Volume 55 - Issue 2

Page 1

Thy Neighbor or

mission to provide free services to pregnant clients—and end abortion. A look from the inside, and the sidewalk, at In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms.

Teacher pay in New Haven, building a religion from A to Z, and the Sweet Dreams Society.

The Magazine About Yale and New Haven Volume 55, Issue 2 November 2022

The New Journal, founded in 1967, is a studentrun magazine that publishes investigative journalism and creative nonfiction about Yale and New Haven. We produce five issues a year that include both long-form and short features, profiles, essays, reviews, poetry, and art. Email us at thenewjournal@gmail.com to join our writers’ panlist and get updates on future ways to get involved. We’re always excited to welcome new writers to our community. You can check out past issues of The New Journal at our website https://www.thenewjournalatyale.com

Editors-in-Chief Nicole Dirks

Dereen Shirnekhi

Executive Editor Jesse Goodman Managing Editor J.D. Wright

Associate Editors

Amal Biskin Abbey Kim

Meg Buzbee Yosef Malka Jabez Choi Cleo Maloney

Lazo Gitchos Paola Santos

Ella Goldblum Kylie Volavongsa Yonatan Greenberg

Senior Editors

Beasie Goddu Madison Hahamy Alexandra Galloway Zachary Groz

Copy Editors

Marie Bong Edie Lipsey Adrian Elizalde Lukas Trelease Rafaela Kottou Yingying Zhao

Creative Director Kevin Chen

Design Editors

Meg Buzbee Charlotte Rica Camille Chang Karela Palazio Photography Lukas Flippo

Members & Directors: Emily Bazelon • Peter Cooper • Jonathan Dach • Kathrin Lassila • Eric Rutkow • Elizabeth Sledge • Jim Sleeper • Fred Strebeigh • Aliyya Swaby

Advisors: Neela Banerjee • Richard Bradley • Susan Braudy • Lincoln Caplan • Jay Carney • Andy Court • Joshua Civin • Richard Conniff • Ruth Conniff • Elisha Cooper • Susan Dominus • David Greenberg • Daniel Kurtz-Phelan • Laura Pappano • Jennifer Pitts • Julia Preston • Lauren Rawbin • David Slifka • John Swansburg • Anya Kamenetz • Steven Weisman • Daniel Yergin

Friends: Nicole Allan • Margaret Bauer • Mark Badger and Laura Heymann • Anson M. Beard • Susan Braudy • Julia Calagiovanni • Elisha Cooper • Haley Cohen • Peter Cooper • Andy Court • The Elizabethan Club • Leslie Dach • David Freeman and Judith Gingold • Paul Haigney and Tracey Roberts • Bob Lamm • James Liberman • Alka Mansukhani • Benjamin Mueller • Sophia Nguyen

• Valerie Nierenberg • Morris Panner • Jennifer Pitts • R. Anthony Reese • Eric Rutkow • Lainie Rutkow • Laura Saavedra and David Buckley

• Anne-Marie Slaughter • Elizabeth Sledge • Caroline Smith • Gabriel Snyder • Elizabeth Steig

• Aliyya Swaby • John Jeremiah Sullivan • Daphne and David Sydney • Kristian and Margarita Whiteleather • Blake Townsend Wilson • Daniel Yergin • William Yuen * Donated twice. Thank you!

Join us!
Thank you to our donors. Neela Banerjee* Anson M. Beard James Carney Andrew Court Romy Drucker Jeffrey Foster David Gerber David Greenberg* Matthew Hamel Makiko Harunari James Lowe Chaitanya Mehra Ben Mueller Sarah Nutman Peter Phleger Jeffrey Pollock Adriane Quinlan Gabriel Snyder Fred Strebeigh Arya Sundaram Stuart Weinzimer Steven Weisman Suzanne Wittebort by the BESTMAGAZINESTUDENT IN THE COUNTRY SocietyofProfessional Journalists NamedThe since 1967

Kylie Volavongsa


points of departure

Chloe Nguyen visits the Neville Wisdom design studio on Broadway, where local artists gather. Camille Chang examines Loose Leaf and the boba-ification New Haven.

cover feature

Thy Neighbor

A New Haven family center is on a mission to provide free services to pregnant clients—and end abortion. A look from the inside, and the sidewalk, at In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms.


Building a religion from A to Z

After uncovering the World Mission Society Church of God’s presence on Yale’s campus, two writers take a closer look at the religious organization that has been accused by former members of being a cult.

critical angle

Barred Waters

As local activists and legislators attempt to make Connecticut’s beaches more accessible, a writer reflects on her coastal childhood in California.

snapshots Wading for Hope

As sea levels rise, New Haven is seeing an increase in flooding that carries sewage and diseases with it. The Urban Resources Initiative is working to implement the infrastructure to change that.

Those Who Stay

New Haven Public School teachers are leaving for nearby districts with higher wages. It’s not easy to make the choice to stay.

Hotel Dreaming

Between the walls of the Graduate Hotel lives a hidden artists’ society. poems

Ella Goldblum Jools Fu Paola Santos Netanel Schwartz

Paradise in Miniature Lachrymose in Chinatown

God is not dead, God is just a loser Friday night Premonition On My Father’s


all else

The Farm, aside , by Simon Billings, page 62. Affirmative Action rally, photos , by Rachel Shin, page 46. Getting Symbolic, crossword , by Jesse Goodman, page 63.

Nicole Dirks Paola Santos Hanwen Zhang Caroline Reed
Volume 55, Issue 2 November 2022 The Magazine About Yale and New Haven
Miranda Jeyaretnam
and Sarah Cook 32 20 48 8 14 56 13 47

Studio Haven

“You see the Apple Store, you see L.L.Bean, then you see a black ass store, it’s painted black, it looks creepy as fuck from the outside. It’s kinda like a candy shop, it’s enticing, you’ve gotta look in there,” said Palayo Mais, a multimedia artist from New Haven and a regular at the Neville Wisdom Fashion Design Studio.

I spoke with Palayo soon after my first visit to the Neville Wisdom studio. Before then, I hadn’t spent much time perusing the Broadway conglomerates, and the name “Neville Wisdom” did little to elucidate the purpose of this enigmatic store. From the words “WHERE ARE YOUR CLOTHES MADE ?” written in big black letters in the tinted storefront window, decorated with mannequins sporting cocktail dresses and streetwear, I could only guess it was another one of Broadway’s many highpriced clothing boutiques.

What I didn’t know at first was that behind the dressy storefront, undercover in a sea of corporate strongholds, resides the Neville Wisdom Fashion Design Studio, a nucleus and safe haven for creatives throughout the city. Its leading creator and businessperson Dwayne Moore Jr. invited me to see the space myself.

Dwayne’s relationship with Neville Wisdom, after whom the store is named, is tightly knit, sewn with years of built trust and patience. In just about five years, Dwayne went from serendipitously wandering into Neville’s studio to recently becoming a partner at the business. Starting out as an apprentice to Neville, Dwayne developed skills he can put to practice as part of the studio’s business and as part of his own brand. Together, Neville and Dwayne’s income is largely made of clothing alterations and commissions.

As Dwayne now continues to take a more administrative role, Neville Wisdom transitions into retirement. I couldn’t reach Neville himself for this article, as he was on a boat in the Caribbean and had lost his phone.

Dwayne gave me a look inside what he describes as his second home.

“This is the space that keeps [the studio] alive for the most part,” Dwayne said as he led me to the back half of the studio. Behind the storefront mannequins is a regiment of industrial sewing machines and an artillery of fabrics, much of it accumulated thanks to the community of local donors that Neville himself has established throughout his career. Overlooking the studio is a fivefoot tall multimedia portrait of Neville, with a black and white base and colorful cloth embellishments. Even further back, through a narrow hallway overtaken by old sewing experiments and works in progress is the store’s photography space. In this studio, shower thoughts become inventive clothing lines, gallery additions, and new prints.

built. Some days Palayo leaves with armfuls of clothes from Dwayne’s personal line. One time, Dwayne gave Palayo a spare camera to help with his photography endeavors. Palayo can spend hours at the studio, where he and Dwayne will work in the hum of sewing machines and R&B, reflecting on each other’s projects, lives, and anything else that comes to mind. To Palayo, the studio is a sanctuary, a place grounded in creativity and camaraderie that has been conducive to his growth as an individual and artist.

Dwayne and I flipped through catalogs and portfolios of local New Haven artists whose books were proudly displayed on the store’s shelves. Meanwhile, he told me about a well-meaning customer who had reminded him of the trials he would experience, especially as a Black artist and businessman. Sharing racial identity, the customer had told Dwayne to be wary of the personalities he would meet given his business and given its location. “You sound like my mom,” Dwayne had laughed, dismissing the concern. Negative attention, if any, is hardly an issue to him because the individuals that naturally gravitate toward the Neville Wisdom studio are the types of people he’d want to associate with anyway.

“What pulls people in is the window and the ‘Made in New Haven’ sign,” Dwayne tells me. “I think that’s in part why people come in here, because it feels out of place.” That is, among the surrounding chain stores that boast bright curated facades and imported goods, Neville Wisdom sticks out.

The Neville Wisdom studio is a playground for anyone with a vision. Those interested, like Palayo, pay a fee to use the space consistently, but all visitors are welcome. Drawn to the unique handmade pieces that Dwayne documented online, Palayo brought himself through the doors of the Neville Wisdom studio to discover what he described as a “bat cave.”

Palayo has found solidarity in the community Neville and Dwayne have

“The way the front is set up, it’s as if only the people I think I would engage with come in here. I feel like looking at this place you have to be open to wanna even come in.” As many new faces as he sees, Dwayne feels a strong sense of community at the studio, between New Haven being his home and the storefront drawing in like-minded people. “You’re already curious,” he said. “I like to talk to curious minds.” Dwayne told me that the first time he landed outside Neville Wisdom’s door he was reading a book called Curious Minds, and we marveled at the full-circle moment.

A few times in our conversation, Dwayne shifted his attention to helping another studio regular perfect a waistband on a pair of shorts. The fabric he was working with was one of his own designs, a quadriptych featuring the band Kiss. In the closing hours we spent talking, a handful of visitors leaked in and out of the studio, some customers and local creators looking to take their ideas through the finish line. In the Neville Wisdom studio, the storefront and the design studio exist in symbiosis.

To Dwayne, his responsibilities in the studio are not a clock-in, clock-out

4 November 2022 TheNewJournal Points of Departure
illustrations by Meg Buzbee

ordeal—they’re lifestyle, an extension of his being. In his eyes, the studio is as much a workshop as it is a home. “Some nights I’ll just sleep on that couch right over there,” Dwayne gestured to the satin couch where my coat and tote bag were resting.

By many standards, New Haven is not the ideal spot for exercising creative visions. Palayo believes that the art traffic in New Haven is “nonexistent,” as a product of the population and the lack of diversity. In New Haven, the culture does not seem to demand novelty like other larger cities, where the movement of people isn’t defined by a monopolizing private institution. Meanwhile, Dwayne sees the market differently, “It can feel small, but I think I’d feel smaller in any

other city to be fair. It’s about connecting with the people who you think resonate with you. It depends on how you look at it for sure.”

“[My] favorite part [is] how open it is. In a literal sense and also how people perceive it when they walk in. I think I like that so much because I’ve experienced that exclusivity from people not wanting to teach me,” Dwayne reflected on the studio’s function in the community. “The fashion industry seems so exclusive, but we’re more than welcome to anyone that wants to be a part of this.”

The Neville Wisdom Fashion Design Studio has taken a new shape over the years, especially as a result of the pandemic, and will continue to do

so with the changing leadership, which Dwayne believes he can use to draw a youthful perspective and energy into the studio. The diversity of people and opinions is what he believes will reignite the space. “I don’t see it going away or moving, as much as we downsize,” Dwayne asserts, “It says a lot about the usefulness to the community.” The studio is one-of-a-kind, a place providing people of all backgrounds and interests with a community that hardly says no and relentlessly gives. “In the industry you serve the person you work for, and the space,” Dwayne explained. “This space serves me.” ∎

—Chloe Nguyen is a first year in Saybrook College.

When I asked her how she came to own a Loose Leaf, she told me about her business philosophies, about eating spoonfuls of red bean as a child, about working fourteen hours a day when starting FroyoWorld, about her family and her life.

Warm Balls, Hot Commodity

Before school started, before the packs of twelve-person first-year friend groups started menacing campus, before twelve-packs of Bud Light began to litter High Street, I met Lisa Satavu. I walked into the Loose Leaf on Whitney Avenue on a tepid August day, sweating lightly. Satavu had her two children in tow, ages 7 and 2. We sat down at a table, all four of us. I sipped a Banana Foster Milk nervously, glancing at the small heart sharpied on the lid.

Satavu and her husband Marcus own and operate a vast array of businesses in Connecticut. Yale students before my time might remember FroyoWorld frozen yogurt shops in the spots where the Loose Leaf locations on High Street and Whitney Avenue currently stand. It was Lisa and her brothers that first started what is now a successful, New England-wide chain of frozen yogurt shops. Satavu and her husband also own all Saladcraft and Pokémoto locations in New Haven.

Satavu had been a teacher before she delved into the food industry. “My brothers were always the business guys,” she said. After ten years of teaching, she decided to join her brothers in managing their FroyoWorlds. But Satavu said that Froyoworld, in New Haven at least, had run its course by the time the boba industry started to gain mainstream traction in 2019 and 2020.

“With time, things change, just like fashion, just like the interests of people,” Satavu said. “Granted, everything starts first on the West Coast, but at least in our sense, we felt like Yale is kind of the heart of the East Coast, with all the newest attractions and cultural foods. So that’s why we wanted to bring Loose Leaf here.”

So, like students from across the country arriving in droves to the East Coast, many for the first time, Loose Leaf seems to be another wide-eyed West Coast transplant, finding its footing in New Haven, Connecticut.

I wrapped up my conversation with Satavu. I was under the impression that I was the one interviewing her, but after the twenty minutes I spent speaking to her, she offered me a job. A week later, I was a “bobarista.” . . .


n The Book of Tea, published in 1906, the aesthete and art critic Okakura Kakuzō detailed the birth, history, and beauty of making a simple cup of tea. Of primary importance to him was the rare harmony of Eastern and Western cultures in their enjoyment of tea. “Humanity has so far met in a tea-cup,” he wrote.

“In the liquid amber,” he wrote, “within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet reticence of Confucius, the piquancy of Laotse, and the ethereal aroma of Sakyamuni himself.” Okakura saw tea-making as a religion in and of itself, drawing in philosophies from Buddhism and Daoism.

