A Rose Blooms in Dixwell

by Melinda Tuhus | May 31, 2006 8:30 AM |

These two officers and these two neighborhood boys weren’t part of the official dedication Tuesday afternoon of the Rose Center, which houses both the Yale Police Department and a vibrant community learning center. But they epitomize the new high in town-gown relations between New Haven and Yale University that the Rose Center represents in the Dixwell neighborhood.

The glass-walled, light-filled building sits on property that used to attract a less desirable clientele, said Drew King, the alderman for the Dixwell neighborhood behind Yale’s Payne Whitney gym. He welcomed the new center.

“It has brought more security to our community,” he said. “It’s cut down on drug traffic and gang activity. It’s been a blessing to our neighborhood.”

Since the center opened in late January, it has attracted more than 200 adults and children who have taken workshops or classes, said Makana Ellis, a recent Yale grad and director of the Dixwell-Yale University Community Learning Center (pictured at right). Kids have taken science, drama and music classes as well as pursued athletics. Adults have gotten help with tax preparation and computer literacy. The center joins the Yale-added New Haven Reads as new youth-oriented community anchors in Dixwell.

The Rose Center is a gift from Deborah Rose, who earned three degrees from Yale. Yale Vice-President and Secretary Linda Lorimer (pictured), a Yale alumna herself, said Rose’s gift is an inspiration. “We have one of our own who has stepped forward to be a benefactor.” Lorimer mentioned the names of several other well-known buildings at Yale — all named after men — and said she hoped this would be the first of many buildings named for women donors.

Yale Police Chief Jim Perrotti shared the podium with New Haven Chief Francisco Ortiz (pictured) to emphasize their cooperation on police matters across the town-gown line. Perrotti described the not-so-collaborative history of New Haven cops policing Yale students when they misbehaved off-campus. “Students often felt city cops were prejudiced against them,” he said. To show how things have changed, Ortiz said that he and Perrotti “go around the country talking about our relationship. We have something pretty special here, and it does not exist between other [campus and municipal] departments around the country.” Unlike the cops at many other universities, Yale officers have full police powers.

Yale President Rick Levin (pictured) summarized his dreams for the Rose Center: that it will help Yale become a model citizen of the New Haven community, and that the university will work cooperatively with the residents of the Dixwell neighborhood.

Interviewed outside the building after the ceremony, Rose (pictured as she spoke inside) explained that when she was a grad student, she lived with her brother, a Yale undergrad, who worked part-time as an auxiliary cop. “We had policemen coming in and out of our apartment all the time. Around 1996 I went to visit one of the women officers, and saw the conditions on Sachem Street [former Yale PD headquarters], and said, ‘How can you protect Yale’s great resource — its undergraduates — from what’s basically a dump? And can’t we do something about this?’” She began working with Mike Morand of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, and met with Mayor John DeStefano and President Levin. “Yale was at the right place at the right time,” Rose said, “and the community was interested. It’s just amazing to see how synergistic the whole relationship is.”

During the late-afternoon ceremony, kids were practicing their baseball skills on the velvety grass of a new park across the street. It was a Leave It to Beaver moment in a poor urban neighborhood.

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