Poster Child

Yale is covered in text. I don’t always see it and I don’t always read it, but it’s all over buildings, statues, bulletin boards, portraits, and signs. It’s often titular: “John C. Calhoun,” “Nathan Hale,” “James Woolsey,” “Kingman Brewster.” It’s often institutional: “The Yale Political Union,” “Mory’s,” “The Whiffenpoofs.” Recently, it’s often been hateful: “N****r,” “sluts.”

For Jessica Svendsen MC ’09, this text is also masculine, connoting a mostly male institutional history and culture. When, this January, she began printing words on sheets of paper and piecing them into grids on bulletin boards across campus—in Linsley-Chittenden and William Harkness Halls, on Cross Campus, on Old Campus, on Rose Walk—she was re-covering Yale with text she hoped would actively make visual and conceptual space for women.

First, she recalls, she had to blanket a masculinized history with its feminine counterpart. “One of the things that has worried me during my time here is the lack of institutional memory,” Svendsen says, her slow, flat voice presenting her thoughts in an elegant grid. “Yes, we’re only here for four years, but we’re not aware of what has happened to women since 1969. Because there is no knowledge of history or recovering of history, we make the same mistakes.”

In order to assert this alternate history, she combed through Yale Daily News and University archives and read articles and reports related to women at Yale. She then excerpted parts of these articles and, in striking white font, set them on a black timeline from 1969 to 2009. This timeline, which Svendsen printed in 8.5-by-11-inch sections and arranged in 102-by-44-inch displays on bulletin boards across campus, was the first installation of a graphic design project she has titled “Graphic Feminism.”

Svendsen, an English major who takes graphic design classes and designs for several Yale organizations, began work on the project last semester. She obtained an Amy Rossborough Fellowship for service affecting women in New Haven and began rooting through archives, as well as interviewing undergraduate women about their experiences with feminism at Yale.

Svendsen’s project is historically saturated, both with the history of women at Yale and with the history of women in art. In the 1960s and ’70s, as the women’s liberation movement caught fire in the American political, social, and cultural spheres, women began to make feminist art. Art made by women, or even art made by women with a feminist intent, was not new, but this art was different. It was a movement in which, as Washington Post critic Blake Gopnik recalled in 2007, “the message has mattered as much as the medium.” Feminist artists challenged the traditional idea of the sacred art object and began to include voices and perspectives that had historically been silenced. In the field of graphic design, this meant displaying multiple perspectives in one design, breaking down the structured modernist grid to reveal the artist’s subjectivity, and cognitively engaging the viewer.

The message-over-medium approach was—and is—nowhere more present than in the work of the Guerilla Girls, a group of gorilla mask-wearing female artists founded in the 1980s that attacks gender and racial discrimination in politics and the art world using interventionist, often illegal posters, stickers, and billboards. Their designs are not meant to be savored in a museum but rather to catch the eye of a pedestrian and force him or her to think about societal structures in a new way. One of the Guerilla Girls’ most famous campaigns, in 1989, featured Ingres’s Odalisque wearing a gorilla mask and flanking the text: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” The poster is shaded a shocking yellow and purple, its typeface a simple black shot through with pink for emphasis.

Svendsen’s unauthorized postering can’t help but recall the Guerilla Girls, and in many ways, her posters reflect their designs. A key component of Graphic Feminism is its blog, which Svendsen updates frequently under a pseudonym; in person, “Grid Girl”’s cat-eye glasses cut an appropriately graphic image across her arcing forehead. When she tells me about her project, she uses the term “guerrilla” more than once. Having long navigated Yale’s postering policies, Svendsen simultaneously honors and trashes them with Graphic Feminism. University regulations allow one 8.5-by-11-inch poster per item on each of its official bulletin boards, so Svendsen divides her installation into twenty or thirty 8.5-by-11-inch chunks and then staples them over other flyers. “When you take up the entirety of a bulletin board to make people think about women at Yale,” she explains, “that inserts women into the campus space and makes people talk about it. When I post the designs up and cover space, then, in a way, I’m making space for women.” Her posters are often removed by Yale Recycling mere hours after she installs them, but this, of course, is part of the fun.

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, current director of the Yale Art School’s graphic design program, coined the term “feminist design” in the 1970s. After earning her M.F.A. at Yale in 1964, de Bretteville went on to upend the design world, founding the first design program for women at CalArts as well as Los Angeles’s legendary Woman’s Building, a feminist art and culture center, in 1971. When she was tapped as director of Yale’s design program in 1990, becoming the first tenured woman at the Art School, her radical theories prompted the resignations of several of the School’s more traditional faculty members.

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, Yale had been a center of the International or Swiss Style, often characterized by clean, readable grids and strong sans serif fonts, and developed almost entirely by men. De Bretteville, who had been trained in this style as a graduate student at Yale, wanted to “honor the intelligence of the viewer rather than talking at the viewer,” she remembers. By engaging artist and viewer in a kind of dialogue, de Bretteville called both parties’ genders, and how these genders might affect their perspectives, into question.

“Feminist design looks for graphic strategies that will enable us to listen to people who have not been heard from before,”de Bretteville said in a 1990 dialogue with designer Ellen Lupton. Recalling feminist design strategies she’d pursued in the ’80s, de Bretteville continued, “Having the words and the images contradict themselves also creates a productive tension, by asking the viewer to resolve the conflict and thus bring his or her thinking process and point of view into play.”

Though de Bretteville still prizes the subjectivity of the designer and the intelligence of the viewer, she no longer views these factors through the lens of gender. “When I first began, in 1969, to think about questioning what gender has to do with how women make things,” she recalled recently, “I really enjoyed the question- asking aspect of it because it meant thinking, it meant feeling, it meant really looking at experience as well as what has been written about gender…. At one point in the ’80s, before I came back to Yale, I thought it was useful to call that act ‘feminist design’ because it’s so easy to discount gender as being participant in this discussion. I still think that’s conceptually important, but how you do it now, it’s worth considering.”

How Svendsen is doing it is indicative of a new feminist era less focused on gender differences and more focused on how gender affects the day-to-day lives of both men and women. While her work employs de Bretteville’s multiple-perspective and viewer-engagement strategies, it is also steeped in the Swiss Style de Bretteville was questioning and, as director of Yale’s graphic design program, replacing. Svendsen uses bold, simple fonts arranged on strict grids, and her posters are recognizably crisp and readable, but in no way does she consider these stylistic choices inherently male or female. Her feminism emerges not in the style of her work—the medium—but in its content—the message.

On January 15, Svendsen posted anonymous reader comments taken from the Yale Daily News website. She horizontally anchored her display with the large phrase, “Your comments here.” In a grid set over and around this phrase, she arranged the comments, all responding to last year’s most explosively gendered events: Zeta Psi’s online posting of a photo of twelve pledges standing in front of the Yale Women’s Center holding a sign that read “We love Yale sluts,” and Aliza Shvarts DC ’08’s projected artistic rendering of a series of self-induced abortions. These comments expressed everything from a reluctance to associate with the Women’s Center—“Women constitute 50% of the student body… Please don’t think that just because you are part of an institution that calls itself the Women’s Center you have the right to speak for all women at Yale”—to misogynistic jokes—“How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Two: One to screw it in and one to suck my penis.” The juxtaposition of varying texts and perspectives creates the kind of “productive tension” de Bretteville cited as a way to critically engage viewers and prompt the questions of difference needed to address gender disparity and discrimination, whether or not Svendsen’s style was originally developed by men.