I wonder what Okakura would think of a typical summer afternoon in the bustling kitchen of a Loose Leaf Boba shop. Drinks sling with the efficiency of hospital triage, bobaphiles coming and going, still more young people chatting around mouthfuls of the “real tea, real ingredients, and real milk” that Loose Leaf’s website advertises.

Everything takes on a rosy pink tinge in the light of the iconic Loose

5 TheNewJournal November 2022 Points of Departure
illustrations by adam zapatka

Leaf neon signs. “With my besteas,” they proclaim. “Don’t teas’ me!” At the table next to me, two boys talk about their summer consulting internships and their upcoming YSIG (Yale Student Investment Group) interviews. Everyone is drinking boba.

The tapioca balls, introduced to the United States in the late nineteen-eighties by Taiwanese immigrants, go by a whole host of monikers in both English and Mandarin. There’s the “bubble” in bubble tea, tapioca pearls, boba, etcetera etcetera. I heard a rumor that the word “波霸” (romanized, literally “bo” and “ba”) stemmed from Taiwanese slang for boobs. I texted my dad the question: “Does 波霸 actually mean breasts in Taiwanese slang?”

“Actually, big breasts,” he replied.

So in its very nature, a kind of original sin, perhaps boba is deeply unserious. Squishy, often warm, globular and toothsome—on every Loose Leaf cup is the same phrase printed in small font: “Caution: Little Warm Balls.” While Okakura Kakuzo thought that East and West might be unified in tea, boba itself, in its spherical glory, might be a complete foil to the seriousness of the tea ceremony of East Asian traditions.

Originally sequestered in Taiwanese American, and then Asian American, communities, boba has quickly spread to major cities over the past five years, and it’s now firmly rooted in New Haven. Vivi Bubble Tea on Chapel, a branch of the nationwide chain, opened in 2016. Whale Tea on Whitney Avenue opened in 2019. The two Loose Leaf locations opened in 2021 and 2022. Now, seeing students toting the characteristic tall, clear cup and black boba-compatible straw is commonplace.

Many young Asian Americans raised on the West Coast, myself included, grew up drinking boba, brightly colored and distinctly flavored, in chain stores like Tea Station and Lollicup. Back then, drinking boba was weird. It was a foreign drink, and the pearls were a textural and geometric shock. Years later, everyone is drinking boba, from California to Connecticut.

Loose Leaf, like so many other national boba chains, began on the West Coast. As the sun was going down on a scorching California day, I met Thomas Liu and Jasmine Yip, the founders of Loose Leaf, at their Los Angeles Melrose location. We spoke under a faux-fresco mural of The Last Supper starring Bernie Sanders, Cardi B, Kurt Cobain, Trevor Noah, Oprah Winfrey, and Ellen DeGeneres, drinking pale beige cups of boba.

Liu grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, a predominantly Asian suburb of Southern California, just twenty miles shy of the city of Los Angeles. “It was Asians on top of Asians,” he said. “There was a boba shop on every corner.”

The complicated cultural makeup of his family, the majority of which moved to Vietnam from China after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, informs his interest in the food industry. It informs the menu choices at Loose Leaf, too: offerings range from drinks incorporating pandan, a green Southeast Asian leaf that tastes like vanilla and coconut, to the “POG Agua Fresca,” inspired by Mexican roadside beverage stands.

But both Yip and Liu never shook the idea that boba’s shape, texture, and name were something to laugh at. Jasmine said that their brand is based on the idea that humor, like food, bridges

wide gaps. Loose Leaf’s voicemail directs you to place an online order at “warmballs.com.”

“Everything you do, just enjoy your life,” Yip said. “Customers who have a sense of humor will see you like you’re real people.”

I look up at Jesus-Bernie painted onto the wall, his arms spread open as if proselytizing, and Judas-Oprah grasping a cup of boba in her traitorous hand. Sense of humor, indeed.

Paul Freedman, a serious, glasseswearing man surrounded by shelves of colorful books, is a Professor of History and a Medievalist specializing in Catalonian and cuisine history. Standing among the last bastions of non-boba drinkers, he believes that consuming culture, such as media and food, is a misguided way to understand people.

“I don’t think that gastronomy is a path toward understanding,” he told me when I interviewed him. “People your age have been taught a lot of pieties in high school ‘Oh, if we just eat a lot of Vietnamese food, we’re gonna understand a lot more about Vietnam’ is in that category of comforting pieties.”

I thought back to reading about the religious history and ceremonies surrounding tea culture in Japan and China. I wonder if the way that tea has evolved has required an evolution of the way we worship it, that drinking boba tea requires a repetition of “comforting pieties” to be palatable.

However, many boba shop owners that I interviewed espoused the idea that boba actually can in fact bridge gaps between people and serve as an introduction to Asian culture and foods. Lisa Satavu is one of them.

“Coming with friends, trying all

6 November 2022 TheNewJournal Points of Departure
Kevin Chen / The New Journal

these flavors, their vision gets a little bit more open about certain things,” she said.

In Whale Tea on Whitney Avenue, couples sipped each other’s drinks and groups of friends studied the complex menu together as I spoke with Jessie Cheung ’24. Cheung is familiar with how boba functions both as a business and a social setting. She is from Dallas, where her family opened Texas’s first ViVi Bubble Tea franchise. They have since helped establish three ViVi stores across the state. Cheung points to a rising interest in East Asian food and culture, sometimes referred to as the Hallyu Wave, as one reason for the rise in boba consumption.

“Asian culture is now so much more prolific, especially with the popularity of Korean culture,” Cheung said. “So a lot of people have been starting to engage with boba because it’s so easy. It’s like, instead of getting a coffee, which

is a very American thing, you can just get a drink.”

It is boba’s ambiguous identity as an “Asian” drink, now mutated into something unquestionably American, that makes it so interesting to me. While boba is now “easy” to consume, (convenient and ubiquitous and, God forbid, “trendy”) it contains so much baggage. Some Asian-Americans have started using the phrase “lunchbox moment” to describe the times when we opened our lunch boxes full of kimchi and gyoza and curry and fried rice and glass noodles, and were met with caterwauls of “It stinks!” or “Ew, what is that?” Drinking boba in the presence of people who didn’t know what it was used to be a textbook lunchbox moment. Now, everyone is drinking boba.

My friend Shane Zhang ’25, remembers getting boba with his friends almost every Friday in high school. When

he drank boba, he said, it was a way of enjoying a quasi-Asian drink that was palatable to non-Asian friends.

“It’s like I’m Colossus of Rhodes—I straddle two worlds,” he said. “My balls hang in the balance.”

I thought of the mythical statue at Rhodes, presiding over intercultural trade and commerce, and about boba, trapped between cultures today. As a cultural export, as a marker of the migration of people and labor from Asia, boba does hang in the balance. Not quite one world, not quite the other.

In many ways, Loose Leaf’s marketing and naming seems to be a perfect example of the evolution of what the concept of “tea” means, from Asia to America, from 1906 to 2022, through a twisting gyre of time and space, to end up in the plastic plant wall of a Loose Leaf in New Haven, Connecticut.

Boba, when it first came to the U.S., was categorized by the artificial powders, colors, and flavors that Loose Leaf now disavows. While perhaps the moralizing question of authenticity—whether or not the evolution of boba has been a “good” or “bad” thing—is unimportant, what is notable is understanding its journey: as a commodity, the vast distance it has traveled; as a cultural practice and tradition, the long span of time it has endured. My feelings about boba are complicated—it feels good to know that American people are accepting of a drink with Taiwanese origins, that they would be willing to try a beverage with pandan in it. But I think about telling myself comforting pieties in the acceptance of boba’s popularity, that I might just have to accept the fact that I will feel conflicted about white people drinking boba, unaware of its larger history, for the rest of my life.

During my brief tenure at Loose Leaf, I had to remake many drinks. I would pour out the drink in the sink, milks of all colors swirling down the drain, down into the belly of the hidden sewer system. The boba would be left behind, sticky balls clumping up at the drain. I had to stick my hand directly into the ballish void to force them down the drain, which was always a slightly repulsive but nonetheless deeply satisfying feeling.

I remember my fists full of boba, cupping humanity’s tapioca in my teacup of a hand. Then I squished them down. ∎

—Camille Chang is a sophomore in Silliman College.

7 TheNewJournal November 2022 Points of Departure
Small spherical spill at Loose Leaf High St. sometime in October, with a mysterious sugar trail leading into the distance. Camille Chang / The New Journal

Wading for Hope

In John Cavaliere’s shaky iPhone recording of a late-summer rainstorm in 2021, a manhole cover at the intersection of West Rock and Whalley Avenue has blown off, and become a spewing, 2-foot-high fountain. Water— mired to an unsettling blackness—roils and sloshes against the side of his porch. The cars that manage to pass flash their emergency blinkers as they squelch through the flood, tires half submerged in the filthy mix of sewage and runoff. Raindrops streak slantwise through the frame. The water is unstoppable; the water is everywhere.

Cavaliere, owner of the antique shop Lyric Hall, has lived through violent floods for the past ten years. He has plenty of footage to show for it—videos of him trekking down the stairs in the middle of the night to find a pool of grayish water at calf-level in the basement, lapping at wooden chair legs and picture frames. Along with the video clips, which he keeps in the hopes of showing the city officials, he’s typed up the measurements of every flood on a sheet of printer paper. “On May 7, 2011 there was 3 feet. On August 15, 2012,

there was 4 feet, 2 inches,” he reads. The numbers only grow, tending in the same direction as the sea levels in Long Island sound. “In July 2021, 6 feet, 5 inches. In September 2021, that was almost 7 feet.”

He sets the folded sheet on the wooden end table near the display window. The two of us are standing in Cavaliere’s small, one-story shop; it’s October, 2022. There’s a deep sigh. “[The floods have] taken out the HVAC [Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning] systems, the heating [and] air conditioning systems, so many times I can’t keep up.” Cavaliere, who refurbishes old artwork and repairs gilded picture frames for a living, used to keep his workshop in the basement, until repeated flooding events forced him to relocate to the main floor. His gilt molds and picture frames now lie sprawled across a storefront table. He tries not to think of all the antiques and artworks he’s lost over the years.

Today, the store has no heating. Instead, Cavaliere uses a cast-iron wood stove squatting in the center of the room. He took the furnace out of the basement years ago, fearing that a flood might reach his home’s electrical panels. If any

electrical panels got submerged and he accidentally stepped into the water, he explained, “I could get electrocuted.”

Cavaliere and his fellow Westville residents have watched these sewage overflows increase in frequency against a trend of rising sea levels and intensifying storms. They’ve sent dozens of emails to state and local officials, which all go either largely unanswered or forwarded to other representatives. Just last month he sent a sample of floodwater from near the basement stairway to Baron Analytical Laboratories. The results came back the next day, concluding that fecal coliforms in the water “were too high to accurately count.” When the water dries, streets and sidewalks are left with toxic residue and bacteria. “In other words, you know, we could get E. coli, Hepatitis A, typhoid from all these microbes.”

Flooding has upended Cavaliere’s life. “It does something to you all these times,” he said. “It’s traumatic.”

Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) is common in cities with older wastewater infrastructure, according to Colleen Murphy-Dunning, director of

8 November 2022 TheNewJournal
As sea levels rise, New Haven is seeing an increase in flooding that carries sewage and diseases with it. The Urban Resources Initiative is working to implement the infrastructure to change that.

the Urban Resources Initiative (URI). Most infrastructure built throughout the mid-to-late 1800s was designed with a single sewage pipe. Waste from toilets and bathtubs would combine with stormwater runoff and be transported to the processing facilities in East Shore.

The single pipe design quickly retired in the years following the 1970 Clean Water Act, after officials realized that it was causing waste to be directly discharged into the rivers. During heavy rainstorms when the water volume exceeded carrying capacity, the single pipe system would resort to an “outfall”—a safety valve that expelled untreated sewage straight into the rivers. Cities like New Haven had been washing feces directly to the Long Island Sound. Under the Clean Water Act, this wastewater system would be legally required to improve.

At least, it was supposed to be. Despite the intentions of the Clean Water Act, New Haven has been slow to develop its infrastructure. Most of the city’s historic neighborhoods—downtown, Wooster Square, Dixwell, Westville—continue to use the

combined sewer system.

There are more immediate consequences to the single pipe system than feces in the rivers. Faced with more sewage than it can handle, enough pressure builds up to pop manhole covers off and send its contents spilling all over the street. “It’s pretty nasty,” Chris Ozyck, URI’s associate director, said as we drove down Front Street in his pickup. He pointed out the townhouse complexes on the slope to our right, where stormwater often rushes down and overwhelms the pipes. As it moves downhill, the sewage-runoff mixture often gets backed up near low-lying areas and floods the streets.

Like most historic urban areas, not all of New Haven’s 555 mile-long sewage system is the same. Most streets constructed farther from downtown now use two pipes—one which specializes in collecting runoff stormwater from the catch-basins, and another that connects to each home’s sewage system. Doing so prevents the sewage flooding from happening.

The situation in Newhallville, a neighborhood in New Haven’s Ward 22,

is one such instance of this. Though Ozyck told me that some basements in the neighborhood had been flooding, the culprit seems to be purely runoff for now. Most of Newhallville’s streets have two sewer pipes, which has so far spared its residents of the feces-laden horrors. Hunter Irwin, a local resident on Shelton Avenue, moved here for his job at Yale-New Haven Hospital during the beginning of the pandemic and has braved three years of unrelenting storms. He admitted that runoff stormwater can still be a problem—it collects on the curbside and the empty lot across the street, especially during late summer thunderstorms—but so far, it hasn’t been much of a concern.

Dawn Henning, a New Haven city engineer, said that the city has been working steadily to outfit older districts with separate sewer pipes. That’s where URI has stepped in. As part of an effort to divert excess runoff from entering the sewage pipes, the nonprofit applied for grant funding and accepted contracts with the city government to install bioswales–trenches filled with shrubs and vegetation that receive runoff

9 TheNewJournal November 2022 Layout by Meg Buzbee
Hanwen Zhang / The New Journal With water levels rising, the observation deck at the end of Clifton Street in Fair Haven is crumbling into the sound.

During heavy rain

Under normal conditions

water–in the most flood-vulnerable corners of New Haven. Since 2014, Ozyck and his crew have installed almost four hundred of them across the city.

