offenses stricken from one’s record do not count. Beginning
in July 2000, the FAFSA form, which is used to determine students’
eligibility for federal financial aid, included multiple-choice
question 28, asking about an applicant’s drug convictions.
The American Civil Liberties Union soon launched a protest against
the amendment. "Stop the Use of Student Aid as a Tool of
Discrimination!" read the banner at the head of its November
4, 1999, Action Alert. This form letter, to be sent to a senator
or representative, points out the possible discriminatory effects
of the provision, which mandates special penalties for the economically
disadvantaged that do not apply to wealthier people convicted
of identical crimes. The provision has racial implications as
well: Eleven percent of US drug users are African-American, yet
they make up 37 percent of those arrested and 60 percent of those
in state prisons for drug offenses, meaning the law would almost
certainly affect students of color disproportionately. And the
stipulation that convicted students may complete a drug treatment
program to clear their records, the letter says, is a fig leaf
which ignores the woeful shortage of slots in such programs.
The letter urges one’s elected official to support Representative
Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) H.R. 1053, which would repeal the amendment.
With a year to go before the law would take effect, the usual
cadre of student activists coalesced around the cause last fall.
The nationwide Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, at their
founding conference last October, "decided that this issue
was really something winnable," says Alexandra Cox, a leader
of Yale’s Student Legal Action Movement (SLAM). At the conference,
the group chose to push for a series of student council resolutions
in protest of the provision. The resolution, co-authored by Cox
and passed by the Yale College Council (YCC) in February 2000,
is typical of those passed all over the country at schools big
and small, public and private. It calls on Yale to "actively
encourage" the passage of H.R. 1053 and to supplement any
student’s losses in financial aid. Hampshire College, in Amherst,
ma, has actually established a fund for this purpose. With the
only Ivy student council to sign on, Yale is featured prominently
in a list of colleges and universities whose students support
H.R. 1053 on several drug-reform policy websites, such as raiseyourvoice.com
and drcnet.org, the Drug Reform Coalition’s website.
The Yale administration has yet to respond officially to the
YCC’s call, but not because of a hardline position in the financial
aid office against drug use or the possibility of compensating
students for denied federal funding. "Personally, and I’m
just expressing my own opinion here, I am not at all opposed
to adopting such a procedure [compensating students]," said
Caesar Storlazzi, Associate Director of University Financial
Aid. Storlazzi points out a historical precedent for the University’s
mitigating the effects of a law restricting federal aid. During
the Vietnam War, the Federal Government denied aid to anyone
who failed to register for the draft; in response, the University
compensated conscientious objectors for lost funds. "So
it wouldn’t be the first time we might make this kind of decision
on principle," Storlazzi said.
However, in this case, the principles involved are somewhat less
clear than those surrounding the Vietnam War. After a long debate,
for example, the Dwight Hall Cabinet decided to support only
the first part of the ycc amendment, stopping short of recommending
that Yale give drug offenders extra money.
Now SLAM is working not to build consensus, but simply to raise
awareness of the issue. "We’re modeling ourselves after
Students Against Sweatshops (SAS), which succeeded in bringing
vast attention to something at school," Cox says. However,
their campus organizing efforts have drawn only a handful of
students thus far. While SAS has clearly defined targets, SLAM’s
goals are "more symbolic," says Cox, and its adversaries
are more distant than the Yale administration or even Connecticut
senators and representatives. In the absence of opposition on
campus, they are focusing on education as a part of a national
effort to put pressure on key legislators in other states who
will vote on the pertinent legislation.
Cox’s choice of the word "symbolic" points to larger
reasons that this "really winnable" issue has failed
to catch fire on campus. There is a not-so-hidden sense among
people who are excited about the HEA, on both sides, that it
is really a gateway issue to a larger, and much more volatile,
debate about the War on Drugs. Drug-related offenses now constitute
the only category of crime for which students may be denied federal
financial aid-not assault, not rape, not alcohol-related violations.
So Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Reform Coalition
are leading the protests, while activists with more mainstream
agendas are shying away. "I think on campus even some activists
are reluctant to take this on because they don’t think it’s really
legit," Cox says. Jelani Lawson, Director of A Better Way
Foundation, which "educates and advocates on behalf of public-health-oriented
solutions to the War on Drugs," puts the problem bluntly.
"People are reluctant to talk about it because there’s this
hysteria surrounding drugs. There’s this sense that while I might
be able to get away with personal use, any public advocacy will
put my personal use in jeopardy. People are afraid of being targeted
and labeled as users."
The same stigma surrounding drug use that allowed the amendment
to be passed in the first place may prevent those most directly
affected from coming forward to protest. This provision is a
new threat to the educations of the 39 percent of Yale students
who are on financial aid, yet "We’ve been kind of hesitant
to single out students who are on financial aid as spokespeople,"
says Cox, "and even people who we’ve found don’t want to
come forward." On a national scale, the movement appears
to have the same problem. The website for the Coalition for HEA
Reform, a nationwide group devoted to the cause, makes an appeal
for stories from people who have lost their aid under this provision:
"We urgently need to hear from students who have been affected
by this law, especially students who are willing to go public."
However, only one such story, reported by Mother Jones about
a student at Antioch College, is linked to the site.
So far, there are no HEA poster children at Yale. "This
is the first aid year where the Feds actually asked question
28," says Storlazzi. "At Yale, we haven’t had anyone
say yes, so there’s no University policy yet. There is a sense
that it’s not likely to come up." But it strains credulity
to think this is because Yale students are not using drugs. Surveys
show that about half of u.s. high school students try an illegal
drug before graduation, and any Thursday night Bong & Keg
attendee will tell you that this percentage probably increases
during the Yale freshman year. It’s also not because the New
Haven Police aren’t making drug arrests. In 1995, the most recent
year for which statistics were available, there were 2,682 drug-related
arrests in New Haven; 612 of them were for simple marijuana possession.
So why the widespread complacency in the face of this imminent
threat to hundreds of students’ means to getting an education?
To put it simply, Yale students aren’t often arrested for drug
use, or anything else. In 1998, the most recent year for which
statistics are available, the Yale Police made three drug arrests
on or near the campus, none of which involved students.
This holds true even when students fit police stereotypes. "As
a black man in New Haven, I feel cops treat me as a suspect,"
Lawson told me, recounting three separate experiences during
his time at Yale in which he excited sudden, unfounded suspicion
from the NHPD. He adds, "My Yale id basically served as
a get-out-of-jail-free card." Each time, proving his student
status resulted in a hasty apology from the cops.
A renewed willingness on the part of police to arrest Yale students
was demonstrated in the last week of September, when a fraternity
party on High Street led to seven alcohol-related arrests by
New Haven officers in a campaign against street noise.
Yet as long as drug use at Yale remains a relatively private,
quiet activity in living rooms and common rooms, the current
stalemate in the campus War on Drugs is likely to continue, despite
the new legislation’s stated intention. Besides, Storlazzi points
out that simply asking students whether they have been convicted
of a drug offense is the least efficient and accurate way to
find out. "What I find interesting," he says, "is
that the Federal Government is depending here on the honesty
of applicants. Usually they’re so careful about linking other
databases, and it would certainly be easy for them to discover
who was a convicted drug offender." At least for now, the
HEA amendment is more a symbolic statement than a serious deterrent
to a behavior that almost no one publicly defends, but everyone
silently acknowledges.


Anya Kamenetz, a junior in Davenport College,
is a managing editor for