Feminist dialogue these days, both within and without the art world, tends to center on glass ceilings rather than on gendered perspectives. At a much-talked about New York panel on book design, one of the questions submitted to panelists Milton Glaser, Dave Eggers, and Chip Kidd asked why there were so few “superstar” female graphic designers. Kidd broke the awkward silence with a Larry Summers joke, and then Glaser asserted that women miss out on foundational career opportunities by choosing to stay home and raise children.

This incident sparked uproar in many circles, especially within the design world. Michael Bierut, a senior critic at the Yale Art School and moderator of the controversial panel discussion, reacted on his award-winning blog, Design Observer. In a post titled “The Graphic Glass Ceiling,” Bierut acknowledged gender imbalance at his own design firm and contemplated the possibility that Glaser, despite his archaic phrasing, might have spoken a shred of truth.

Jessica Helfand, who founded Design Observer with Bierut and also serves as a senior art critic at Yale, certainly thinks that lifestyle choices weigh heavily on women graphic designers. While designing the New York Times’s first website,  Helfand became pregnant with her first of two children. Wary of endangering her job, she did her best to hide her pregnancy. “I think it’s a very female thing to assume that one thing would stand in the way of the other,” she says, “or that there’s a dissonance.”

A recent Graphic Feminism installment tackled the proverbial glass ceiling within the glass walls of the Bass Library café, one of several places where it was installed. Svendsen, who has worked extensively with the Women’s Faculty Forum, compiled statistics on everything from tenured women, to maternity leave policies, to the number of reported sexual assaults on campus, arranging the numbers in mathematical columns that add up to a blank space next to the words, “Number of Yale students who identify as feminist.”

Svendsen herself identifies as a feminist, thought not necessarily as a feminist graphic designer. In using graphic design to provoke discussion about feminism on campus, she takes a functionalist approach to her art. A recent display on the topic of the Women’s Center was not only cleanly laid out, with asymmetrical space, a central women’s restroom symbol, and striking orange accents—it was successful in sparking dialogue about feminism at Yale. This installation, which displayed anonymous statements from six Yale women who identified as feminists but took issue with the Women’s Center, drew more comments on Graphic Feminism’s blog than any other post. Some of these comments were, clearly, from current or former Women’s Center board members, but many of them were from men or women who chose not to associate with the Center. All were respectful of the other comments—a stark contrast to the YDN comments Svendsen used in her earlier installation—and much of the stream was back-and-forth and regarded specific Women’s Center policy or events. This, for the most part, is the kind of constructive dialogue Graphic Feminism seeks to incite.

Perhaps we no longer need to talk about how gender affects perception and presentation, or, as de Bretteville implied, perhaps this need varies according to an individual’s personal trajectory. But at Yale, today, there is an urgent need for discussion about feminism. There is a need for Graphic Feminism.

Back to the Streets

What’s up, fellas?” Miss Shirley asks, sauntering around the classroom in a grey skirt suit, red heels, and red hoops. “Everybody go to school today?”

The eight boys and three girls, slouched in their hoodies and windbreakers, look between 14 and 18 years old. They say nothing.

Miss Shirley teaches this life skills class four days a week, but she never knows who will show up. Many kids are court-ordered to attend, some are brought in by fed-up parents or grandparents, and still others are recruited by the New Haven Family Alliance, a non-profit organization that organizes the class. Today’s session began late, at 4:30 instead of 4:00, and people continue to trickle in. Before long, there are 15 boys and six girls.

Miss Shirley has scrawled “Transferrable Skills” [sic] on a big sheet of paper. She asks the class for a definition.

George, who has just sauntered in, raises his hand. He’s wearing stonewashed jeans, spotless yellow and blue sneakers, and a North Face jacket. “It’s when you take something from life, from school, and apply it to something like a job,” he tells Miss Shirley. “Say you count money real good selling drugs, then you can count money real good somewhere else.”

Miss Shirley had planned an exercise in which the kids would brainstorm what skills a housewife could market if her husband got injured, but she changes her tack. “Everybody know what the definition of a drug dealer is, right?” she asks. They laugh. She asks them to shout out a drug dealer’s transferable skills.

“They can save money.”

“They’re a chemist.”

“They can cook, too!”

“They can measure.”

They can bag up, chop, break down, the kids say. They can talk, they can sell, they can run. Miss Shirley scribbles skills on the paper, and the group decides that a drug dealer could get a job as a car salesman, a carpenter, an investor, or a scientist.

“If I’m a drug dealer, can I be a cop?” Miss Shirley asks.

“Sure you can,” says a boy called BoBo, “look at ’em right now.” He’s referring to Billy White, a New Haven narcotics cop arrested last spring for on-duty theft and bribery. His scandal prompted an FBI probe into the narcotics department, which produced two more arrests.

A man by the door chimes in. “If you a cop you could be the one to change how people are being treated, you could turn around what’s going wrong,” he says. He’s older than the kids, around forty, and his long braids are covered with a knit cap. He has a diamond hoop in one ear and a diamond stud in the other. His name is Maurice Peters, but the kids know him as Blest.

Blest has reformed himself since he dealt cocaine in the ’80s. Today, he is part of New Haven’s Street Outreach Team, which was launched last July. At night, he dons a bright purple jacket with “NEW HAVEN STREET TEAM” stamped on the back, drives around the city in a minivan, and talks to kids. He works for the New Haven Family Alliance and is paid by private organizations and the state. He receives information from the police but gives none in return.

New Haven residents, who have witnessed the unfolding of a police corruption scandal during one of the worst spikes in violent shootings the city has seen since the notorious early ’90s, are looking beyond traditional policing to protect their homes and families. For many, the most troubling fact is how much of the violence is committed by teenagers, and they are hoping that former criminals like Blest and the seven other street outreach workers will help check escalating youth gun violence by showing kids how they got off the streets and why it’s worth the effort.

When a girl says that she gave back to the community when she was selling drugs by buying book bags for all the kids on her block, Blest breaks in. “If drugs gave back to the community, the community wouldn’t be in the state it’s in.” Blest speaks with the authority of experience. “Book bags are good, but if kids are on the streets not going to school, then those book bags are empty, there’s no knowledge in it.” Blest likes to speak in aphorisms.

“Some of us drug dealers have morals,” protests George, who is living in a group home and trying to straighten out. While he was selling crack, he sold to a woman he didn’t realize was his friend’s mom until he knocked on her door to deliver a baggie. His friend answered. “I felt that was wrong cuz it was my homeboy’s mother,” he says. He stopped selling to her.

By now, kids fill every chair in the room, and they’re talking over each other, trying to squeeze in stories of fathers who left them, cousins who betrayed them, and babies they don’t want to grow up like them.

A booming voice cuts through the buzz. A short woman in a skintight, pale blue sweatshirt with half-moon sweat stains stands on her tiptoes and waves her arms. “Everybody knows it’s wrong,” says Monique “Mo” Cooper, another street outreach worker. “It’s just our way of surviving. Somebody passed it on to us. It’s a selfish game out there in the street.”

Nobody wants to sell crack to someone’s mother, Mo says, but sometimes it’s just what you gotta do. But she doesn’t push anymore. She broke the cycle. And that, presumably, is what they’re all here for.

A boy named Milton says he, too, is trying to break the cycle, but his friends won’t let him. They don’t want him to stop selling or get off the streets, and he knows they’ll come after him if he does. Miss Shirley advises him to run, to do what it takes to get out of the game, but Milton laughs. No way he’d run.