On a Friday afternoon in October, he and I visited the very first bioswale in New Haven, just outside the Berzelius secret society on Trumbull Street. The rain from the night before collected in tiny puddles by the curbside. The lower leaves of the bioswale’s inkberries and daylilies glistened with water droplets. The soil in the swale felt cool and damp to touch, a sign that the plants in the bioswale had been busy filtering away

the runoff. The idea was to return rainwater back into the soil, where it would be taken up by street trees and absorbed into the water table.

“It’s mimicking what nature wants to happen with water, which is that it should go through soils and down and recharge the subsurface water light table,” Murphy-Dunning said. In the process, the soil ends up cleaning the water in ways that traditional treatment plants do not. The bioswale’s success on Trumbull exceeded their initial expectations: by naturally filtering the run-off, it managed to save a street that had long suffered from chronic flooding.

Climate change has only intensified these sewage overflow events. “The more we experience sea level rise and just higher and higher levels in the harbor, the more that reduces the capacity of our storm system and . . . the more we see that flooding,” said Henning.

Global warming’s effects are beginning to be felt in a city that sits right along the water’s edge. “There were a series of storms that happened [in] 2010 through 2015, in addition to hurricanes Sandy and Irene, that were really intense [and] had high return frequencies,” said Henning. During that time, ten- and twenty-five-year storms swept through the city almost yearly. That hasn’t improved: storms that are statistically only suppposed to occur once every five to ten years are hitting New Haven annually, explained Henning.

Streets like Quinnipiac Avenue and

neighborhoods like Fair Haven have already started eroding. “What used to be a fifty-year storm is now a ten-year storm,” said Ozyck. In other words, a storm with a severity seen only once every fifty years is now occurring in every ten. On Front Street, he showed me homes facing the Quinnipiac River with partial-underground basements that—like Lyric Hall—have experienced a significant uptick in flooding. From the end of Clifton Street, we saw a building partially sinking into the river. The guardrail of the outlook we stood on was just inches away from touching the water itself. Rising sea levels, Ozyck said, has only increased the odds of flooding. Water from the riverbanks will naturally spill onto the streets during an intense rain event, stressing the already aged parts of the city’s sewage system and threatening to make overflows of Westville’s kind dramatically more frequent.

Part of preventing these sewage outpourings will therefore require protecting the city from floods. Single sewer pipes like those in Westville are beginning to overflow with greater regularity as ever-intensifying flood events strain their capacity. Less flooding, then, would mean less overflow. After Hurricane Sandy and Irene hit in 2011, the engineering department received grants from the state and federal government for future flood protection. One of them, the Community Development Block Grant, awarded $4 million to studying green infrastructure development in the Long Wharf area. The research, which

10 November 2022 TheNewJournal Snapshot
Diagram of a combined sewer system.
During heavy rainstorms, the single pipe system expels untreated sewage straight into the rivers.
Hanwen Zhang / The New Journal
Illustration by Meg Buzbee
John Cavaliere shows me photos of prior flood damage at Lyric Hall. Storm drain Sewage Dam

Henning was responsible for, explored potential green solutions.

Long Wharf, which is directly beside the Long Island Sound, is currently one of the areas most vulnerable to flooding. The first phase of their proposed FEMAgrant project will expand Long Wharf’s current drainage capacity by constructing a 10-foot diameter pipe from the police station out to the harbor. Another project, led by the Army Corps of Engineers, has plans to build a flood wall along the sea-facing I-95 and install a pump station. In plans to protect the city from sea level rise roughly half a meter higher than the national average by 2050. Combined, the total costs work out to roughly $195.8 million.

The completion dates of both projects remain uncertain. The tunnel proposal is currently under review, which Henning admitted “can take a while.” After the agreement, she expects another six months for permitting and two years of construction. The flood wall awaits two years of design and a three- to four-year construction period.

Bioswales, meanwhile, have provided a faster—and possibly more

efficient—short-term solution for the city. “Green infrastructure is much less disruptive to install,” Murphy-Dunning said. One of the greatest challenges to updating the single-sewer system is its cost and labor: adding another pipe calls for digging up the entire road, creating a trench, and connecting the newly-laid pipe to every curbside catch-basin. By collecting runoff on the streets, bioswales help ease the strain on the existing singlepipe sewage system.

Murphy recognized the importance of the city’s current flood-protection projects, but she also brought up the importance of managing its existing impervious surfaces. Man-made materials, such as asphalt, increase the odds of flooding by preventing runoff from entering the ground. And while larger drainage pipes will certainly help, the flooding will only return if the city continues to develop over existing green spaces at the rate it currently is.

Henning tells me that the city itself has no jurisdiction over combined sewage. The engineering department only oversees storm drainage; the sanitary system is managed instead by the

greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority, a quasi-private entity that has its own long-term control plans. However, Henning did note that “they are under consent order by the [Environmental Protection Agency] to manage the two-year six-hour storm and to have essentially no overflows.”

As it waits for approval on its landmark projects, the city has continued to take steps towards flood resilience. Some of its smaller projects include replacing hundred-year-old clay pipes and cleaning curbside catch-basins.

With grant funding used up, bioswale construction has stopped. Its maintenance remains in the hands of

11 TheNewJournal November 2022
Cavaliere and his fellow Westville residents have watched these sewage overflows increase in frequency against a trend of rising sea levels and intensifying storms.
John Cavaliere recently installed a water valve, which will prevent sewage from overflowing in the event of a flood. Hanwen Zhang / The New Journal

URI. During our meeting Ozyck pulled his truck over to the side of Grove Street, walked out, and tugged out a mat of browning red oak leaves from the bottom. Bioswales have to be constantly monitored and maintained to function properly, he said. Repairing broken guardrails, granite edging, and removing yard-waste is a months-long project for the nonprofit.

“I think we try to work on all scales,” Henning said. She looks forward to running studies using a geographic imaging system that will help the city capture more data. For areas like Westville’s Whalley Avenue and Forest Road, she noted that “we’re kind of in the study phase of the flooding.”

And while larger drainage pipes will certainly help, the flooding will only return if the city continues to develop over existing green spaces at the rate it currently is.

Getting the resources and making sure there is enough to go around will take time. Making sure every neighborhood receives the funding they need, however, is easier said than done. “We get this investment for downtown, but how does it appear in some other part of the city . . . ? It’s tough,” she said.

On September 6th, 2022, New Haven received 4 inches of rain in six hours—a month’s worth of precipitation packed into the span of a day. Rainwater streamed down streets, bogging cars and school buses. At Yale, Bass Library flooded; Benjamin Franklin’s dining halls seeped water; and the floor of basement butteries grew slick.

That day, in the basement of Lyric Hall, Cavaliere recorded 9 inches.

As a densifying urban area, New Haven faces a unique set of challenges. The city has to contend with runoff along concrete surfaces and rising sea levels, bearing the brunt of both inland and coastal flooding. “We’re kind of getting it from all angles,” said Henning.

Back at Lyric Hall, it is mid-October and not quite yet the tail of fall. Sunlight

sifts past the balcony, through the windows, onto the refurbished Persian carpet at the shop’s entrance, like any other day. The only traces of last month’s flood might be the basement’s faint mustiness as Cavaliere shows me the ball valve he installed. Closing it would shut the pipe that leads to the street sewer main and keep sewage from backing up into the toilet. Now, he explained, the plan is to apply for grant funding that would lift his storefront an additional two feet and waterproof the building’s warped foundations.

The back of the house is paintpeeled and sagging. Recently, though, a friend had helped repair the side of the basement. Cavaliere looked out at the pool of golden leaves across the street. Despite all the challenges he has experienced, he’s still hopeful: “It’s a miracle that I’ve managed to survive all this but I think it’s because I just feel so loved by the community and I love my community, and I am doing exactly what I want to do in my life.” ∎

—Hanwen Zhang is a junior in Benjamin Franklin College.

Edgewood Park’s former soccer field has returned to marshland, flooding regularly every summer. Hanwen Zhang / The New Journal

Paradise in Miniature

That’s what Julia once called our neighborhood, half-joking. We sit in the air-conditioned Starbucks and she says, heaven is a place on Earth, Starbucks is a place on Earth, and I finish her sentence: so Heaven is Starbucks. Now we’re laughing, of course ironic about neoliberal bliss but there’s a part of us that means it, wants to languish in these velvet chairs forever. Julia recounts to me the story of Job, all that was given and taken away by God. We talk about her gamer ex-boyfriend who is wasting his brief store of potential. She ended things and misses him. We are both so greedy, I tell her on the park bench now, devouring cold peanut noodles from the to-go container. We hear an organ from the church service, priest’s deep voice, body of wafer, blood of wine. We rush to the door and peer in, noses pressed to the stained glass, anthropologists of this neighborhood and its ambient humidity. We hold each other’s hands and wait to ascend, to be let in, knowing we’re Jewish and we’re stoned and we won’t, we fucking won’t.

Lachrymose for Chinatown

E. says it looks nothing like it used to—the robustness and the feel of it is gone. We walk slowly from block to block glowing under the moonlight and the dripping neon silhouettes of storefronts, of provision, and of humanity. It’s been effaced, it’s been erased, it’s been eradicated. A small space, already designated for a people, sequestered further and further—a nation condensed into a city condensed into a town condensed into a district condensed into a small boat rocking endlessly on an uneven and cruel ocean, waiting to topple and capsize. Squashed in between a trendy French bistro and an upscale ‘dirtbag’ bar is the stall we grab dinner at. The aunty firmly places our fried dumplings in a styrofoam box with chopsticks—E. tells me that the aunty likes me, but there’s not a hint of kindness in her eyes, how could there be? It’s too much to ask someone to be kind when all they’ve known is violence. As we plop the steaming jiaozhi in our mouths, E. points out a mural of pigeons playing mahjong. Their feathers are bright and multi-colored. How do they hold the tiles? How do wings, tools of migration and transit, grab a hold of something in this world? There’s another one across the street of a lion dance, the lion’s head swallowing a hongbao as a diverse group of onlookers clap in joy. The lion, a symbol of dominion and masculinity in the west, is representative of community here. We bounce from mural to mural until it leads into an alleyway. White people are spilling out of a bar into the street, their faces are split open in drunken smiles. We’ve stopped in front of a mural of Sun-Wukong, the Monkey God. When I was a child, the only way I could even stand to learn Chinese was through the tales of his mythical journey. He is faded—his golden fur melted to jaundice and Jingu Bang looks small next to the large truck parked next to him. On his face, someone’s pasted a Grateful Dead sticker. There’s a slight pause in her body as E. stares, calculating this vandalism. The white people are growing wilder, their shouts definitely reaching the tops of shop houses, waking those inside trying to sleep. E. reaches up, grabs the edge of the sticker, and violently peels it off, revealing his gleaming face and that mischievous grin still smiling . . .

—Jools Fu

Those Who Stay

New Haven Public School teachers are leaving for nearby districts with higher wages.

November 2022 TheNewJournal 14
It’s not easy to make the choice to stay.
Leslie Blatteau speaking at the March For Our Classrooms rally in March, 2022. Da’Jhon Jett in his classroom.
Image courtesy of AFT-CT

It’s 8:35 on a weekday morning, and students are filing into the Augusta Lewis Troup school in New Haven. Visible through the glass face of the building, clusters of middle-schoolers chat unhurriedly. Backpacked students bottleneck at the school’s front doors and spill out onto the wide stretch of pavement outside.

Sixth-grade teacher Da’Jhon Jett has been preparing in his classroom since 7:15 this morning. Today, his three gifted and talented students—students who read well above a sixth-grade level—might finish independent work early. Jett hopes that they’ll use the advanced books, purchased with his own money, to occupy themselves while he teaches four of his other students to identify the letters of the alphabet. Of his twenty-one students, four are learning English as a second language. Four are working on letter identification, and six need more special education support than they currently receive. Jett is not trained as a teacher of special education or English Language Learners (ELL s). But since Augusta Lewis Troup lacks enough specially trained educators, these students have landed in Jett’s classroom.

Low pay and tough working conditions have triggered a mass exodus of teachers from the profession. Nationwide, starting teacher salaries have sunk to the lowest level since the Great Recession (after adjustment for inflation). Pay—decided years in advance by union contracts—has not kept up with the rapid rise in cost of living. Since January 2021, rates of resignation have grown in educational services faster than in any other industry because of low pay and overwhelming expectations.

In New Haven, the impact on students is especially dire. The city can’t compete with the salaries and working conditions of other Connecticut districts, which benefit from more local property tax revenue. Teachers are leaving New Haven to fill better-funded vacancies in wealthier districts, primarily in Fairfield, leaving the teachers who stay to pick up the slack. All six of the teachers I

interviewed for this article know people who recently left the district.

Ryan Boroski is a Social Studies teacher at the Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School. “Two of my friends left this year,” he told me. “One was going to make 50 percent more and one was going to make 35 percent more.”

When some teachers leave, class sizes increase for those who stay. Steve Baumann, an eighth-grade science teacher in his tenth year at the Conte West Hills school in New Haven, explained how classroom management suffers in large classes: “If you have twenty-five students and you have even three that are really off-behavior, it can really throw off the dynamic of the whole class.” Jett also said that he often feels unable to teach effectively with so many students in the classroom. Leslie Blatteau, President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers Local 933, said, “Right now we’re juggling the jobsof many people . . . it wears on energy and morale.”

All six of the teachers interviewed had classes larger than twenty-five students. Eighteen or fewer is generally considered ideal.

J ett, who is Black, began teaching because he wanted to show students of color that “we can lead in the classroom.” However, with increasing pressures from the school to cater to students with vastly different needs, Jett told me, he has little time to get to know his students one-on-one.

Before moving to New Haven, Jett taught in Hamden, where average proficiencies in math and reading are 43 and 50 percent, respectively. In New Haven, these rates are 22 percent and 35 percent. Jett attributed the discrepancy in achievement between New Haven and Hamden in large part to overwhelming class sizes. This year, Jett was relieved that his class only had twenty-one students,

a decrease from last year’s twenty seven-student class. But he still struggles to get everyone on the same page. Of the low reading levels among some of his students, Jett told me, “I didn’t know until I got there. I didn’t believe it until I got there. I just didn’t think it could be that low.”

Though conditions of teaching in New Haven—class sizes, low pay, and long hours—have induced some teachers to leave the district, the six New Haven teachers I spoke with are committed to helping their New Haven students. Teachers cited New Haven’s unique diversity and the new union leadership’s commitment to improving teaching and learning conditions as reasons for staying. The New Haven school district is in the top one percent in the state for racial and ethnic diversity, and 88 percent of its students are Black or Latinx.

