Student-designed website asks: Where is your haven?

When students in the “Introduction to Public Humanities” course were deciding what they were going to create for a final project, they knew one thing: They weren’t going to find the answer in the classroom. So, they took to the streets of New Haven.

The class of 12 — a mix of undergraduate and graduate students — is taught by Ryan André Brasseaux, a lecturer in the American Studies department and dean of Davenport College. The students decided to build a website showcasing New Haven community spaces — both old and new — to highlight the sense of community that organizations build within an urban environment, which was one of the themes of the course.

The website, Elm City Havens, is a multimedia platform for learning more about these gathering spaces: their stories, their goals, and the communities to which they belong. The class members say that the name is a double entendre that includes the city’s historic nickname and also evokes the idea of finding one’s own community space — or haven — within the context of the city at large. The website shares some examples of community spaces that provide havens for the New Haven’s diverse communities.

“We were able to accomplish a few different goals with this project,” says Matthew Longcore, a graduate student in the class. “It brought us outside of Yale and out into the community, and we learned a lot about New Haven in the process. Our hope was to build a website that is a resource for anyone who lives in New Haven, works in New Haven, or is visiting New Haven, and who is looking for a sense of belonging in a community.”

Currently there are four community spaces featured at Elm City Havens:

Artspace New Haven — An artist and volunteer-run contemporary arts non-profit organization. Its mission is to organize artistic efforts by connecting artists, audiences, and resources.

Edgewood Park — A 123-acre public park with a playground, recreational facilities, duck pond, rollerblading rink, and a self-guided nature trail.

The Institute Library — Founded in 1826, it is Connecticut’s oldest independent circulating library and one of the last remaining membership libraries in North America.

New Haven People’s Center — A labor and community center for educational, social, and cultural activities since 1937.

The website features video, photographs, and audio narratives that were created during visits to each of the sites. Longcore noted that by recording the community members’ voices, “It’s not an interpretation, we let them speak for themselves.” The website’s open platform design will allow community leaders and engaged residents to add new community gathering spaces to further enhance the site.

The project was partially inspired by one of the readings for the class, a book about New Haven titled “City: Urbanism and Its End” by Douglas Rae, the Richard S. Ely Prof of Management and professor of political science at Yale.

“We were talking about the sense of community that certain organizations build within an urban environment. Douglas Rae’s book examines how a century ago, cities had more of a sense of community as a whole than they do today, and we thought, ‘How does a person in a city find a sense of community in the modern world?’” says Longcore.

“One of the most unique aspects of the website is that it is not promoting any one business or a for-profit endeavor,” says Sebi Medina-Tayac ’16, an American studies major. “This project aims to promote these community gathering spaces and show that these spaces are valuable to our community even though they are not for any kind of monetary gain.”

Medina-Tayac explained that the class members wanted to showcase some lesser-known spaces in New Haven. “From our point of view, a space not being widely known was a plus, not a minus. We want to bring to focus on communities that people might not have heard of.”

Brasseaux, who has taught the course two times and who has been affiliated with Public Humanities at Yale since its inception, hopes that his students gain a deeper appreciate for the city of New Haven. “I want them to think in new and critical ways when entering a museum or watching a documentary film, and to develop skills to engage and interpret communities no matter where they land after Yale.”

“This project has allowed us to do something original that brought to the forefront the sense that community does exist even in our modern era, when people sometimes feel very isolated,” Longcore says.

For Medina-Tayac, the biggest takeaway from the class was seeing the potential for direct impact that this project has.

“This class gave us a huge opportunity. We have a very original idea, and we have the power to make it happen. It’s a very well-thought-out way to engage with the New Haven community.”

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