Other kids agree, talking over each other again, until street outreach worker Anthony “Ant” Ward pulls up his sweater and shouts, “I wish I ran! I wish I ran!” All eyes in the room are fixed on a foot-long, inch-deep, jagged scar running through Ant’s belly fat. “I was stupid, I was stupid, I was so stupid,” Ant says into the silence.

Despite the city’s overall declining crime rates, New Haven kids are shooting each other more and more often. In the summer of 2006, the city was shocked by the deaths of Jajuana Cole and Justus Suggs, both 13-year-olds who stayed out of trouble but got in the way of angry kids with guns. Cole and Suggs were part of the 90 percent of New Haven youth who, according to downtown alderwoman Bitsie Clark, are far from troublemakers but still at risk.

Clark is chair of the aldermanic Youth Services Committee. In the midst of a recent citywide debate over whether to institute a youth curfew, she heard again and again from the police that, as she puts it, “there were a corps of kids in the city that were causing the problems, that were at the core of the issues.” So she and Community Services Administrator Kica Matos did some research. The pair concluded that only 3 percent of the city’s youth were involved in criminal activity, and 7 percent were at risk of heading in that direction.

When Clark and Matos examined New Haven’s youth programs—its after-school activities, summer camps, and mentoring partnerships—they realized that all of them were directed at the well-behaved 90 percent. The troublemakers, it seemed, were left to the police.

Matos and Clark began to research programs aimed at the at-risk youth population in other cities. They soon learned about Providence’s Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, which garnered national publicity for hiring ex-junkies as street workers. These social workers with unconventional pasts head to the hospital after a shooting, hook kids up with educational and occupational resources, and act as father figures to many who are already fathers themselves.

Many consider this strategy an ideal form of community policing, a concept which has been around for decades but was spotlighted by President Bill Clinton’s Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. Included in the 1994 Crime Bill, COPS promised to put a hundred thousand new cops on the street so that cities could continue to fund walking old-fashioned beats. The idea was that if the police established a constant neighborhood presence and got to know the people they were policing, the new officers would pay for themselves in the crimes they prevented. Though COPS finished twenty thousand officers short of its goal, it contributed to the 33 percent drop in the national violent crime rate during Clinton’s eight years in office.

“I am a strong proponent, an ardent proponent of community policing,” outgoing New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz asserts. “I think it’s a way of life for policing in New Haven. It is institutionalized here in our department from top to bottom, in our community, and officers would have it no other way.” New Haven embraced community policing in 1990, under Chief Nicholas Pastore. Since doing so, the city’s crime rate has dropped 56 per cent. COPS funding helped nurture this approach. Despite a series of Bush administration budget cuts that have severely reduced federal funding of local policing, Ortiz, who became chief in 2003 after working his way up through the department, has remained vocally committed to the practice of community policing.

An external panel called in to review the police department in the midst of the narcotics probe, however, has observed a recent decline in New Haven’s community policing practices. And in November, Ortiz announced his resignation. He will stay on until the city completes a national search for a new chief to rebuild theembattled department.

Rob Smuts, deputy chief administrative officer for Mayor John DeStefano, describes the commitment necessary to maintain post-COPS community policing. “We’re talking millions annually, it’s not trump change. Some of the challenges we have really relate to the number of officers,” he explains, adding that the city has committed taxpayer money to fund new officers who will be assigned to “beats and things that are really the background of community policing.”

Yet Ortiz’s resignation caps a 60 percent spike in firearm-related homicides from 2005 to 2006. “When you look at public safety as a challenge,” Smuts says, “you have both the numbers, and New Haven’s doing very well by the numbers, but you also look at how people feel in the community and whether people feel safe.” The recent spike in shootings, he explains, “undermines people’s sense of safety.” With a police department in transition, New Haven citizens are seeking alternative methods of keeping their neighborhoods safe.

While Ortiz says the street outreach worker program is “absolutely” a form of community policing, Matos, the community services administrator who developed the program and still oversees it for the city, is careful to distance the outreach workers from any derivative of the word “police.”

“I think it complements community policing,” she says slowly, “but I would classify it as a youth advocacy program.”

When Matos and Clark began to recreate Providence’s success in the Elm City, they turned to New Haven police officer Shafiq Abdussubur. Abdussubur has been a local father figure for years. In 2003, he founded a youth program called CTRibat in the Dixwell neighborhood, where he grew up. After years of walking a beat in the area, Abdussubur knew most of the kids. He knew who the troublemakers were, and he had a pretty good idea of what they were missing. CTRibat—which previously relied on police donations and is now funded by a combination of city and community dollars—gave kids arts and literature programs and camping trips. Abdussubur brought in musicians, writers, and artists. Most importantly, he spent time with kids instead of waiting to arrest them.

Adults know Abdussubur as well as kids do. Clark knows him through the youth services committee, which he attends regularly as a representative of CTRibat, and Matos knows him as a Dixwell community organizer. It seems everybody knows Abdussubur.

“I was kind of recruited as CEO of youth violence,” Abdussubur recalls of being asked by Ortiz to tailor the Providence street team program to New Haven. In the wake of the deaths of Cole and Suggs, Abdussubur had already organized an informal team to visit shooting victims at the hospital. This team included Tracey Suggs, Justus Suggs’ mother, who needed a positive outlet for her grief.

“I knew I couldn’t just sit back,” Suggs recalls. “I had to get in there and talk to kids or the victims and the families, if the kids could talk. There had to be some kind of turn-around to keep this from happening again. This was pretty much my own way of dealing with my own grief. What better person to do this would be me? Sometimes people want to hear from someone who’s actually been there, not from someone who hasn’t experienced it.”

City officials caught on to this idea. They realized that, despite Abdussubur’s community work, he was not the right person to implement the program. First and foremost, he was a cop. Not only did he need time to focus on his beat, but there was also no one the target population trusted less than the cops. The best people for the job, the aldermen decided, were the ones who had actually been there.

Tyrone Weston, coordinator of the street outreach worker program, served ten years in prison for narcotics and violence. Now 37, he has been out of jail for nine years and is raising a 19-year-old daughter. Topping his grandfather cardigan and turtleneck is a full row of gold teeth, a lingering reminder of his years on the street.

“When you look around and see the neighborhood,” says Weston, who grew up in New Haven, “you can’t complain about it because you had a lot to do with it.”  He feels a responsibility to fix a situation he helped create. Weston thinks he’s the best one to lead the street outreach team because, far from judging street life, he understands its draws, its highs and lows. “I’ve been in the streets since I was 13-years old, and I know why these kids love the streets,” he explains, adjusting his wire-rimmed glasses. “I’m a grown man at 37, and still you have to tell yourself, ‘You can do this, you can’t do that.’”

Weston was working with the Christian Brotherhood Summit, a local civic group known for spreading a nonviolent message, when Barbara Tinney, head of the New Haven Family Alliance, heard about him. She hired him to launch the Alliance’s street outreach team in July. Since then, the program has built a staff of eight outreach workers, seven male and one female, all of whom have criminal backgrounds. Tinney admits there’s been some turnover in the staff due to the challenges of the job. “There was a lack of suitability, let’s leave it at that,” she says carefully.

The trickiest part of coordinating the program is finding the right candidates to run it. “This has to be more than a job,” Weston explains. Outreach workers are hired to be there for kids, anytime, anywhere. If they get a two a.m. phone call from a kid about to go shoot someone, it’s their job to get out of bed and talk the kid down. But in order to receive such a phone call, they need to possess a trust-winning balance of street cred and mentoring skills.