Blatteau, who has taught social studies in New Haven since 2007, won her election to union president in December 2021. She ran alongside a slate of candidates that included Wilbur Cross High School counselor Mia Comulada as secretary. Before the election, Blatteau and her colleagues asked teachers what they wanted to change about their jobs. Many responded that their “working conditions are students’ learning conditions,”

15 TheNewJournal November 2022 Layout by Kevin Chen
Image courtesy of Da’Jhon Jett Da’Jhon Jett outside of the school welcoming students, 2022. Image courtesy of Da’Jhon Jett


The amount Jett would make in Norwalk, where the median household income is $89,486.




The amount Jett would make in Westport, where the median household income is $222,375. Westport is only a 35 minute drive away from New Haven.

and that students and teachers have “shared concerns, experiences, values, and should have shared action.”

The concerns that Blatteau and her colleagues saw emerge in conversations with teachers—especially the stagnant pay, despite growing responsibilities— were similar to those I heard. All of the teachers I interviewed said they worked more than the 6.75-hour day stipulated in their contract. Kris Wetmore, a visual arts teacher at New Haven’s Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, told me she’s improving her work-life balance and trying not to work beyond 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., “the hours I’m getting paid for.” Still, Wetmore admitted that she usually has to get to work early and spend some time working on weekends to prepare for the week’s lessons. Jett added, “If any of us just worked for the 6.75-hour day, no one would get anything

done.” No one felt that their pay fairly compensated these long hours. Boroski feels low teacher pay reveals the city’s priorities. “I know no one gets into this job for the money, but the salary in New Haven is a reflection of the lack of respect for teachers.”

Teachers have long been subject to lower salaries than similarly educated professionals for their demanding work. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Blatteau explained, wages stagnated when the city negotiated a pay freeze that stopped the regular schedule of raises stipulated in the union contract. Since teacher pay schedules lay out pay for a teacher’s entire career, a one-year pay freeze meant that teachers were set back a full year in their schedule of raises.

“This really robs teachers who are going into retirement because their pensions

The city can’t compete with the salaries and working conditions of other Connecticut districts, which benefit from more local property tax revenue. Teachers are leaving New Haven to fill better-funded vacancies in wealthier districts, primarily in Fairfield, leaving the teachers who stay to pick up the slack.


The amount Jett currently makes in New Haven, where the median household income is $44,507.

are dependent on their salary,” Baumann said, emphasizing the impact of pay freezes on long-term teachers.

Local activists and union organizers have attributed the deficit in New Haven public school funding to Yale’s paltry contributions to the city. Davarian Baldwin is a political science professor at Trinity College and Director of the Smart Cities Lab, which facilitates collaboration with eleven cities on problems involving municipal services including public transportation, housing, and schools. In the past, Baldwin has worked with New Haven Rising, a local activist group whose demands include an increased voluntary contribution from Yale. Baldwin said that top colleges like Yale are “built on the plunder of their cities,” and he highlighted Yale’s property tax break as a prime example.

Daniel HoSang is professor of Ethnicity, Race and Migration at Yale and a founding member of the Anti-Racist Teaching and Learning Collaborative. He, Blatteau, and Wilbur Cross counselor Mia Cormulada helped me understand the complex structure that determines public school funding, which in turn determines teacher salaries. School funding is allocated at a few levels: first, the city of New Haven determines its annual budget, which includes

16 November 2022 TheNewJournal Snapshot
Data from the New Haven teacher’s union
I-84 I-91
map by Kevin Chen
New Haven

all of the money that will be used for municipal services in the city. This money comes primarily from property taxes (New Haven’s city assessor, Alex Pullen, did not respond to questions about local funding, which accounts for 58.8 percent of total school funding).

Funding from property taxes does not include money from Yale’s voluntary contribution to the city, which was $23.2 million this year. In 2019, activists in New Haven Rising estimated that Yale would have paid $146,079,896 if its property was taxed as private, 40 percent of the $364,659,346 total public school budget for New Haven that year. Yale’s property holdings in New Haven are increasing every year.

The district gets a small amount of funding—approximately 4 percent in 2020—from the federal government, and the city also gets 37.3 percent of school funding from the state, including money from the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. The PILOT program gives $90 million in state funding to New Haven to make up for property tax revenue lost because of the city’s large swaths of untaxed property, mostly owned by Yale and Yale New Haven

Health. When it comes to Yale’s tax break, this still leaves about $56 million unaccounted for.

Baldwin likened Yale’s tax break to a subsidy that New Haven grants the University each year. When discussing his work with New Haven Rising, Baldwin said, “We want to create policies that induce schools like Yale to be better neighbors.” Blatteau added, “Yale could really right the wrongs of the historic underfunding of public schools that they have contributed to by taking up so much untaxed property.”

Lauren Zucker, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties, responded to questions about Yale’s relationship with New Haven in an email: “Yale is proud of its commitment to our home city . . . the University pays approximately $5 million in property taxes . . . making Yale among the top three real estate taxpayers in New Haven.” She also

emphasized Yale’s cultural contributions to the city, including the University’s Pathways to Science and Pathways to Arts and Humanities programs for New Haven Public School students and Yale’s public museums.

Zucker cited Yale’s recent “historic increase” in voluntary payments to the city, and this year’s $23.2 million contribution. $23.2 million is 15.7 percent of what Yale would pay if its buildings were taxed like private property, according to the 2019 calculations from New Haven Rising cited earlier. Yale’s voluntary contribution still leaves New Haven about $33 million short in property tax revenue.

HoSang added that Yale is not entirely to blame for the harms its untaxed property has wrought on the city. “After all, Yale didn’t author the laws that keep it from paying taxes,” he said. Yale’s status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization means that the school is exempt from all taxes on educational property

I-95 I-395 17 TheNewJournal November 2022 Snapshot
Blatteau added, “Yale could really right the wrongs of the historic underfunding of public schools that they have contributed to by taking up so much untaxed property.”
Teachers at the March For Our Classrooms rally in March, 2022. Images courtesy of AFT-CT

buildings where instruction takes place.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker acknowledged that there is much work to be done to secure adequate funding for public schools, but he said, “We’re seeing both [Yale and the state of Connecticut] take significant steps to address these problems.” Elicker attributed the lack of money for schools to Connecticut counties’ overreliance on city-limited property tax revenue. Property taxes from suburbs and rural areas around New Haven don’t contribute to the city’s revenue. In contrast, Elicker said that other states distribute funding by county, spreading property tax revenue more evenly. New Haven schools would be better funded if the city adopted this system. Still, in Elicker’s view, “the city of New Haven works very hard with very limited resources to support funding for our public schools.”

Even within the district, however, funding is unequally distributed. Jett told me that the Wexler Grant Community school, a mile away from his school between Dixwell Avenue and Canal Street, has two sixth-grade classrooms and twenty-three sixth graders. In smaller settings, teachers can work with each student to meet their needs. The school district’s spokesperson, Justin Harmon, explained how funding is allocated in an email: “Neighborhood schools vary in enrollments as the population around them swells or declines,” he said. “Wexler is in a period of decline. Over time, the district makes staffing and program adjustments in an effort to rebalance the distribution of students and teachers from school to school.” Blatteau maintains that the public school deficit is an illusion: “If schools were a genuine priority,” she said, “the city would find the money.”

into his classroom.

To make up for the things his school can’t buy, Jett keeps his classroom stocked by spending his own money. While we were on the phone, Jett pulled up his Amazon purchase history for the last few months, going back to just before the school year started. Adding up the money that he spent on books, paper, pencils, markers, craft supplies, and toys demonstrating mathematical concepts, Jett estimated that he spent close to $4,000 on supplies for his classroom this summer. What the school is able to provide often arrives after the year has started. Teachers who didn’t make similar purchases sometimes begin the year without books. Baumann has experienced these delays, and now buys most of the materials needed for experiments with his own money. All of the teachers I interviewed said they spend some of their own money on classroom supplies, but amounts ranged from a few hundred dollars to Jett’s $4,000. Still, they choose to stay.

whom are teachers themselves—worked to increase member engagement in the union, responding to criticisms that there wasn’t enough information available about union activity.

Though he acknowledges that pay and conditions are better at other schools, Jett said, “New Haven is one of the only districts in Connecticut where kids’ and families’ voices are heard, where we’re really trying to fix these problems.” Where other districts promised inclusion but often fell short, in New Haven, “everyone’s doing their best to get kids up to where they need to be.” Still, as Blatteau and her colleagues in the union understand, teaching in New Haven is unsustainable for many teachers.

Things are looking up, though. In November, the city’s Board of Education approved a new teacher contract that will incrementally increase salaries over three years, according to the New Haven Register. In July of 2023, wages will increase 5.9 percent, then 4.9 percent the year after, and 3.9 percent the year after that. By the 2025–26 school year, the starting salary will be $51,421, compared to the current starting salary of $45,457. It’s an overdue improvement, but it might still not be enough.

Adding up the money that he spent on books, paper, pencils, markers, craft supplies, and toys demonstrating mathematical concepts, Jett estimated that he spent close to $4,000 on supplies for his classroom this summer.

When asked if he has considered leaving the district, Baumann said, “I think about it every day.” He knows several teachers who have left just this year. Still, he plans to stay for the next year and a half until he retires: “I honestly enjoy the eighth-grade team teachers that I’m working with, and I’m probably staying here more for them than for myself or the kids right now.”

Blatteau said, “Teachers who switch districts love New Haven, but I don’t blame them.”

“Teachers are the most unappreciated and undercompensated [workers],” said Boroski. What’s more, New Haven teachers advocate for their students far beyond the classroom. Comulada recounted two trips to Massachusetts that she organized in 2019, rallying students and fellow teachers to support a student who had been detained by ICE.

I f Jett worked in Norwalk, a majority white town with a median household income of $89,486, he’d be making $64,355, according to a salary comparison chart prepared by the New Haven teacher’s union. If he worked thirty minutes away in Westport, a city that is 86.5 percent white and where the median household income is $222,375, he’d make $77,721. In New Haven, where the median household income is $44,507, he makes only $50,440. A portion of Jett’s modest paycheck goes back

Comulada agreed. “People need to feed their families, Maybe [leaving] is in their self-care bucket,” she said, acknowledging also that pay across districts “isn’t an even-steven.”

Those teachers who do stay in New Haven remain excited about the district’s potential, and Blatteau said that “this isn’t a crisis without an answer.” The union’s current leadership is advocating for the things rank-and-file teachers want, like smaller class sizes and pay that adjusts to the rising cost of living. In preparation for the election, candidates—all of

Students leave Augusta Lewis Troup at 2:50 p.m. . Under the hum of fluorescent lights, Jett stows the markers and crayons, sorts early-reader books and chapter books into their separate bins, and reorganizes math manipulatives. He keeps the supplies his paycheck paid for in good shape. A mile away at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High school, Boroski and Wetmore do their ritual clean-up as well: Wetmore puts away all of her art supplies so that a health teacher can use the room the following morning, while Boroski rolls up the projector screen that he bought for his room. ∎

—Caroline Reed is a junior in Saybrook College.

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After uncovering the World Mission Society Church of God’s presence on Yale’s campus, two writers take a closer look at the religious organization that has been accused by former members of being a cult.

Building a fromreligion A to Z

Kelsey M. had just turned eighteen when she was approached on the way back to her dorm in Seattle by someone asking if she’d heard about “God the Mother.” Curious, she agreed to attend a Bible study the next day, at the end of which she was baptized.

When she was first approached, Kelsey was new to the area, having just moved for college. She had no family or friends in Seattle. The people who had invited her to attend a Bible study looked around her age and seemed friendly, so she decided to tag along.

In a matter of weeks, she was in so deep that she was prepared to “literally die for the Church.”

Kelsey was recruited during what the Church calls a “short-term mission”, in which members from Los Angeles are sent to cities like Seattle to preach for about a week and baptize as many people as possible. “Everything they said to me made logical sense, for example, because they believe in a God the Father and God the Mother, they said just as every living creature on this Earth requires a father and a mother to be given life, in the same way, we have to have a God the Father and the Mother to be given spiritual life,” Kelsey said. “They use a lot of real life examples to justify or explain their doctrine, to make it more digestible.”

During such missions, Kelsey told us, the recruitment process is “sped up,” which means important, secret tenants of the Church are divulged earlier than usual. Perhaps their most important belief is that their founder, a twentieth century minister named Ahn Sahng-hong, is the second coming of Christ. Many other members that we spoke to only learned about Ahn Sahng-hong after several months in the Church. What Kelsey did not learn right away, though, was that Ahn’s spiritual wife—a living South Korean woman named Zahng Gil-jah— is God the Mother. She was told this explicitly only after three years in the Church, by which time she was in so deep that she didn’t think to question it.

The church that Kelsey joined is known as the World Mission Society Church of God, a religious Bible-based movement that was founded by Ahn Sahng-hong in South Korea in 1964. Kelsey told us that the Church teaches preaching members to only reveal its beliefs and practices bit by bit, because the more radical beliefs of the Church—such as the fact that God the Mother is very much alive—would “scare [newly recruited members] and they’re not going to want to listen to the truth.” The Church allegedly justifies this through a verse in 1 Corinthians that says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.”

Last spring, a division of the Church known as ASEZ, or Save the Earth from A to Z, sought to establish a student organization at Yale. We investigated ASEZ for the Yale Daily News in April of 2022 and spoke to ten students who attested

to having been approached by members of the Church on campus, as well as a few who’d actually joined. One student, Charnice, who joined for a few months, was told to miss class and other extracurriculars to focus on her “spiritual family.” Another student, Davornne, became a Freshman Counselor (FroCo) while actively involved in the Church, seemingly seeking to recruit the first year students in her group and missing crucial responsibilities to attend marathon bible sessions. At the time that we interviewed ASEZ, the group was spearheaded on campus by Davornne, who has since graduated, but from student reaction to the article, we learned that there was a wave of attempted recruitment from as early as 2018. The Church’s closest location is in Middletown, Connecticut, but over the last year, they have mainly invited students to Bible studies at the Starbucks on Chapel Street.

Yale students might recognize the group’s recruitment tactics from personal experience. Usually in pairs, members of ASEZ would approach students in coffee shops or on the street between classes, asking if they’d want to join for Bible study. If the answer is no, a student might be subjected to a few minutes of earnest persuasion before they’re left alone. If the answer is “sure”, they’ll likely be invited to a Bible study at the Starbucks on Chapel Street or a room in Bass Library. Students on other university campuses have described being loaded into a car and driven to a church building, where they’ll sit down with other members for hours of worship, at the end of which, usually, awaits an impromptu, Do-It-Yourself baptism in the church bathtub.

