First-Years in Support of New Haven

written by the 2020-2022 FIS-NH Co-Coordinating Team 

During our first year at Yale, we longed for a sense of place. Beyond Yale’s gates, we felt the warmth of community but struggled to understand our role in New Haven as students at an institution that prioritizes leadership and innovation over support and listening. First-Years in Support of New Haven creates space for reflection and dialogue about community support, and welcomes students to the vibrant city that surrounds them. 


At its core, First-Years in Support of New Haven (FIS-NH) seeks to connect students to the New Haven community and promote meaningful and lasting relationships in the city. We hope that students engaged in FIS-NH can feel a sense of place and groundedness in New Haven, while simultaneously understanding their role and responsibility as Yale students. 


In 2020,, we welcomed 30 students to the program and hosted speaker events with nine incredible New Haven organizers. These events allow us to introduce first-years to a wide range of organizations and community leaders in New Haven. Our priority is to center community voices and issues while also helping our first years feel a sense of home in the New Haven community. 

In the second semester, we pair students with New Haven-based non-profits to engage in a semester-long project that meets the unique needs of our partners. This year, we paired 20 first-years with 8 New Haven organizations including EMERGE CT, Yale Prison Education Initiative, and New Haven Public School Advocates. At EMERGE CT, two students worked with a formerly incarcerated entrepreneur to create a plan for his dream small business: a food truck. Our three students at New Haven Public School Advocates spent the semester researching the history of New Haven public schools, mentoring high school students, and advocating for students’ needs both individually and at Board of Education meetings. 


Service clubs typically imagine service to be field-trip-like day trips with large groups coming to take on whatever projects they’ve been assigned. Although this approach

works well for certain organizations, for most of the community partners we work with, it is often a burden to train so many incoming volunteers just to have them leave after a week or day. Our goal with FIS-NH is to encourage sustainable service over voluntourism. Sustainable service reimagines this structure, prioritizing community partners’ rather than volunteers’ needs. Sustainable service advocates for longer-term partnerships that use more flexibility and collaboration to serve organizations in the way that best fits their structure and projects. We want to foster a community of people dedicated to learning about the city from the people who live and work there. Through this community, we want to build strong, ongoing, and loving relationships with community partners and use our resources to support the programs already in place that are doing incredible work in the city. 

We believe that only engaging with New Haven in a service capacity is an extremely limiting way to view community and build connections. Because of this, we center our program around listening to community leaders, attending rallies, supporting New Haven Rising and local labor unions, and supporting local businesses, artists, and musicians. 


A key tenant of our program is educating students on our collective responsibility to the city. Especially in the context of Yale’s historical ties to slavery, we choose to highlight Yale’s injustices in the city, including its ties to colonialism, policing of New Haveners, gentrification, student body demographics, and lack of financial contribution. As students, we are all complicit in Yale’s exploitation of the city, but we have the choice to either perpetuate or fight against it. In FIS-NH, we believe that we have a collective responsibility to support the fight to hold Yale accountable. 

All are welcome in FIS-NH. We do not have an application, as we believe that application-writing ability does not translate into love and support for our community. 

For students interested in getting involved, our interest form will launch in September 2021, but if you have any questions, concerns, suggestions, or comments please feel free to email us at

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