On a typical day, Weston says, he puts together a list of high-profile kids from social workers, court, and police tips and sends his outreach workers to find them. Purple-jacketed and unarmed, the workers disperse across the city. First, Weston says, “you have to identify, you have to engage.” Once the outreach workers have connected with the kids and gained some trust, they present options. One of the reasons the New Haven Family Alliance won the contract for the program was its pre-existing resource network. If an outreach worker discovers that one of their kids is failing school or expecting a child, he or she can hook the kid up with the Family Alliance’s adult tutoring or parenting programs. The workers also refer their charges to outside addiction and counseling resources. Many of the kids at Miss Shirley’s life skills class were brought in by outreach workers.

Ideally, the workers would also be involved in emergency or high-conflict situations. Rather than letting gang tension escalate to a shooting, supporters of the street outreach worker program hope that kids would call Mo, Blest, Ant, Cousin Twiz, Dougie, Remedy, Pete, or Picasso and talk it out. Ideally, the workers’ preventative role would replace the police’s disciplinary one. This would  cause a reverse domino effect: as fewer kids would get shot, fewer kids would go to jail, fewer kids would get out and deal because they couldn’t get another job, and fewer kids would turn to the streets for protection only to learn that, as Weston is fond of saying, “the streets don’t love you back.” Ideally, the street outreach worker program would break the cycle.

Heading out on patrol after the life skills class, street outreach worker Pete Lopez has promised a ride to George, the teenager who inadvertently sold crack to his friend’s mother. Pete hops in the battered white van while George hangs outside, dragging on a cigarette. When Blest, who is accompanying Pete on patrol, has settled into the passenger seat, Pete steps on the gas. George bangs on the door and Pete brakes so that George can toss out his cigarette and climb in. “That’s why you the new guy,” George laughs.

It’s Pete’s second week on the job. A winged tattoo on his neck peeks out of his purple jacket, which he wears proudly. A reddish beard frames his face and a gray knit kulfi covers his skull. So far, Pete’s only ridden with Dougie, his mentor, around Dixwell, but tonight he and Blest, who is in his third week, are setting out on their own. After they drop George in the Hill, they slow down and begin to look around. Blest sees a group of kids with trick bikes hanging on the sidewalk, and he tells Pete to stop. The two get out and amble over to the kids, who back away. Five minutes later, Pete and Blest are back in the car. “They know me more outside this jacket,” says Blest.

He’s familiar with many of New Haven’s young people through a program called Uniting Our Youth, which he’s operated for a few years now, but Blest is still adjusting to life in the purple jacket. These kids don’t recognize his new uniform yet. He and Pete talk constantly about Dougie, who’s a more established presence in the neighborhoods. They drive over to Dixwell to meet up with him but he has the night off, so Pete pulls into one of Dougie’s usual haunts, a strip mall. He checks in with the owners of a convenience store to make sure they’re not being harassed by the kids, but they stare at him silently from behind the counter. He walks over to the public library, which he says Dougie drops by frequently, but no one recognizes him.

Outside, Blest is chatting with some kids on trick bikes, one of whom is Dougie’s son. “You play ball, man, what you into?” Blest asks one of them. He gets a mumbled response. A police car flashes past, blaring its siren, and the kids lose interest. They pedal languidly away.

Blest moves on to two girls leaning on the wall outside China Star. He introduces himself to Wynisha, who’s twenty and in school to be a parole officer, and Sandy, who’s 17 and pregnant. “You ready to raise a child?” Blest asks Sandy. She stuffs her hands into her parka pockets and looks down, a faint smile stuck on her face. A young boy ambles over and puts his head on her shoulder.

“Is this your girl?” Blest asks the boy, who laughs and walks away. Sandy’s boyfriend is out dealing, Blest eventually pulls out of her. “Maybe you guys’ll get married,” he says, “but he needs to be productive, pay child support. If you plan on marrying this man you guys gotta be ready for it, cuz it’s a big step.”

Sandy smiles, silently.

Before he and Pete climb into the van, Blest tells Sandy, “That’s what it really is, you don’t give yourself a chance.” In the car, he says that he never knew his own father and had his first child at 17. Pete, who also never knew his father, has a three-month-old son. He showed pictures to Sandy and Wynisha on his cell phone.

“I get touched, like, ever since I’ve changed my life around,” Pete says as he drives over to the Ville—Newhallville—which he and Blest agree is the roughest part of town. They don’t stop; it’s not safe for a reporter. Pete grew up in the Bronx but has lived in New Haven for 19 years, he says. He dealt and used heroin and crack until five years ago, when he hit bottom. He still attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings sometimes, and he relies heavily on his faith; he’s been a Muslim for three years.

Pete and Blest recall how when they were teenagers, street fighting was fist to fist. Now, with the prevalence of guns, things have changed. “It’s a survival tactic,” Pete says. “I’m gonna blow your brains out before you blow mine. I may sit in jail, but nobody wants to go into the ground.”

As street outreach workers, the two want to teach kids different ways to survive. The conversation cycles back to Dougie, who recently prevented a shooting. One of Dougie’s kids got jumped the other night, says Blest, but his friends went to Dougie’s house in Dixwell before anyone called the police. Dougie talked to the perpetrator and the victim’s friends, and he diffused the situation so that the police never knew about it. That, Blest and Pete say, is the kind of street outreach worker they want to be.

“I want to have my kids engulfed in me,” Blest says. “I’m engulfed in my kids, but I want my kids to be engulfed in me like Dougie’s are in him.”

Time will tell if a purple jacket, criminal background, and crusader’s energy will win Blest kids’ trust. Even if they do, the future of New Haven’s street outreach worker program will remain tenuous. Funding is secured through July, but after that, Tinney and Weston will have to convince funders that the outreach workers are making a difference.

Evaluating a violence prevention program, whether it’s the street outreach  team or President Clinton’s COPS, is tricky. So many factors affect gun violence that a winter drop in shootings could be attributed to anti-violence efforts or to particularly cold weather. Tinney is working with Yale’s Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars to develop a method of measuring the program’s outcomes. “My main concern,” she says, “is that people will expect this is some sort of magic bullet.” She worries funders will give up on the program “if gun violence doesn’t end in a year.”

New Haven’s relationship with its youth and its youth’s relationship with guns are too deeply rooted to be fixed in a year. Weston, Pete, and Blest are all around forty, and despite having turned their lives around, they all still feel the pull of the streets. They know that there is no magic bullet to break the cycle of youth violence, but they also know that the police aren’t cutting it. The police never could have negotiated the unprecedented truces now lending hope to New Haven’s toughest neighborhoods. Last fall, outreach workers intervened between two groups from Dixwell and the Ville, mediating a series of talks between key players that culminated in a signed paper truce. Those same players now drop by the Family Alliance four times a week to receive job training and practice conflict resolution, and they helped negotiate three additional truces incorporating parts of the Hill and the Tre, the area around Dwight and Kensington streets.

These agreements, which Weston announced to Bitsie Clark’s Youth Services Committee in late November, are tenuous and have yet to manifest themselves in a significant drop in shootings. But in New Haven’s neighborhoods, these pieces of paper shielding the city’s toughest ten percent from each other’s guns are a massive gesture—one that would never have occurred without the facilitation of people who, looking back, wish they’d spoken instead of shot. These truces confirm that the solution to New Haven’s gun epidemic is not only a reformed police department but a group of reformed


Nicole Allan is a junior in Calhoun College.