We were able to meet Kelsey, and many of the other sources in this article, through a small online community of ex-members-turned-vocal critics of the World Mission Society Church of God. Kelsey told us that the Church’s “target audience” is young adults aged between 18 and 30 years old. “Basically, anybody who is not tied down with a family and can just dedicate their entire free time to the advancement of recruitment for the group,” Kelsey said. “That was number one. That’s why you see them on a lot of college campuses.”

But the question of the legitimacy of the Church, which has been accused by former members of being a “cult,” and the intense, often unsettling commitments it asks of its members, goes much deeper.

The Bible studies and church services that Kelsey attended were initially not held at a church, but at a member’s house. Every Saturday, she and other members would gather there from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for three hour-long services, meaning that she was “constantly surrounded” by the same people. “When you start college, you’re very impressionable, everybody’s kind of trying to figure out the world around them at that time,” Kelsey said. “Everybody in the Seattle church at the time, we all just sat around one dinner table, so it was a bunch of people who had no family, no

Students on other university campuses have described being loaded into a car and driven to a church building, where they’ll sit down with other members for hours of worship, at the end of which, usually, awaits an impromptu, Do-ItYourself baptism in the church bathtub.

friends in the area . . . and we literally just became like a family.”

Things moved quickly for Kelsey. Her fellow members were all the friends she had in Seattle, and because she hadn’t previously read the Bible, she was quick to believe what they told her. For Kelsey, a lot of her first experiences in the Church weren’t immediate red flags—even if she was spending copious amounts of time at the church, it initially didn’t strike her as concerning. In fact, like all of the former members we spoke to, Kelsey described the tension between the Church as a toxic and controlling institution, and her fellow members being kind, friendly, and drawn to the Church for many of the same reasons as herself. This is what made it so hard for her, and others, to leave.

In July, we visited the New York City branch of the Church for their 3 p.m. service. We found the address on the internet, and at the front of the two-story office building was a sign that read “Ring the doorbell if the door is locked.” The door was not locked, so we entered through the glass doors into a makeshift waiting room with just an elevator. Certificates of philanthropic awards hung on the walls around the room. We stepped into the elevator to go up to the second floor, where the services were being held. But the elevator did not budge and the doors stayed open. After a couple of minutes, we stepped out and rang the doorbell—which had a Ring camera— outside the front door. Just then, the doors of the elevator closed.

As we debated calling the elevator again, the doors opened to reveal a tall man dressed in a gray suit. He began to question us: how did we know about the Church? Why were we there? Who’d invited us? Services were invite-only, we were told, for the protection of the members. It did not matter that we had called a week earlier and been told that services were open to all by someone who subsequently stopped answering our calls.

He instructed us to come back in half an hour for activities, when the service was over. So, we did. For the next thirty minutes, we sat kicking our legs on barstools at a restaurant next door, sweating in the New York City heat, debating our next move and guessing at what exactly “activities” might mean. But when we were let up to the second floor, there were now two men standing in front of the elevator door, barring our way. The second man, we found out, was Victor Lozado, the overseer of the New York and New Jersey branch. Members were being sent home early because of the heat wave, they said, so now was not a good time. It would be best if we could put our names down so they could contact us for a future Bible study. Members, all dressed in suits and blazers, despite the heat, streamed outside in twos and threes—but a few minutes later, they reentered the building through a door to the side of the main lobby. There was no indication that any of them were going home for the day.

T he origins of the World Mission Society Church of God are more complicated than the Church makes them out to be. Searching for information about Ahn online leads to a deluge of mixed information. The blog Examining the wmscog is run by a former member who is dedicated to unveiling the doctrines of the Church, and there are at least a dozen counter-blogs that attempt to hide and invalidate any criticisms of the Church. Googling “How can Ahn Sahnghong be the Christ” brings up pages of those counter-blogs, like The True wmscog and The True God the Mother, in addition to the Church’s regional websites. But there is little information about the man himself.

From what we were able to find, Ahn Sahnghong, a 46-year-old South Korean Christian minister, founded the Church in 1964 under the name Church of God Jesus Witnesses in Busan, South Korea. Born in the Jeollabuk-do province of South Korea in 1918, Ahn grew up in a Buddhist household. In 1946, he converted to the Seventhday Adventist Church. According to the website for the World Mission Society Church of God in Korea, he began receiving revelations from God in 1953, and in 1956, Ahn predicted that there would be the second coming of Christ within the next decade. In 1962, he was excommunicated from the Seventh-day Adventists.

Ahn taught a literal interpretation of the Bible, something he felt the Christian Church had distorted. He believed that Christian iconography like symbols of the cross was a form of idolatry; that the Sabbath should be observed on Saturday, not Sunday; that women should wear head coverings while praying; and that humanity is living in the end times, when the end of the world is imminent. In his books, The Mystery of God and the Spring of the Water of Life and The Bridegroom Was a Long Time in Coming, and They All Became Drowsy and Fell Asleep, he predicted that the world would end forty years after the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1988.

After Ahn’s passing in 1985, the original church split into two separate sects: the New Covenant Passover Church of God, led in Busan by Ahn’s son, and the Church of God Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong. The latter, which was rebranded as the World Mission Society Church of God in 1997, was led by Zahng Gil-jah and the general pastor Kim Joo-cheol. While the New Covenant Passover Church of God believes that Ahn was just a prophet of God, the World Mission Society believes he is God himself—and they believe that Zang is Ahn’s “spiritual wife”, and God the Mother.

Zahng is an ever-smiling 79-year-old woman living in South Korea. According to a letter allegedly written by her first husband Kim Jae-hoon, Zahng and Kim were married in 1966 and began going to Ahn’s church together. They had two children, but as Zahng became more and more involved with the Church, she sold


their house to pour money into the Church and began to neglect her family. Eventually, they separated in 1987.

George, whose name has been changed to protect the identities of his family members, was born into the Church and remained a member for twenty-one years. His parents married when his father served in the United States military in South Korea, and both of his parents initially joined the Church. While his mother was “indoctrinated fast” and “very devout,” George said she still was not as “into it” as his father. His parents separated, and George has not seen his father in ten years. Based on his Linkedin, George believes his dad is now a missionary for the Church and works for the Red Cross.

George met Zahng at the main temple in South Korea, once with his father as a young child and later again with his mother as a teenager. Each time he met her, he believed fully that she was God. She was charismatic and maternal. After a service, she would sit alongside a translator as a line of people came up to meet her. Often, George said, people would describe what they were struggling with in their lives.

The World Mission Society Church of God has been awarded with multiple philanthropic awards, as has Zahng herself. Her website, and the website of the WeLoveU Foundation she founded, describes her philanthropic ventures as evidence of “the Love of a Mother.” Members of the Church frequently participate in community service—receiving media coverage almost every time—and the Church ostensibly founded ASEZ as a means for university students to get involved with the service-side of the Church, without having to participate in the Church’s religion.

According to Anthony Forte—another former member who joined the Church in 2011 and left in 2021—however, members of the Church are aware that ASEZ is what he called a “front group,” created just to recruit more members into the Church. He pointed out the contradiction between the Church believing the world is going to end any day now, and ASEZ carrying out environmental efforts that should, under this religious belief, have no real effect on whether or not the world is saved. When members pointed this out to church leaders, Anthony said, they were reassured that “Save the Earth” meant to recruit the people of the Earth to their church to be saved, not the planet. ASEZ also gave the Church opportunities to legitimize itself, Anthony said, through photo opportunities and the collection of awards from governments and official organizations for their hours conducting service. But Victor told us that this was ridiculous. He emphasized that ASEZ was created by university students in the Church who were only interested in furthering the Church’s service mission; they “wanted to bring what they learned in the Church, into their school,” he said.

“We cannot help people feeling like ‘Oh, but I have to join the Church’ [and that feeling] will keep them from helping even though they could,” Victor said. “So ASEZ was essentially that we want to bring the actual preaching to practice rather than directly preaching with the Bible.”

An email we obtained sent by Brittley Timmons, the administrator of the Church in Maryland, included a spreadsheet that described ASEZ activities as a method of building relationships, which is a key step in church recruitment.

Victor recognized us from our first article in the News. After we were asked to leave the Bronx church, he stepped outside and, seeing us, rattled off a list of reasons why the Church had to be wary of the media. A balanced perspective was all he was asking for, and that was something he said he would be willing to provide. He agreed to meet for an interview, initially suggesting a Starbucks in Manhattan, on the condition that we attend a Bible study first—something that he said all reporters were asked to do.

George’s trip to meet Zahng Gil-jah. Courtesy of George.

After a month of back and forth, Victor offered to drive up to meet us at the Middletown church. Sitting at the back of a white and beige meeting room with several rows of seats, the pastor of the Church, a tall, ever-smiling Korean man who later called himself the “selfie king,” brought out a tray of snacks. He set up a screen at the front of the room and began screening half an hour of videos about the Church including dozens of videos of church members across the world gathered in large groups, smiling, waving, and exclaiming “We love you!” As we were leaving, after asking us to take a selfie with him, the “selfie king” gave us goodie bags filled with baked goods, a mug inscribed with a Bible verse, and a note that ended with another “We love you.” Victor’s story is familiar. He first joined the Church as a 20-year-old college student in 2005 in Bogota, New Jersey. He was invited to a Bible study after soccer practice. He said he’d tried out several churches prior to joining the World Mission Society, but found that many churches did not “practice what they preached,” including the Catholic church in which he grew up. Once he saw the “evidence” from the Bible about the Sabbath, he knew the Church of God was “different”. (The evidence: Mark 16:1 states “Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended.”)

Victor was baptized a few days after his first Bible study.

Ava, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is a former member who was in the Church for about two months. She, like Kelsey, was baptized at her first Bible study, but she had not been told almost anything about the Church’s beliefs. According to Kelsey, once you are baptized by the Church, you’re considered a member.

When the World Mission Society first approached her, Ava had just graduated college. Two women around her age approached her in the Christian aisle of a bookstore. At the time, she had been interested in learning more about Christianity, so when the women asked her to join them for a Bible study, she agreed to go the next day, despite the women urging her to follow them into a car immediately.

When she went to the Church, Ava noticed photos of Zahng on the walls and accepted their explanation that that was God the Mother. Looking back, she chalks this up to naivety. At the end of the Bible study, she was taken to a separate room of the house with a tub, where she was submerged underwater. “It seemed like a normal Bible study, nothing out of the ordinary,” she said. “I liked what I heard, so they asked me if I wanted to get baptized, and that’s something I actually regret.”

The feeling of regret kept coming up throughout our conversation with Ava. She had joined the Church and allowed herself to be baptized because she was genuinely interested in Christianity. Later, she learned that the Christian

leaders condemn World Mission Society as a cult, and this made her wonder if she had tainted herself. “I regretted [the baptism] very much. I felt like what have I done? How did I ruin my chances to get to heaven?” Baptizing members before they’re devoted is a way to make them feel committed to the Church quickly. At the time, though, she believed the group when they told her she had to be baptized in order to see salvation, so that Saturday she returned to the house for World Mission Society’s day of sabbath where they worshiped and studied the Bible nonstop— it felt like “cramming for an exam.” Everyone was cooped up in the house from morning until night, breaking only for meals.

“We spent the entire day at that house and it was exhausting,” Ava said in an almost confessionary tone. She felt almost guilty that she had allowed herself to be baptized, and kept apologizing for how “ignorant” she had been about religion at the time. “I’m going to be honest with you, it’s an experience I’ve never experienced before. At the end of that day, it felt like a physical change happening, like [my brain] was being reworked and reformed.”

Over time, however, questions began to pop up. She had contributed to gifts and monetary donations for “the heavenly mother” in South Korea, and the Church had played a “thank you” message from God the Mother at the next service. Ava wondered why, if the woman in South Korea was God, she only responded by nodding and smiling, and could not respond in English. She’d also seen mentions of Ahn Sahng-hong as the second coming of Christ on the internet—something the Church hadn’t mentioned to her at all— which she brought up at one of the Bible studies. To each of her questions, Ava said she was only told by the members conducting the Bible study that she was “ignorant,” “dumb,” and should not have “read ahead.”

She eventually left and joined a Methodist church. She told us that she wants to get re-baptized to “wash away” what happened. She felt “betrayed” by the two women from the bookstore, whom she had considered her friends.

Kelsey, too, described her baptism as an uncomfortable experience.

“They didn’t tie my hands and throw me into a bathtub,” Kelsey said. “But the thing is, I don’t believe that I had the information necessary to really make the choice on my own, because they were not forthcoming with all the stuff that was going to be required of me.” Both Kelsey and Ava told us that the intimate space where their baptisms took place and the group of people that surrounded them made them feel pressured to agree to the baptism. “They tell you in order to be saved and enter the kingdom of heaven, you have to be baptized and they show a verse in the Bible that says you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Kelsey added. “So there’s some element of fear tactics as well.”


Anthony recalled being similarly baptized at his first Bible study. He felt like he had been misled. He was not religious at all before joining the Church, did not have any experience and had little knowledge of baptism, and was told that he would just “get a little wet.” Instead, he was led to a room where he was asked to take off all his clothes and change into a robe. He kneeled down while a group of about five people prayed over him—it felt like a “whirlwind.”

“In my mind, it was a ceremony where maybe they sprinkle water and then that’s really the end of it,” Anthony said. “But they ended up making me walk up to a room, where they told me I had to take off all my clothes and put on a robe and I felt like that was deceptive But I already felt this peer pressure, these people are all excited and surrounding me excited that I’m going to be baptized what am I supposed to do?”

Victor told us that the immediacy of baptism within the Church is based on their commitment to following the Bible. “In the Bible, every baptism was immediate. There is no record of a baptism being delayed by six months or a year, so it is taught in the Bible that if someone wants to be baptized, they can do it the same day.”

At the end of November, a month after we’d sat down with Victor, we wrote him with a list of the allegations former members had brought forward—allegations that had “legal implications” according to his reply. The next day, we received an email with fifty member testimonies attached as letters mostly addressed to “whom it may concern.” These letters, featuring the writers’ first and last names, detailed their positive experiences with the Church. In Victor’s words, “with over 4,000,000 members worldwide everyone has different experiences, and to write a story about our Church only from the perspective of “former members,” its unfair to all the members who currently attend the Church, and whose lives have improved since having joined the Church.”

A member of the Church for seventeen years, Zuley Polanco, described how her husband, whom she had met while at college, eventually began attending the Church with her. “We got married and for a long time I attended the Church of God alone which was never a problem but I still wanted him to be a part of this beautiful organization,” she wrote. “So, I invited him to one of the many events held at the church and he was very impressed by how much the Church of God does for the community and the countries around the world.”