Off the ‘MARK

In the decade since Yale hired ARAMARK to run its dining halls, the American love affair with corporate efficiency has turned sour. Enron and Martha Stewart have poisoned our infatuation with Sam’s Club and Big Macs as documentary after documentary has made us squirm in our Gap cotton. But luckily for its executives, corporate America has found the ticket to redemption. Now, for every celebrity “going green,” a massive corporation has announced its own sustainability initiative.

In 2005, General Electric launched its “Ecomagination” program promoting economically advantageous greenhouse gas reduction. In February, Wal-Mart unveiled its “Sustainability 360” project, which will prioritize sustainable products, renewable energy, and waste reduction. And on September 27th, Duke announced its new Corporate Sustainability Initiative, a research program co-operated by the University’s business and environmental schools.

Yale University, which employed 11,750 people and earned a 28 percent return on its $22.5 billion endowment in the last fiscal year, is keeping up with the (Dow) Joneses. In June, Yale decided to terminate its ten year relationship with ARAMARK Corporation, the world’s third-largest food service provider, in order to return to a self-operated Dining Services that will focus heavily on integrating the values of the Yale Sustainable Food Project into students’ dining experience. This decision is one of many leading Yale down the increasingly fashionable path of sustainability and ethical business leadership.

Student Financial and Administrative Services assumed joint control of Yale University Dining Services when the University hired ARAMARK in 1997, and Ernst Huff, associate vice president of SFAS, has closely collaboration with the corporation ever since. He says that Yale, hoping to reverse Dining Services’ tendency to run a negative budget, was originally attracted to ARAMARK’s “bottom-line” management style.

This methodology had its business benefits. In Huff’s unsmiling, professional opinion, ARAMARK’s two greatest accomplishments during its time at Yale were greater oversight of the cooking process, which was “not an exact science prior to ARAMARK” and improved inventory management in individual dining halls. All 17 of them.

Yale’s residential college system, which is pitched as a distinctive strength to prospective students, also makes it difficult for the University to feed its flocks once they enroll. In addition to Commons, five graduate school dining rooms, and four separate retail facilities, Yale must staff eleven residential college dining halls. (One is off-line each year as the colleges are renovated). This feat requires 350 full-time-equivalent employees, not to mention managers and administrators. Since Yale employees are unionized under Local 35, the University does not have the option of cutting labor costs.

“There are very few variables that you can manipulate within Dining Services,” Huff explains. “Employee salaries are set by the bargaining agreement. We have very little flexibility there…the only real flexibility there is with food and management labor.”

ARAMARK brought corporate efficiency to Yale’s food inventory system. With an empire managing food services at over four hundred colleges, universities, and preparatory schools, the company immediately instituted thorough and regular inventories of Yale’s dining halls. Ordering policies shifted in a way that many long-term Yale employees had never seen before, and managers were forced to plan ahead. Under the self-operated Dining Services, if a college ran out of lettuce or milk, it could often be delivered that day from a nearby Yale commissary at Long Wharf. ARAMARK eliminated this expensive warehouse, however, and required managers to order in advance.

“ARAMARK is proud of its successful partnership with Yale University,” wrote ARAMARK’s Director of Communications Karen Cutler in a statement about the Yale-ARAMARK partnership. “Since 1997, ARAMARK has developed, implemented and continuously enhanced Yale’s residential, retail and catering programs, resulting in increased customer satisfaction, revenue growth and operational improvements.”

Though dining administrators and workers both praised ARAMARK’s effect on Yale’s finances, long-term Yale managers and employees underwent a rocky transition to ARAMARK’s bottom-line policy, which resulted in frequent complaints of food shortages. “In some cases there were challenges,” Huff admits, referring to accusations of short-ordering. It took time for ARAMARK management to become familiar with Yale’s consumption patterns. Hired to reduce Yale’s food budget, they often took the “less is more” approach when ordering food.

And when the food arrived, not everyone was happy with its quality. The biannual customer satisfaction surveys that ARAMARK instituted on arrival garnered consistently low ratings during the corporation’s first four years at Yale.

“Before ARAMARK came, we had more variety,” remembers Andrea Rankins, a ten-year Saybrook employee. “We never ran out of food. And it wasn’t chicken all the time.”

Other dining hall workers equate the ARAMARK years with a string of indistinguishable managers. ARAMARK filled most managerial positions with its own staff, shifting them from college to college and tightening control over employees. O’Neal Galloway, a grill worker who has been a member of Calhoun College’s team for 16 years, remembers only a single manager in the college dining hall during his six years before ARAMARK arrived. Since then, he can count ten, maybe twelve.

Though Huff could not provide up-to-date numbers of original Yale managers versus managers hired by ARAMARK, last year he told the Yale Daily News that about half of Dining Services’ employees were ARAMARK. Since Local 35 fills all non-management positions, these non-union ARAMARK employees have a near-monopoly on Yale’s dining _management jobs.

At the Saybrook dining hall, Rankins and Linda Felder, who have worked for Dining Services since 1985, could together name only two Yale managers who’d been around before ARAMARK. “This dining hall hasn’t been run well since Marie,” Rankins confides, referring to the Yale manager ARAMARK moved to a different dining hall during its transition years.

Felder agrees. “The Yale managers were better,” she asserts. “Some of these, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Calhoun’s Galloway also harbors fondness for the original Yale managers. “The Yale management,” he reminisces, “They seem like they have more compassion, because they used to work like us.” When ARAMARK manager after ARAMARK manager strode through Calhoun’s doors, Galloway felt this familiarity disappear. “They just seem like robots,” he says. Lowering his voice and moving his arms like an automaton, he imitates his perception of the ARAMARK mentality: “Like, ‘We’re gonna turn this thing around.'” The new managers, charged to increase efficiency, assigned more work in the same number of hours, affecting employees in every dining hall.

Yolanda Barnes, a friendly fixture at the Calhoun desk since well before ARAMARK arrived, uses the same word to describe ARAMARK managers: “It seems like when ARAMARK came, they operated more like a machine, like a robot. That humanness was missing.”

Yale announced its decision to split from ARAMARK in June, but the company will not officially leave until February; Yale’s contract with ARAMARK prohibits the University from offering jobs to ARAMARK managers until three to six months after contract termination notice, and ARAMARK is helping to ease Yale through the initial transition period. ARAMARK managers will be given the option to stay at Yale or follow ARAMARK somewhere else, and, though many have not yet decided which path to pursue, both Galloway and Barnes have noticed a positive change in dining hall management this year. They say that original Yale managers, as well as some ARAMARK ones, have already begun to scale back employee duties.

Huff admits that managerial turnover was a problem during ARAMARK’s transition to Yale. Two years after the company arrived, Huff explains, many Yale managers who’d been needing “a nudge” left Yale and were replaced by ARAMARK employees. This turnover was echoed at the highest administrative level as Dining Services cycled through three executive directors in ten years.

Yale administrators, however, were not unhappy with ARAMARK. To increase efficiency and save money, employees must work harder. Products must be regulated more closely. These are golden rules in the bottom-line business, as Sam Walton and Richard Levin well know. Yale hired ARAMARK to cut costs, and it did. In 2005, ARAMARK earned a $20,000 incentive fee, written into its contract with Yale, for completing a fiscal year below budget.

Yale wasn’t the only institution turning to ARAMARK to cut costs in the past decade. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush hired the company to reduce the prison payroll during the 2001 privatization of the state prison system. Within a year, the state was levying ARAMARK with $110,000 in fines backed by accusations of food poisoning, sanitation violations, and drops in food quality and quantity.

ARAMARK, also a leader in uniforms, facilities management, hospitality services, and concessions, has achieved much of its success through international expansion. Like many other corporations-and Yale itself-it is now setting its sights on China and other developing countries. ARAMARK was recently chosen by a Chinese company to provide food services for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and this year, CEO Joseph Neubauer took the company private for the hefty sum of $8.3 million.

At Yale, ARAMARK’s cutthroat corporate success has been a constant, nagging reminder of the company’s raison d’etre: its own profit. Though few care to speak of it openly, several Yale sources referenced exclusive purchasing agreements with food purveyors that benefited ARAMARK rather than guaranteeing Yale the best products at the lowest prices. Huff says he has not heard of any such arrangements.

Trumbull Manager Edd Ley, who began working at Yale in 1970, oversaw Dining Services’ purchases at the Long Wharf Commissary before ARAMARK eliminated the storehouse and reassigned him to Trumbull. Ley, who loves dining and loves Yale, was happy to be back in the trenches. “Doing business under the realm of the contractor was different,” he says, “but it was still about serving.” When pressed to speak about the difference between a self-operated Dining Services and an ARAMARK-operated Dining Services, Ley raises his eyebrows and asks, “Do you want somebody else to raise your children?”

No matter how well ARAMARK and Yale worked together-and according to Ley, it was pretty well-ARAMARK was still a third party. With the new turnover in management, Ley hopes “it’ll be Yale taking care of Yale.” He remembers Yale’s previous self-operated Dining Services with pride. “When we operated as an independent, we always wanted the best product at the best price, and that was always reflected in the invoice.”

In the past four years, Yale has gradually reconsidered its definition of the “best product.” Before 2001, when the University founded the Yale Sustainable Food Project with the help of world-renowned chef Alice Waters, the best apple might have been from a large, Oregonian mass production farm in California. Now, the best apple is local and sustainable, grown on a family-run orchard 26 miles from Yale.

By the time YSFP inaugurated its local, seasonable, and sustainable menu at the Berkeley “test kitchen” in 2003, Dining Services had already begun to prioritize higher quality food, Huff says. “The existing objective was now coupled with an intriguing project.”

Since then, ARAMARK, Yale Dining Services, and the Sustainable Food Project have worked together to bring high quality, economical food to the Yale campus. Melina Shannon-DiPietro, YSFP co-director, is all smiles and as she talks about celebrity chef Jacques P�pin training Yale chefs in 2004 or about YSFP’s lofty goals of community and “incredibly good food.” But when asked about introducing these goals to an ARAMARK-run Dining Services, she speaks slowly, carefully.

“Anytime you shift a vision, it’s going to be challenging,” Shannon-DiPietro says. “And ARAMARK central was not reinforcing the values we were trying to institute at Yale.”

As Yale has been at the vanguard of sustainable institutional dining for the past six years, it is no surprise that ARAMARK took a while to catch up. For a corporation at the forefront of the outsourcing movement, the idea of prioritizing sustainable farming practices over bottom-line prices must have seemed a bit counterintuitive.

As YSFP’s influence spread beyond the Berkeley dining hall to every kitchen at Yale, both the University and ARAMARK staff were forced to adapt to new perspectives on purchasing and cooking food. YSFP traveled to Philadelphia for annual Dining Services staff training sessions at the ARAMARK headquarters. Shannon-DiPietro says ARAMARK and YSFP split up training duties according to their respective strengths, with ARAMARK taking a larger role in management training and YSFP in food preparation. YSFP gave instructions on how to prepare seasonable items and taught cooks to taste food while preparing it-“it’s actually really important to taste food before you serve it,” Shannon-DiPietro says with a laugh.

YSFP’s raw energy and momentum, which has remained in step with a national trend toward organic and sustainable restaurants, grocery stores, and farms, gave Yale’s Dining Services a much-needed jolt. Even before YSFP arrived, Huff says, Dining Services had realized that it needed to step up its focus on food quality, but its partnership with ARAMARK did not provide many opportunities for innovation.

“When YSFP came along,” Huff says, “I felt the support and creativity for that, and the energy behind that, was not ARAMARK.” Despite initial challenges, YSFP’s values quickly infiltrated Dining Services. Prior to the 2006-2007 school year, Dining Services rewrote its entire menu, including non-YSFP items. “We thought, ‘Why focus only on quality as defined by YSFP?'” Huff remembers.

Eventually, Dining Services felt that, due both to ARAMARK’s financial management and YSFP’s culinary leadership, it was time to return to a self-operated system. “Dining Services had gotten to a certain level,” Huff explains. “ARAMARK had contributed greatly to this level, but I wasn’t convinced they were going to take us much further than we already were.”

Huff is determined to maintain an independent, high-quality Dining Services that will work in conjunction with YSFP to bring aspects of the local and sustainable food movement to the Yale campus. YSFP has made impressive strides in the past years, introducing organic honey and yogurt and fair trade coffee, bananas, and chocolate, as well as one all-YSFP meal per week, in all of Yale’s residential colleges, and Huff sees this expansion as an ongoing Dining Services/YSFP effort.

Huff says he can see where the Food Project is going. “We’re going to agree on some percent of the menu items that will be YSFP recipes.” In September of this year, the number of these items was expanded to stock four meals per week, but transition-related budget concerns brought this trial to a temporary halt. In anticipation of a new, self-operated Dining Services, Huff told the Yale Daily News, he and his colleagues must be prudent in balancing cost and quality.

Yale’s reincarnated dining system is still waiting for its leader. Yale has hired OPUS International, a Philadelphia headhunting firm, to conduct a national search for a new executive director of Dining Services. Six candidates visited campus at the beginning of October, Huff reports, and the search committee hopes to make a final decision by Thanksgiving. Until this decision is made, it is hard to predict the precise direction a self-operated Dining Services will take.

“When I think of what Dining Services needs right now,” Shannon-DiPietro says, “I think of a really dynamic Dining Services leader.”

Both she and Huff stress the importance of an executive director who balances effective, efficient management with good food. Now that Yale University Dining Services, like thousands of national corporations, is shifting its priorities from cost-cutting to ethical and sustainable business practices, experience with sustainability and food preparation is invaluable in a leader. Huff wants someone who is not only a manager but also a food-lover. He and Shannon-DiPietro, both heavily involved in the search process, have been extremely pleased with the candidates so far. Once Yale appoints a new head of Dining Services and ARAMARK officially departs, Yale dining will have to decide just how financially sustainable sustainable food can be.

As Shannon-DiPietro and her co-director, Josh Viertel, are well aware, sustainability is increasingly trendy, and Yale, never an institution to be left in the dust, has taken note. In 2004, the University appointed its first sustainability director. One year later, it created the Office of Sustainability-recently moved to an environmentally-conscious space equipped with “daylight tubes,” motion-sensor lights, and reclaimed wood floors-to coordinate the University’s efforts in renewable energy, waste reduction, and environmentally responsible renovation and construction. In 2005, Yale’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee declared a goal of reducing Yale’s emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020-or roughly 43 percent below a business-as-usual, base-case scenario.

So far, the University has made progress toward this goal through greener renovations, motion-sensor lighting in college common spaces, and the appointment of a director of sustainable transportation systems. Students have shown support in well-established groups like the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership and the Yale Student Environmental Coalition. Sustainably Thinking, a new student organization, will provide big-picture advice to the other groups on campus.