Another member, Youngbae Song, who has attended the Church since 2007, wrote that the Church helped him to understand the “importance” of keeping God’s commands: “I realized that no other churches I attended were actually following the teachings of God in the bible, but practice many pagan customs.”

Youngbae described how the Catholic mother of one member called her daughter and decided to visit the Church because her Catholic priest had said to their parish: “if you want to believe in God, you should be like the members of the Church of God.”

“It is a miracle!” Youngbae wrote. “Many co workers and family members came to Church of God because they realized how much the members who attended had changed for the better after attending the church.”

Many of the other testimonies read with the same zeal, describing how the Church changed members for the better, and that their spiritual change compelled friends and family to attend too. Many of them describe their former selves, before joining the Church, as selfish or lost; after joining the Church, Ivan Diaz wrote that he began helping out around the house and became a more positive person. Several mention finding the “truth”—sometimes with a capital “ T ”— through the Church. Although the accounts represent the variety of experiences within the Church—many of which, according to Victor, dispute the claims of former members—there are some elements that connect the testimonies to each other and to those of former members. The recruitment that Kelsey, Anthony, and George describe is reminiscent of Pablo Chavez, who “could not help but to invite” his family, friends, coworkers, and classmates to the Church and Naomi Timmons who realized that “everyone must know about and come to this church!” Time spent at the Church that would stretch past midnight each day is described by Saira Ahmed as the Church becoming her “home”— “Day after day, no one needed to call me to ask if I was coming,” she wrote. Many described being disillusioned with other religions before finding the Church. Several of the members described having a family while in the Church, children who would attend Bible studies and Sabbath days and eventually begin preaching to others. Several of them described having spouses who weren’t originally in the Church—but all of them either ended up joining or separating, although one describes another member who is not a member of the Church. A few of them did describe learning about God the Mother early on. Several of the testimonies, like Jaewon Kim’s and Jenn Garcia’s, also describe joining the Church while in college, although they emphasize that the Church did not interfere with their studies or extracurriculars.

One member, Ashley, graduated from Yale in May 2018 and worked at Yale from 2018 to 2020. While she was at Yale, she was not particularly interested in the Church, being more focused on her academic and professional goals. She recalled being introduced to the Church through two girls who approached her and her roommate at a mall: had she heard that the second coming of Christ had already come, they asked her. Not

They stressed that members should be ready for the world to end at any moment, and they should prepare by devoting themselves completely to the Church.

Monetary Commitment

understanding the name “Ahn Sahng-hong,” she asked them to repeat it four times before feeling “relieved” to learn that the reason she couldn’t understand it was because it was Korean. After a few Bible studies, Ashley was baptized—a rite in order for her to “keep the Passover and receive the promise of God.” The Church taught her that many of the things she thought she knew were not biblical: “I felt so hurt by all those churches that taught me those things that had nothing to do with what God commanded us. I felt lied to and I wanted to know the truth.”

T he Church calls new recruits, people who attend at least one Bible study, “fruits.”

“Bearing fruit,” Kelsey said, meant bringing somebody to the Church who then gets baptized, and each fruit that a member “bears” earns them points at the main Church in South Korea. If a fruit begins contributing monetarily—through tithes and offerings—they are then called a “talent.”

Tom, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, became involved almost seven years ago as a senior in high school when he was messaged by a coworker he liked, asking if he would come to the Church of God. He didn’t think much of it, and saw it as an opportunity to get to know the girl and thought it could be interesting. He said he found the people the Church uses for recruiting are either young college students or attractive women.

About a week after she messaged him, he went to the Church, then only stayed in the Church for a few months, but he could already tell that something wasn’t right.

Tom said the Bible studies seemed normal at first, although he did not have much religious experience, but he said things started becoming “weird” and “strange,” especially with the long church services and how he found members of the Church were “out of touch with reality” and “brainwash[ed].”

The Church’s presence on campus isn’t new. After our first article in May, we learned that students have been approached on campus since as early as 2018.

They also encouraged him to not talk to people who did not agree with the Church’s ideas, which he also found strange, and said they would “do anything they [could]” to get him to stay late at the services, leading him to often lie and tell leaders he was sick to get out of commitments for the Church.

“They don’t strike me as somebody that would, you know, hurt you physically, but they will do anything necessary to mentally convince you to stay,” Tom said.

I n 2010, Kelsey said that the Church taught that the world would end in 2012 and that each member had to bring in ten talents in order to ensure their place in heaven. The Church called this the “ten talents movement.”

“It was so incredibly stressful, and meanwhile 2012 passes and they said, ‘Mother’s giving us more time to bear the ten talents,’” Kelsey said. “2012 comes and goes and we’re still here, and the Church backtracks and says, ‘We never taught that the end of the world was going to happen.’” (Members had been taught to physically prepare for the end of the world by buying an army duffle bag, a month’s worth of food, and a month’s worth of water.) But the Church was still expecting its members to recruit.

The Church, allegedly, would simply move the date of destruction further back. 2014, the fiftieth anniversary of the Church, was the next date, and when that passed, they said the world would end in 2018. They stressed that members should be ready for the world to end at any moment, and they should prepare by devoting themselves completely to the Church.

“If Father comes tonight, you want to be found doing the gospel work,” Kelsey said. “They had it in your mind that Ahn Sahng-hong could come back at any moment and destroy the whole world, and they would tell us that you need to be prepared to watch your children die in front

10% of income, pre-tax, towards church upkeep 3x on (aboutSaturdays $100 a month for Kelsey) Special offerings during church holidays! Once a month, any amount, sent to Korea OFFERINGS DURING EVERY SERVICE ZION OFFERING HOLIDAY OFFERINGS

of you and still be faithful.” Kelsey felt that to be prepared she had to be constantly preaching, studying the Bible, or doing work for the Church.

Kelsey and other former members recounted frequent offerings that were required by members, including a tithe of 10 percent of your annual pretax income. Victor emphasized the importance of a tithe as a biblical teaching, but said there is “free will” with every teaching of God, explaining that the tithe is not enforced. After all, he said, God wants a “cheerful giver.”

A 10 percent tithe is described in the Bible in Deuteronomy and is also required by some churches including the Seventh-day Adventists and the Church of Latter-day Saints, but is voluntary for the most part in other churches in the United States.

Kelsey, however, told a different story.

“They say they don’t require anybody to tithe, and that’s a lie,” Kelsey said. “When I first joined, all I was required [to give] was tithes and offerings . . . but the more I got involved in the Church, the more that they started asking me for.”

Eventually, half of Kelsey’s salary was going to the Church. She was purchasing lights for the building, cooking for the whole congregation twice a month, and, when she became a leader in the Portland branch, she was spending an additional $250 to $300 a month to provide meals on sabbath days for up to 120 regular members. If there were seminars, construction at the Church, or materials needed for the children’s classes, Kelsey also had to front the cost. “It got to the point where by the time I left the Church, roughly 40 to 50 percent of my paycheck was going to the Church every month,” she said.

When asked about members like Kelsey having to spend large sums of money, Victor said, “I don’t know what that means.”

Anthony also recalled having to give large sums of money. He said every time you receive a paycheck, you were told to tithe 10 percent of your pre-tax income and “always round up” if there was change involved. There would be an offering on Saturday at each of the three services, and once a month, there would be a “brown envelope” which goes to international churches or towards planning for church missions and included a “thank offering” that members contribute to once a month. In addition to these donations to the Church, they also have “the feasts of God” which are special celebrations involving at least seventeen different ceremonies throughout the year, each of which requires extra donations in two offerings per service, on top of food donations or donations towards specific events.

“I’m sure that some of it goes towards the upkeep of the building, but even when they do construction work, a lot of the time the members are just contributing more and more,” Anthony said. “So it seems limitless, how much they ask the members to give, and you don’t really see where it goes. It seems like they just take tithes and

offerings and they completely put it aside, and then the members continue to feed into upkeeping the building and the food and everything like that to keep it sustained. Typically, you’d see the tithe go towards that, but it doesn’t.”

Tom said church leaders would ask for donations and give members a week to provide the donation. In his case, he donated around $300 in total.

On George’s second visit to the main temple in Korea, he and his mother, like other members, lined up to meet Zahng after the service. When it came time for his mother and him to go up, George was confused. Without George saying anything, the translator described to Zahng his struggles with drug abuse, and about how his father had stopped sending child support to them, and her face dropped. “It was the weirdest thing,” he said, stunned by the fact that the translator knew and was sharing such sensitive information about him with someone who—as God—he assumed would already know everything. These were things he had only told his church leader back home, under the assumption that it was confidential. He later found out that the Church reported his situation to the elder of the Church, who then passed it onto the headquarters in South Korea. He felt “violated” and disturbed that his intimate struggles were being openly discussed, just so that Zahng could tell him “everything’s gonna be alright, it will get better.”

George said that the Church frequently shared such sensitive information without members’ consent. He told us that the same thing happened to some of his friends in the Church who were conflicted about their sexuality, or were in relationships that weren’t ordained. The Church would tell George that God the Mother knew these things, because she is all-knowing, but when he questioned why Zahng even needed a translator, the deacon at his church in California told him that she’s God in human form, and that in the same way, Jesus had physical aspects that made other people doubt and crucify him. They would tell him that he shouldn’t question those things, because “God’s thoughts are higher than ours.”

Still, Zahng’s generosity isn’t fiction. During George’s visit to Korea with his mother, he learned that the Church had given his father $5,000 for child support—because he had refused to on his own—and the Church wanted to fix that relationship and ensure his father, a missionary for the Church, wouldn’t lose face. But George and his mother never got the money; they never even knew it existed until Zahng asked him about it. Zahng ended up giving them $2,000 in a brown envelope, which George felt was like an “emotional investment.” He was conflicted, because he was grateful for the money and still steadfast in his beliefs, but the money also made him feel even more tied to the


Church, like he was indebted for something that he was actually owed.

“It was a very hard moment to know that he used that money from the Church,” George said. “I don’t know what it was for, maybe he just gave it back to the Church, but I felt very manipulated after finding out that she gave me $2,000 and gave $5,000 to my dad, but she’s just recycling our tithes and offerings so that they could keep us in.”

The Church’s presence on campus isn’t new.

After our first article in May, we learned that students have been approached on campus since as early as 2018. One Yale student wrote on Twitter that she was approached during her first year in 2018. Although she wasn’t alone, the Church members ignored her friend who is a man, focusing all their attention on her. After she explained to them that she was a practicing Muslim and was not interested in “expanding” her views, she wrote, they tried to tell her that God the Mother “worked under all major religions.”

The members had told her that they were Yale Divinity School students and were trying to form an official club on campus. We weren’t able to identify any current or former students at Yale, besides Davornne and Ashley, who are members of the Church.

Another student wrote that he was “followed” from Cross Campus back to Bingham Hall in his first year by members of the Church. “I had to run into the entryway to escape,” he wrote.

Outside of Yale, ASEZ has chapters at the University of Connecticut, Antelope Valley College, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), New York University, Old Dominion University, Bronx Community College, and Lehman College.

The chapter at the University of Connecticut holds active meetings, including “paint and plant” events, game nights, and general body meetings. The other college chapters nationwide are often highlighted for their service work by local news outlets, including planting trees or cleaning up local areas.

G eorge moved back to the United States as a child and grew up attending one of the Church locations in California. “It was a part of my whole childhood,” George said. “Everyone that I knew in the Church would be considered family. I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know how other services went at other churches or just how normal people outside my church acted.”

Each Saturday, the children would be brought to a separate room, while the adults went for services. “It wasn’t a good place for kids to strive and it’s very depressing, all we do is study the Word of God. But it was back to back, and we were just kids,” George said.

Sealed away in a room all day, he would learn to recite “Mother’s Teachings” which were Zahng Gil-jah—God the Mother’s—thirteen teachings.

For as long as their parents were in the services or Bible studies, the children were studying the teachings. This sometimes meant that they were there from 9 a.m., when the first service began, to around 9 or 10 p.m., when the third service ended, with just short breaks to go outside or eat. “We never had time to sleep,” George recalled. “If we slept, we would be woken up. We’re never able to close our eyes, we’d have to always be looking at the Bible.”

Kelsey, for a time, was in charge of teaching children on Sabbath days. She taught a group of children ages 3 to 15 for the entire day every Saturday.

“5-year-olds, I had to teach them how to find the verses in the Bible and then repeat the subjects and test them,” Kelsey said. “Children were expected to bring their classmates, their teachers, their friends and families [into the Church].”

Kelsey added that at the end of the day, she would meet with other members of leadership and was expected to divulge any issues or problems her students were facing, including things said to her in confidence.

As her role in the Church ramped up, Kelsey found that she was committing every moment outside of work to the Church. Everyday after work, she would be at the Church or around campuses preaching until around 10 p.m., then after getting back home, she would study for another two hours, and the next day she would do it all over again.

“There were no days off, absolutely no days,” Kelsey said. “I lost every single friend I ever had.”

The Church’s hold on its members extended

to anything that was considered “earthly”— anything that might take you away from your heavenly family. That meant non-religious music, movies, sports, and internet use were discouraged; work was largely thought of as a means to better contribute towards the Church; and connections with family, friends, and romantic partners had to center the Church.

Less than a year after Anthony joined the Church, a head pastor had asked him how he was doing. ”You should be thinking about a family,” he said, suggesting that he marry a member of the Church.

Anthony had previously heard rumors about arranged marriages, but felt thrown off-guard. When he told the pastor that he hadn’t given it any thought before, the leader of the Church told him to “look around” and tell them who he liked. “They say that if you get married, you have a lot more opportunity to be blessed by God,” Anthony said. Anthony ended up marrying a woman the pastor first suggested in October of 2012, a year and three months after joining the Church and just a few months after their first date. They had met before, but never really spoken, and after four months, they went to different locations. After only two dates, they were told they had to decide whether or not they would marry each other.

“I struggle every single day because of this church,” Kelsey said. “The Church taught for the longest time that if you ever leave the Church of God, you will die, and you will die a horrible death. So whenever something bad happens, that always comes into my mind, even though I know that what they did is wrong.”

Anthony told us he’d been asked to relocate multiple times over the decade that he was in the Church. That, in addition to the late hours spent at the Church—sometimes staying up until 1 or 2 a.m.—meant that it was difficult to maintain a stable career. In 2012, he lost a job he had worked for six years—he started messing up at work because of the late nights. Once he found a new job, the Church told him it was time to be married. On the day of his wedding, the pastor told him that he and his wife should move to Florida, but he never gave Anthony an explicit reason. Moving to Florida meant that he’d have to give up his new job, spend some time finding new work, and— because he went from a management position to an administrative position—live on half his previous wages. But he did it, because the Church told him to. He relocated three more times after that with his wife. They stayed married for nine years.