As more and more consumers demand to know where their food comes from, the voice of the Yale Sustainable Food Project is no longer a sage in the wilderness. Now, Yale University Dining Service’s rejection of the corporate machine for community-based management will be reflected in its kitchens, as cooks forgo sacks of dehydrated potato powder for fresh Yukon Golds, mashed by hand and flavored with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and whole peppercorns. In this sense, the new, self-operated Dining Services appears to be no more than an attempt to follow corporate America’s latest sustainability trend. But we started it.

Indian Summer

Age at which I read my first novel about India: 10
Subsequent number of novels about India I have read: 22
Number of months spent planning my trip to India: 9
Percentage of parents’ friends claiming to know someone in India who would either employ or shelter me: 32
Pre-departure visits to Yale Travel Clinic: 5
Number of malaria pills purchased: 82
Number of guide books purchased: 3
Number of times the word “microfinance” appeared in my fellowship application essay: 9
Extent of my knowledge about “microfinance” upon writing fellowship application essay: 1 Time Magazine article
Number of fellowships that turned me down: 9
AIDS rate in India, as relayed to me by my mother: 1.5%
Months spent in India: 2.5
Minutes spent admiring my dusty, overloaded backpack in the bathroom mirror before passing through LAX upon
return: 3.2
Number of diseases diagnosed during post-India physical: 0
Number of group emails printed, reread, and collected in a folder: 7
Money spent on Indian ingredients to cook family an authentic Indian meal: $42.61
Days left-over authentic Indian meal sat in refrigerator, untouched, before discreetly thrown out by my mother: 5
Number of cheaply-made puppets, bangles, elephant mobiles, bootlegged Bollywood films, bags of tea, and fraying
tapestries distributed to family and friends: 32
Number of “India!” photo albums posted on Facebook: 5
Hours spent walking around Los Angeles in an Indian kurta before discreetly changing behind a dumpster: 0.6
Remaining desire to work in microfinance, international development, or any other not-for-profit that involves helping people: 0

Minority Report

Despite Arthur Tucker’s 17 years of construction experience, people often assume he’s an unskilled laborer. He rarely gets hired to complete the more lucrative “gravy work,” or finishing touches, on a project. Arthur Tucker is black. He thinks this might be why.

Though Tucker didn’t attend City Hall’s public hearing on minority construction hiring in early March, he was represented in absentia by a full house of people with similar complaints. In an impassioned and unexpected twist, these minority construction workers pitted themselves against a woman who has done more to help them find jobs in New Haven over the past six years than anyone has in the city’s recent history.


ew Haven’s Commission on Equal Opportunities is located in a bustling City Hall office that has long been too small for its occupants. Nichole Jefferson, president of the CEO, has tucked pitchers of fake flowers between the heaps of paper that cover her office. As she plucks bulging files from the visual chaos, it is clear that she loves her job and does it well.

The Commission-though founded in 1964, and one of the oldest municipal civil rights agencies in the country-has not always hummed as it does now. Before Jefferson was hired in 2001, she says, “nobody ever did anything. Zero, zip, zilp, blah, blah, blah.” With only five staff members, Jefferson notes, “the office didn’t really have a clear mission.” Now, the CEO investigates employment discrimination, enforces construction contracts, and inspects sites to ensure regulations are being followed. During Jefferson’s second year on the job, the CEO conducted 508 inspections. Last year, it completed 1,061.

In addition to these duties, Jefferson runs a construction training program that was transferred to her office after its rocky start at the Workforce Alliance. Between 1999, when the Construction Workforce Initiative began, and 2001, when Jefferson took the reins, less than one hundred residents graduated from the program. This tally was surpassed within the first year of Jefferson’s tenure. Ideally, CWI graduates are matched with contractors working on City projects, a set-up that benefits all parties-the minorities need jobs and the contractors need minorities-as New Haven law mandates that 25% of the hours spent on City-funded construction projects must be logged by minority workers. Jefferson also assumed control of the previously un-enforced Project Labor Agreement, which states that 25% of the hours spent on city construction projects must be completed by New Haven union workers. In yet another gesture of confidence last fall, the City gave her office employment supervision duties at all New Haven Housing Authority worksites.

Six years after these structural shifts, the CEO has pushed New Haven contractors’ minority hiring rates higher than any other city in Connecticut. Countless people have received training and landed well-paying construction jobs through Jefferson’s office. So why do so many minorities still feel that they can’t get or keep jobs because of their race?


iscrimination is everywhere,” Jefferson says, her face framed by letters hanging in her window that spell out “INTEGRITY.” “It’s in this building, it’s on this floor-but you’ve got to have proof.” Though her office receives myriad casual inquiries into what constitutes discrimination, only about ten formal complaints are filed each year. Jefferson constantly meets with people who fume about racist employers, and she often believes them. But if workers won’t divulge their names, much less the details of their experiences, she can do nothing.

“I only deal in facts,” Jefferson explains. “When you discriminate against someone, you gotta be able to prove it. You have to have facts, write down times, have witnesses-you gotta give me some ammunition.”

She has facts on the disgruntled workers who complained about discrimination at the public hearing, and they aren’t pretty. One black woman who claimed she was laid off for no reason has a history of drug abuse, and Jefferson wouldn’t be surprised if she’d begun using again. Another African-American man, also recently laid off, was blacklisted by his union for evading its educational requirements. Jefferson dug up payrolls to prove that another worker, who’d passionately argued that black men were being laid off a particular project once the contractors had filled their quota, had been flat-out lying. She knew these details all along but didn’t think them appropriate to announce to the crowd. “It would be black people against black people,” she says, “and I don’t want to do that.”

Instead, Jefferson hinted at these issues in a more general way, reminding those at the hearing that “everybody is not going to be a perfect employee. The people who are constantly laid off, it’s usually not about race-it’s about being a bad employee.”

Jimmy, the white foreman of a plumbing subcontractor working on the construction of a Fair Haven school, confirmed this trend-he usually lays people off when they don’t show up to work or do as he asks. That’s not to say that he’s never been accused of discrimination. He once addressed a black employee as “boy,” which caused a stir despite the fact that Jimmy said it “in the way I wanted to say it because he was younger than I was.”

An important component of the CEO inspections includes confidential interviews with minority workers to verify that they are paid and treated appropriately. Lisa Mu�iz and Hope Davis, CEO inspectors, confirmed that a recent CWI graduate who’d begun working under Jimmy on the Fair Haven project only a couple of weeks before hadn’t experienced any unfair treatment. Mu�iz and Davis filed a report for the CEO records, adding to Jefferson’s currency of “facts.” When discrepancies are found, the CEO calls in the contractors and, if necessary, enforces fines or takes legal action.


lan Felder, a local subcontractor, does not deny that Jefferson and her office have provided New Haven minorities with a slew of opportunities. But he feels that black men in particular are slipping through major holes in the city’s construction policy. Born and raised in New Haven, Felder has 22 years of plumbing experience. His small subcontracting company is folding, however, as Felder focuses his energy on Man-Up, a new advocacy organization for African-American men working in construction. Man-Up hopes to instill a moral obligation in New Haven construction firms to hire black residents and to better integrate themselves into the community-a lofty goal. On a practical level, the organization plans to act as a community that trains and supports black men trying to gain upward mobility in the construction industry.

A couple of days before the City Hall hearing, Felder staged a rally at a large, privately-funded construction site in Westville. He protested the project’s lack of minority subcontractors and accused the general contractor of hiring illegal Mexican workers instead of black New Haven residents.