“We went through a lot of ups and downs, especially at the beginning, getting used to being married to a stranger,” Anthony said. “Looking back, being married out of fear, and out of the fear of condemnation, it definitely feels wrong for both of us. I feel like to have an expectation for somebody to marry a stranger and doing it under threat, it’s kind of hard to express, because, in essence, you just feel like you’re forced to be in this intimate relationship with somebody that you haven’t chosen . . . Ultimately, you’re only doing it because you’re obedient to the Church.”

“Let me ask you this,” Victor said when we asked him if the Church conducted arranged marriages, smirking. “Let’s say you and I, we go to a party, and I introduce you to a friend of mine. ‘I think maybe you guys can make a cute couple, you want to get to know him?’ Would you say I’m arranging a marriage?”

Victor was introduced to his wife, who is Korean, by his pastor in 2009. They were married a year later. “I got to know her, and we went on a date, and we went on a few dates, we dated for some time, and then we decided to get married.”

Kelsey said that the Church showed members a verse in the Old Testament that said that Jews should not mingle with gentiles, in order to justify why members should only marry within the Church. “In the same way we are spiritual Jews, and we don’t need to mingle with the people of the outside world,” she said.

K elsey left the Church in 2017, ten years after joining. The process of leaving was difficult for her, because by that point she was utterly convinced that the end of the world was approaching. She left, not because she stopped believing in the Church, but because she was so burnt out from its demands that she realized she physically wasn’t able to keep going. She had been told that she was “lazy” and “wasn’t working hard enough.”

The reason her parents died, church authorities said, was because she wasn’t preaching as much as she should be.

Screenshots courtesy of George.

Her father’s death brought her some clarity. He had a stroke, and his family, after days spent living with the possibility of him never returning to consciousness, made the decision to take him off of life support. The day the procedure was meant to happen coincided with one of the Church’s feasts, but she was told she still had to be at the Church that day. “Even though I told them my dad’s dying in the hospital, and this is the day that they’re going to pull the plug,” Kelsey said. “They said, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead.’”

But by that point, ten years in, the decision to leave the Church wasn’t easy. For one thing, all of her friends were in the Church, and while the Church as an organization is “toxic,” she said, the people you interact with on a daily basis are kind people who just got “caught up in this mess.” She was torn between wanting to leave, and believing that if she left she would be condemned to hell. She decided to take a break from the Church, but when she didn’t show up for one service, she was bombarded with texts asking where she was and if she was okay, and apologizing for not having paid enough attention to her. She found out that members of her church had circled her sister’s apartment block, looking for her car. When they showed up to her work, lying to get through security, she decided she had to take a formal break. She did her research and confronted the pastor with questions she knew he couldn’t answer. The nail in the coffin: why did the Church claim that its founder was pastor Kim Joo-cheol, and not God the Father Ahn Sahng-hong, on its religious non-profit forms to the Internal Revenue Service?

Still, it took several months for Kelsey to stop believing in the Church’s doctrine. Five years on, she continues to have apocalyptic nightmares, dreams where she is being burned alive or has to watch people burn up around her. She has been told by friends and family that she has some form of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and she still struggles to find joy in doing things that don’t have a purpose connected to the Church, like watching TV, watching movies, or listening to music.

“I struggle every single day because of this church,” Kelsey said. “The Church taught for the longest time that if you ever leave the Church of God, you will die, and you will die a horrible death. So whenever something bad happens, that always comes into my mind, even though I know that what they did is wrong.”

I n the months since our first article, we’ve wrestled with the question of what makes something a cult, and what makes a cult dangerous, as opposed to just different. We previously spoke to Steven Hassan, a cult expert, about the difference between ethical cults and unethical or destructive cults. The key difference, he said, lies in whether or not members are deceived into joining.

Having spoken to former and current members, that sense of deception is certainly there, but it’s hard to define. People are baptized almost immediately, but not all of them later regret it. Members learn about Ahn Sahng-hong and Zahng Gil-jah at different stages. And although the Church’s members are responsible for bringing people in, no individual member is at fault for the way the Church eventually strips its members dry of their money, time, and autonomy. Victor, the spokesperson of the Church, welcomed us into the Church at Middletown without hesitation, but he was also quick to shut down any complaints from former members that we shared with him. We got the sense that that was the kind of denial members were met with when they raised questions.

College campuses have long been attractive to alleged cult organizations: the Moonies, the cult of Sarah Lawrence, Shincheonji. College students are often open-minded, but also at their most vulnerable—far from home and looking for a sense of community.

In 2018, the University of Memphis banned ASEZ from its campus because of its aggressive preaching practices. But other universities, like the University of Washington, feel that preaching falls within freedom of speech, and instead just advise students to research online or ask a friend or advisor before joining something new. Yale administrators did not respond in time to a request for comment, so what Yale might choose to do, if anything, is unclear. This semester, there’s been a marked absence of ASEZ’s presence on campus—perhaps because the last known student to be a member of it has graduated—but dotted around campus are people handing out flyers for other churches, or sitting quietly besides magazine stands of church pamphlets propped up on the street. It’s hard not to wonder what differentiates these groups from ASEZ.

For now, though, and perhaps indefinitely, Kelsey will continue to be haunted by the prospect of the world’s collapse and her condemnation by a woman living in South Korea. ∎

—Miranda Jeyaretnam is a junior in Pierson College. Sarah Cook is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College.

Editors’ Note: Some identifying information and comments have been revised from the original print version, in keeping with The New Journal’s new policies regarding anonymization of sources.

Reporting for this piece was made possible by the Ed Bennett III Memorial Fund.

layout by kevin chen

design &

A New Haven family center is on a mission to provide free services to pregnant clients—and end abortion. A look from the inside, and the sidewalk, at In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms.

Thy Neighbor

photos by lukas flippo & layout by kevin chen

1. Home

Most of the symbolism in the office of In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms (IOBMA), a family center in New Haven, falls into two categories: babies and the Biblical.

First, the religious decor. Scattered around on surfaces and shelves, there are the miniatures: figurines of the pope, an angel, a nativity scene, a friar. Virgin Mary statues—white-glazed, gold, ivory, and blue—tower by comparison. One is knee-high.

The baby paraphernalia, on the other hand, is more life-sized: there’s a baby-sized baby doll for a baby to play with, fetus-sized fetus dolls that are handed out to potential clients on the street, a brochure illustration of “a tiny person—his actual size and appearance ” in the womb. On the walls, there’s a variety of babies of different races on posters inscribed with messages like Life is Precious, Celebrate Life! and Babies are Blessing Choose Life! And in photographs populating a corkboard, there are the babies of IOBMA’s clientele.

From the outside, the office building could be mistaken for someone’s home: yellow siding, a rust-painted stoop with a little fleur-de-lis carved into the awning, ruched sheer curtains frozen behind the glass. Instead, it houses a dentist’s office on the first floor and IOBMA on the second. The next door neighbors—the New Haven Fire Department to the right, a white-pillar mansion on the left—appear less cozy. Together, the trio makes for an unlikely group: a place to deal with fire, a place to live in grandeur, and a place to deal with a pregnancy.

Ivana Solsbery, the owner and Director of the family center, sat at her desk, still recovering from her twice-weekly, two-hour prayer session outside New Haven’s Planned Parenthood. Just out the window across from her, on the other side of the street, Planned Parenthood’s THESE DOORS STAY OPEN banner drifted in the breeze.

Set against the nationally recognizable shadow of Planned Parenthood and the liberal landscape of Connecticut, In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms seems like an obscure outpost. But there are similar sites found all over the country, most commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers. Their definitions generally circle the Guttmacher Institute’s, which describes them as “organizations that provide counseling and other prenatal services from an antiabortion (prolife) perspective.” They have a few analogous labels— including pregnancy resource centers, limited pregnancy service centers, pregnancy care clinics, or, more pejoratively, fake health clinics. IOBMA is a reflection of this naming tedium: Solsbery and the center’s website call it a family center, but its Facebook page says it’s a “Pregnancy Resource and Outreach Center.” It offers services that many crisis pregnancy centers offer—and then some—and serves mostly pregnant clients. Like

Ivana Solsbery, the director of the family center, sat at her desk, still recovering from her twiceweekly, two-hour prayer session outside New Haven’s Planned Parenthood. Just out the window across from her, on the other side of the street, Planned Parenthood’s THESE DOORS STAY OPEN banner drifted in the breeze.

Lukas Flippo / The New Journal

other centers, it does not provide referrals for abortion, and its website has a disclaimer that it’s “not a pro-abortion organization.”

IOBMA doesn’t operate like all crisis pregnancy centers in the country—by nature, they are varied and shifting. Beyond its relatively obscure appearance, IOBMA is functionally a humble operation, too: it’s a one-woman-show that usually helps just a couple pregnant clients at a time, offering resources and supplies to help clients through pregnancy and childrearing. IOBMA doesn’t compete with Planned Parenthood because it doesn’t offer abortion services, and perhaps it even helps supplement the clinic’s family services. But Planned Parenthood’s recognizability helps IOBMA more. It helps IOBMA help others.

2. A State of Crisis

Many of today’s crisis pregnancy centers present as legitimate clinics. But they lack the medical licensing and regulations, such as federal privacy laws, that health facilities are bound by. They don’t support abortion. If they mention abortion as a pregnancy option with clients, they don’t provide referrals—though that caveat isn’t always clear in their messaging. They often offer a swath of useful services for free, like pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and basic supplies like diapers, cribs, and baby clothes. But these services can come at a cost, such as false information about pregnancy and the risks of abortion, required parenting coursework in exchange for free services, the failure to provide diagnoses or accurate readings of ultrasounds, and, crucially, clients’ time—with the potential consequence of delaying prenatal care, sometimes until it’s too late for a legal abortion to be an option.

Tracing back to the sixties, these clinics have historically served clients who are primarily low-income, young, and people of color with friendliness, family services that address some of their clients’ real needs, and a medical posture to boot. They have a legacy of persuading clients to carry their pregnancies to term with white women at their helm.

Abortion has been legal in Connecticut since 1990. But, in anticipation of the overturning of Roe v. Wade this June, Connecticut enshrined legal protections for out-of-state abortion seekers. Those provisions were set in May, just a few weeks after the Dobbs decision was leaked, in House Bill 5414, which also expanded the pool of providers who can perform abortions and shortened abortion wait times to two weeks. This bill now makes Connecticut one of two “safe harbor” states in the country, alongside New York, which passed similar legislation in June. One Connecticut abortion clinic—Hartford GYN

Center in Bloomfield—has since seen patients come from states as far as Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas, according to Roxanne Sutocky, the clinic’s Director of Community Engagement.

Across the US, estimates of the number of crisis pregnancy centers range anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000—the data isn’t reported by states, the centers, or otherwise collected in a streamlined way. We at least know that they vastly outnumber the 807 abortion clinics in the US reported by the Guttmacher Institute. That imbalance will grow as the number of clinics continues to shrink postRoe and the demand for crisis pregnancy centers subsequently grows. In Connecticut, there are at least twenty crisis pregnancy centers, compared to fifteen licensed abortion clinics.

A given crisis pregnancy center might have a few revenue streams: donations, national anti-abortion organizations that fund and direct thousands of affiliate centers, and—though not in Connecticut—state tax dollars. Nationwide, crisis pregnancy centers receive five times more funding than legitimate abortion funds and clinics. They’re typically 501(c)(3) nonprofits, which means they qualify for federal income tax-exemptions, and their tax returns don’t have to be public. This means they can often offer their services for free. Many centers open locations near abortion clinics, college campuses, and in low-income neighborhoods.

Roxanne Sutocky told me that, between the network of abortion clinics she works with in Connecticut as a Community Engagement Director for The Women’s Centers (which includes Hartford GYN), patients tend to encounter crisis pregnancy centers in some capacity before coming into contact with a legitimate clinic. In part, that’s because they are some of the top hits that come up when you search terms online related to pregnancy or abortion options in Connecticut. “We hear people coming to us and regurgitating the misinformation that we hear from anti-abortion centers,” she said. “It’s unfortunate because, for many people, it’s very unclear to them that the person that they’re engaging with or the website that they’re looking at is actually an anti-abortion entity.”

In Greater New Haven alone, there are at least four crisis pregnancy centers besides IOBMA—there’s Mary and Joseph’s Place in North Haven; Birthright of Greater New Haven in Hamden; Carolyn’s Place Pregnancy Care Center located across the street from Waterbury Hospital; and Saint Gianna Pregnancy Resource Center, which operates out of a mobile van and a building nestled next to the New Haven Hospital Saint Raphael Campus in New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood. Meanwhile, there’s only one licensed abortion clinic in New Haven. And it’s IOBMA’s neighbor.

* * *

3. Like Mother

“I knew in my heart that one day I would be doing this,” said Solsbery, with a gesture around the office. “Because I came from where they’re at.”

She’s talking about her clients—pregnant mothers seeking help in this den of religious and infant paraphernalia. But those clients are hard to find. I tried reaching out to IOBMA clients for this piece, but wasn’t able to talk to them—because of a discomfort with speaking publicly, because the office was empty, or because Solsbery wanted to protect their privacy, citing legal binding by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). (By definition, as a medically unlicensed clinic, IOBMA is not bound by HIPAA).

In 2014, Solsbery founded IOBMA as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit pregnancy resource center at 340 Whitney Avenue. A Catholic, Solsbery was sixteen when she had her first child and struggled to find resources to help her navigate single motherhood, which she said were less plentiful back then. Now, she’s a great-grandmother—and thanks God she had her child, because she had to have a hysterectomy at age twenty-one. “That’s why I always say people regret abortions, but they never regret a child,” she said.

Ivana Solsbery’s got blue-green eyes, long blond hair, and she’s light on her feet. She treads calmly, to the tune of utter cacophony—a medley of syncopated key jangling, colliding rosary beads, and a cell phone that rings every ninety or so seconds. It’s usually spam, sometimes business. She puts up with the noise, maybe even likes it—in fact, she’s working on setting up two more phones in the center soon.

It’s hard to imagine Solsbery doing her job in the quiet. That would mean staying still, or putting down her things. Solsbery’s role at IOBMA is anything but a traditional, stationary desk job. Her other titles might be informal, but she simultaneously does the work of a recruiter, client counselor, fundraiser, volunteer coordinator, treasurer, and delivery service driver, among others. She’s on the go.