For Man-Up members, the Westville site exemplifies a primary flaw in city regulations: as a private development, it is not subject to any minority or resident quotas. The CEO does not supervise it and, according to Felder, this means that this project and others like it get away with hiring illegal immigrants in the place of black New Haven residents.

Another of Man-Up’s grievances centers on the difficulties black men face in climbing the construction salary ladder. Felder does not deny that black laborers can generally find work through the CEO. But Felder is not a laborer-he’s a subcontractor. There are no minority quotas on the subcontracting level, and despite the efforts of New Haven’s Small Business Initiative, he feels that it is next to impossible for small, black-owned operations to survive.

efferson, though busy enough preventing discrimination on a labor level, understands the problems Felder confronts. She says the minorities at the hearing “needed someone to be angry with. And I understand-I’m passionate about my job.”

Lowering her voice to a maternal murmur, she reveals that their anger, and Tucker’s anger, and Felder’s anger, stem from the same source: an inability to reach the “next level.” Whether the wall that stands between them and this goal is racial, attitudinal, political, or an indissoluble mixture of the three is debatable. But after the rally and the hearing and six years of Jefferson’s tireless supervision, New Haven is beginning to contemplate tearing it down.

The College Dropout

During my Yale admissions tour, forty overeager highschoolers and I were herded through the iron gates of Silliman, arranged in a corner of the Frisbee-dotted courtyard, and regaled with the merits of the residential college system. A couple of months later, in my interview, I cited these merits as one of my primary motives for applying to Yale. I babbled about how I longed for an intimate liberal arts experience in the midst of a research university and described a dream of four-year friendships, fierce loyalty, and a surrogate family. I was certain I would be a blissful Yale student.

Accepted, I spent the endless stretch of summer repeatedly logging onto the Internet, where I was greeted by my homepage� I navigated my way through residential college websites, comparing coats of arms and acquiring a familiar ease with the Berkeley Dining Hall, the picturesque Branford courtyard, and the Silligym. I envisioned the envelope containing my college assignment as my most life-determining piece of mail to date. I knew just enough about the colleges to determine that I would be happy�as long as I wasn’t in Morse or Ezra� Stiles. It was an aesthetic opinion; they were the �ugly� colleges, lurking in an isolated corner of campus that definitely wasn’t included on my admissions tour. I held my breath and mentally chanted, �Not Morse, not Stiles, not Morse, not Stiles.� I opened the letter. Stiles.

* * *

When I lugged my boxes across Old Campus in late August, I quickly learned that Camp Yale is all about colleges. Registration meetings, receptions, and formal dinners plucked me from the grassy, Gothic paradise of Old Campus and deposited me amidst the irregular angles of Stiles. At gathering after gathering, I was told why my college was the most tightly-knit, enthusiastic , and charismatic of all Yale’s colleges. To cope with my disappointment, I decided to buy into the hype. I attended study breaks and IM practices armed with a rabid devotion to my underdog college. I told my parents�who worried about the unusual architecture and abundance of crime in Stiles� environs�that the college’s students made up for its �undesirable� status. All of my friends were in Stiles, and even the dining hall was growing on me. hen I arrived at Yale, I tried on a new personality. I went out two or three nights a week, hosted countless dance parties in my common room, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Removed from the college environment by three weeks of winter break, however, I was dissatisfied with the new me. Something about my college experience was beginning to make me uncomfortable. I sifted through my photos on and cringed to see they all featured a dressed-up version of myself posing with people I barely knew at parties I scarcely remembered. I spent hours recounting these feelings to my best friend from home. At the end of one of these long sessions, she reassured me, �Don’t worry. I lost you there for a bit, but now you’re back.� And I was.

Upon my return to Yale, I was not entirely sure how to fix the problem I started avoiding everything I had embraced during the fall; stopped spending time in Lawrance, used the back door of my suite in order to circumvent my common room, and cut off the Stiles friendships which, up to that point, had defined my social life. My next step was to find a new world in which to immerse myself. I strengthened friendships I had formed around shared interests and activities rather than residential proximity. One of my closest friends was in Calhoun. I’d met and liked a couple of her suitemates. By February, I informed my dean that I wanted to switch colleges.

* * *

Although I filled out the paperwork and met with the appropriate officials, a sense of betrayal deterred me from telling other Stilesians about my plans�even my suitemates. It also took time to get up the nerve to tell my family. After mentioning it off-handedly to my sister during a phone conversation, she confronted me on issues I�d refused to acknowledge.

�I thought you loved the college system because it threw you into a group of random people who you wouldn�t have gotten to know otherwise,� she reminded me. �During the entire fall you were raving about how much you love the diversity. And now you’re just going to leave and try somewhere else?� Embarrassed, I could only mumble a reply. �I hope you�re not switching just because you want a nicer living space, Nicole,� she added with contempt.

I snapped.

I did not want to switch in order to wake up to gothic arches. My reasons had nothing to do with Stiles� looks or location. And I refused to feel like a failure because I didn’t fall in love with the people whom I was randomly grouped with. That said, I did realize that I could not blame my alienation on Stiles or other Stilesians. They had not changed�I was the one undergoing a transition.

Despite my effort to keep it quiet, my decision soon leaked throughout Lawrance. However, the backlash of my peers was diluted by the fact that eight other Stiles freshmen (of the original 113) were also transferring out. The knowledge that nearly ten percent of the freshmen in my college felt similarly misplaced gave my claims a sense of legitimacy. I resolved to surmount my feelings of hypocrisy and explain the situation to fellow Stilesians. Yes, in the fall I had loved Stiles. I had played IM’s. I have pictures of myself grinning, my fingers vaguely contorted to spell out the letters �E Sti.� But aren’t we expected to grow during freshman year?

* * *

Three of my closest friends also switched colleges�two from Stiles, one from Jonathan Edwards. I’ve talked to many others who have tried, with varying success. Reasons range from�aesthetic inequality��Stiles is depressing and ugly� (a transfer request that was not granted)�to a lack of friends in one�s current college and a concentration of them in another.

Due to a housing crunch this year, neither Silliman nor Trumbull accepted transfers, contributing to a slight dip in the number of requests and the success rate. This year, 41 people attempted to switch and 29 succeeded. Last year’s results are more typical: 59 requests to 49 approvals. These numbers reveal that the residential college system is not without its faults�not surprisingly, though, they are not advertised by Yale.

My dean described the transfer selection process as �pretty much like poker.� From what I could gather, the deans of each college sit at a large table, hold cards with the names of students attempting to switch, and barter. If three people leave Branford, the dean of that college can accept three new students. Colleges like to keep the in/out ratio as even as possible. Stiles usually has a seven-in, seven-out average; but this year proved a departure from the norm. Nine students are leaving. No one is switching in.

* * *

The amount of hard work and luck necessary to make the switch prompts many students to remain passive even when they are unhappy in their colleges. When I explained my reasons for switching, various friends in Stiles echoed most of my dissatisfactions. But, unlike me, they still feel a vague loyalty to the college to which they were assigned. I may have insulted some Stilesians with my decision, and my story will be omitted on an admissions tour of the University. A glitch in the ancient and infallible college system, my transfer will disappear within the greater history of Yale University’s residential colleges. But I signed up for this glorified residential college system as advertised, and I am still determined to experience it to its fullest potential. Next year I look forward to living with three of my favorite people, going to breakfast in my pajamas, attending Master’s Teas, and fanatically screaming college cheers with my new family.