“We gotta keep it moving,” she said. “If they need something, whatever it may be, we do our whole power to get it done . . . We’ve never not gotten it done.” Solsbery told me she ends up doing a lot of the IOBMA work alone, but she often describes her work using the “we” pronoun, not an “I”. Perhaps she doesn’t give herself enough credit, or perhaps the “we” is more figurative. Still, she said she keeps some things separate from the “we.”

“I don’t push my religion on anybody,” she said. “All I’m here to do is to try to help.”

That’s Solsbery’s articulation of her mission. The IOBMA mission statement on its website is more specific: As the Lord’s purveyor of hope and the Mother’s helpers, our mission is to love mothers and children, make them our friends for life, and end abortion.

On the latter point of the IOBMA mission, Solsbery said, “We don’t refer for an abortion.” Still, she explained, “that doesn’t mean that we don’t talk about it, don’t discourage it or anything. That’s up to the individual. All we do is give the truth. They want it, they can come. If they don’t, that’s their choice also.”

But what are Solsbery’s personal beliefs about the truth? Here are her main points about abortion:

• “It’s like a cancer in our world that’s spreading everywhere.”

(The national rate of legal abortion has declined steadily since the eighties, according to the Guttmacher Institute, except for an eight percent increase in 2020.)

• “For me, rape is a very very evil act done to an individual, but abortion’s evil also, so you’re going to hurt this person two times?”

(According to the American Psychological Association, being denied an abortion has a greater impact on mental health than receiving a wanted abortion.)

• “You have another separate human being inside you that doesn’t give you the right to kill it, it just doesn’t. I mean that’s more brutal than African Americans being enslaved to all of this Holocaust—this is more than any war, more human beings.”

• “There’s been a lot of women who have died from [abortion].”

(The mortality rate for legal abortion in the United States is 0.7 deaths per 100,000 procedures. By contrast, the maternal mortality rate is 23.8 deaths per 100,000 births, as of 2020, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women is 55.3 per 100,000.)

“I don’t know, that’s my opinion,” said Solsbery. Solsbery has her beliefs. She said she’s upfront with clients that she’s Catholic, but that it’s “not an issue at all . . . because we’re just here to help and they know that.” Her beliefs about abortion don’t disrupt the IOBMA operation: “We set them down and show them their options, from abortion to medical.”

But Solsbery also explained that “it’s sad that our society can’t see life within the woman, and it’s not her choice—I’m sorry, she has another individual in her now, the child’s in the world because she’s in the world.”

Still, Solsbery said she has helped fund abortion for at least one client in the past. But neither the center’s website nor the blue brochure distributed on the sidewalk advertise that IOBMA offers anything about abortion—information, funding, referrals, or otherwise. The services that the center does advertise online include housing, emergency food and transportation, financial and legal aid, pre-natal care, baby supplies, post-abortion programs and support, adoption information, and sexually transmitted disease education. Solsbery said she also helps pay utility bills and rent, as well as find babysitters and jobs for clients. Most of her clients are pregnant, she said, and the number she’s working with at a given moment can usually range from one to seven.

There’s another service, which makes up the second half of the mission statement of IOBMA


Another part of our mission is to deliver our Lord’s message of life over abortion to the most needy and vulnerable communities. We do not wait for these women in need to come to us; we go to them. In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms actively reaches out to these women through our grassroots outreach program and takes God’s message of love and assistance directly to them.

Ivana Solsbery’s got blue-green eyes, long blond hair, and she’s light on her feet. From the iobma mission statement. Lukas Flippo / The New Journal

Solsbery said it comprises most of her work, and that it’s “what’s different between our center and a lot of them”:

Another part of our mission is to deliver our Lord’s message of life over abortion to the most needy and vulnerable communities. We do not wait for these women in need to come to us; we go to them. In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms actively reaches out to these women through our grassroots outreach program and takes God’s message of love and assistance directly to them.

In practice, we go to them is pretty literal: Solsbery drives directly to the doorsteps of her clients in New Haven, Waterbury, Meriden, Hamden—“all over here.” While recruitment happens outside Planned Parenthood, Solsbery’s grassroots outreach happens from behind the wheel, with a trunk full of diapers, food, and other supplies. The clients she hasn’t already met on the sidewalk by Planned Parenthood usually hear about IOBMA through the recommendation of past clients. They often call without coming in person to IOBMA. This way, she said, her clients don’t have to pay for bus tickets or gas. Most of her descriptions of trips to help clients involve delivery of basic provisions for infants.

reflect the center’s expansion from strictly motherhood-related services to food, housing, and beyond—as well as the aim of the organization to “unite families,” Solsbery said, and to “involve the whole family”with pregnancies.

“I’ve had dads cry on my shoulder because they didn’t want to have this abortion, but he had no choice in the matter,” Solsbery said. “He’s the father and our laws haven’t even caught up with that, and I feel so bad . . . He wants to do what’s right and he can’t.”

In veering away from the medical front of other crisis pregnancy centers, IOBMA perhaps becomes more appealing. Not only does it appear professionally homey, it promises a personal and long-term relationship with clients, with an all-in-one owner-recruiter-counselor-financer point-person who guides patients by the hand, each step of the way. By contrast, Connecticut’s only state-level abortion fund, the Reproductive Equity Access Choice (REACH) Fund, provides a markedly impersonal service in order to protect patients’ privacy and decision-making processes. For Jessica Puk, Board President and Co-Founder of REACH, “it’s enough just knowing that we helped people get their healthcare.”

A long-haul, one-on-one, one-stop-shop— IOBMA makes a bigger promise. And perhaps the biggest part of that promise: it’s free. Solsbery said she funds the many services of IOBMA through individual donations, and events like church drives, baby bottle drives, a biannual fundraiser by a young women’s group at Branford High School, and an oyster festival in Milford where she planned to sell some snow cones. “I’m always doing some kind of fundraiser,” she said.

“I’ve been out at 10 o’clock delivering formula,” said Solsbery. “The baby had diarrhea and went through the diapers, I came and delivered them to ‘em.”

Solsbery seems proud of her work with New Haven’s refugee and immigrant communities. She mentioned a couple from Afghanistan, another from Iraq. She spoke about a girl from China, pointing to a photo of a family in a dining room on the wall of her office. “This little girl was almost aborted, but—and they’re very intelligent people—they were scared,” she said. “In their country at that time they could only have one child.” (New Haven’s resettlement agency, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), doesn’t send its clients to crisis pregnancy centers in New Haven, according to Nika Zarazvand, a Health Coordinator at IRIS. Solsbery said she mostly meets these clients on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood.)

Solsbery switched IOBMA’s label from a pregnancy resource center to a family center four years ago, and maintains that it’s still a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The change was made to

She said she’s also constantly applying for and requesting grants from local ministries, such as the Archdiocese of Hartford, and wherever else she can find funding. IOBMA’s Form 990—its income tax form, obtained online—from 2014 was the only publicly available record of IOBMA spending that I could find. It shows that the center received just under $11,000 that year in “contributions, gifts, grants, and similar amounts,” which made up all its income. The largest listed expense was the “provision of diapers, lotion, formula creams and necessities for mother & babies,” amounting to almost $2,300, followed by “clothing, bedding, high chairs, car seats for babies as needed,” at around $1,000, then “printing, publications, postage, and shipping” at $950, and “supplemented food for families of clients as needed” at about $700. No rent is listed as an expense.

It’s about the family unit, not a medical practice; Solsbery claims clients’ decisions to seek abortions is respected and discussed, rather than totally rejected; it’s a local, home-grown organization funded by Solsbery pulling herself up by her bootstraps and finding funds in her community, not some direct overhead fund, and it doesn’t invoke the name recognition of a major crisis pregnancy center network like Birthright,

Ivana Solsbery carries a diaper delivery through the door of 340 Whitney Avenue. A view of the waiting room inside the iobma office. Lukas Flippo / The New Journal

which has seven locations across Connecticut and at least hundreds nationally. In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms, maybe, isn’t like the typical crisis pregnancy center.

Or maybe it is. What’s atypical about IOBMA makes it somewhat standard: crisis pregnancy centers all around Connecticut and the country have their own individual identities, formed through variations in geography, resource offerings, homeyness, professionalism, basis in faith, and commitment to long-term relationships with clients. Connecticut’s crisis pregnancy centers deploy via mobile van, juxtaposition with abortion clinics, and nestle in some of the state’s lowestincome regions like Bridgeport, Waterbury, and Cheshire; they offer different combinations of pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, couples’ counselling, information about abortion and adoption, and parenting counselling, among other offerings. IOBMA has filed its tax returns under the family services category, not reproductive health care, but other crisis pregnancy centers in the state file under alternative categories too, like human services, women’s services, religion, and maternal and prenatal health.

IOBMA’s also a former affiliate of Heartbeat International, one of the nation’s largest crisis pregnancy networks, according to Solsbery and a certificate in her center that indicated the affiliation expired in 2016. Solsbery’s working to get funding for an ultrasound machine from the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service, whose global headquarters is located in New Haven. The organization will hopefully match the funds she raises for the machine through their designated program for purchasing ultrasounds for crisis pregnancy centers. Solsbery saidshe hopes to find a doctor who will operate the machine.

4. Like Yesterday

In Tiny You: A Western History of the Anti-Abortion Movement, Jennifer Holland—an author and University of Oklahoma professor of history specializing in abortion history—traces the early modern anti-abortion movement with a focus on the American West, where many of the country’s first crisis pregnancy centers sprang up in the sixties. It’s also where Solsbery—born in San Diego and later spending time in Colorado—said she spent her life before moving to New Haven at the turn of the century.

Back then, according to Holland, most crisis pregnancy centers were led by either evangelical Christians or Catholics—with evangelical Christians believing in proselytizing the immorality of abortion to clients, and Catholics focusing on prayer without preaching. And within these denominations, staff were historically mostly white women. Unlike men, women could uniquely convey “that it was their experience as women that led them to their anti-abortion stance, not partisan politics,” Holland writes. The position and status of white women gave them “the experiential authority to speak to other women and the moral authority to intervene in intimate familial issues.” Beyond professionalism and medical posture, many centers sough to create a “kitchen table feeling” while interacting with clients to personalize the experience as much as possible.

Solsbery carries on these founding traditions, including the old Catholic approach—recruiting with prayer because “that’s our way of helping,” but she doesn’t expect her clients to share her religious views.

IOBMA also contains many of the shifting strategies of crisis pregnancy centers—especially the focus on the fetus, a notorious and foundational tenet of the modern anti-abortion movement used to convey that fetuses constitute human life and that abortion is murder. In IOBMA, there’s fetal development chart lining the wall in her center’s bathroom, there’s a seven-minute video on DVD showing fetal development in the womb, and there are fetal dolls that she tucks into the palms of potential clients on the sidewalk (“for when we don’t have time” to explain, she said), and Solsbery herself resists language referring to the fetus.

“The child in the womb,” explained Solsbery, “is a child. It’s not a fetus. It’s not a baby.”

In the late seventies, according to Holland, people running crisis pregnancy centers realized that the kitchen table strategy was not enough because they were largely serving low-income women, young women, and women of color who faced practical challenges that moral guidance couldn’t answer. They increasingly began offering family support services to supplement their messaging. Today, IOBMA, as a family

* * *

center, still embodies this emphasis on support, and its grassroots outreach program perhaps takes it to new heights.

“White women activists asserted their moral authority by claiming to have special access to universal truths,” writes Holland. “And they tried to use that moral authority to transform the women of color, poor women, and young women who were the majority of the clients at [crisis pregnancy centers].”

By the eighties, family support services weren’t producing the results crisis pregnancy center leaders desired for the amount of effort and resources they required. So they sought to focus on the client as well as the fetus. Abortion didn’t just hurt the fetus, it hurt the client, too. “Abortion-seeking women were no lon ger just victims of coercion or poverty,” writes Holland. “They were victims of abortion itself.” Anti-abortion activists began using the term “post-abortion syndrome,” which claims that abor tion causes post-traumatic-stress disorder-like ill ness. Diagnosis was loose, so almost anyone who had an abortion could be told they had a clinical condition attributable to the fact that they termi nated a pregnancy. The American Psychological Association (APA), the Journal of the American Medical Association, and similar organizations have never recognized the condition—meanwhile, the APA asserts that carrying an unwanted preg nancy to term increases risks for mental health and domestic abuse. But post-abortion syndrome still holds firm in all kinds of crisis pregnancy centers today.

IOBMA is no exception: it offers “post-abor tion programs and support” on its website and, on at least one visit, there was a booklet on-site with guidance for “Identifying and Overcoming Post-Abortion Syndrome.” Solsbery even had a brochure for Rachel’s Vineyard, a weekend retreat program she said at least one of her cli ents has attended, with the slogan healing the pain of abortion—one weekend at a time. The program is offered at locations around the globe in both Catholic and non-denominational settings. The Connecticut outpost is in Farmington.

Between kitchen table domestic quaintness, family values imbued through family services, and the creation of post-abortion syndrome, Holland writes that anti-abortionists “made the

Lukas Flippo / The New Journal Brochure covers from the iobma office, obtained in August 2022.

supposedly intrinsic knowledge of fetal life central to the female experience” in crisis pregnancy centers. Though it was founded in 2014, and is a long way from Solsbery’s home and those founding crisis pregnancy centers on the west coast, there’s a time capsule of crisis pregnancy center tactics threading through IOBMA’s philosophy and practice. The history lives on.

And now, Solsbery said she is feeling hopeful about the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. “Look how many lives are going to be saved,” she said. “The schools are decreasing because of abortion.” In the first hand motion she’d made in an hour, she pressed her two hands down hard on top of each other on her desk. “This is facts.”

5. Full Circle

Up until November, the IOBMA recruitment formula was a matter of summation. On an August 12th visit, the props added up: six homemade dangling rosaries, five pairs of sunglasses, two portable stools for those who don’t stand for long stretches, one plastic grocery bag filled with brochures, seven lawn signs plugged into the grass. The result: one prayer circle straddling the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood. It set the stage for a seemingly infinite recitation of the rosary.

Prayer kept to a schedule: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Wednesdays and Fridays, each with a different set of prayer regulars. Members of the Friday group said they are part of the same church— Saint Mary’s Church in Clinton, Connecticut. On the Fridays I visited, the attendees dangling rosaries with Solsbery weren’t official volunteers or employees of the clinic—they just prayed, and maybe distributed some literature. The other helpers were the lawn signs: LIFE styled in the Game of Life font, ABORTION STOPS A BEATING HEART, PRAY TO END ABORTION, 64,000 US LIVES LOST (except the 4 is a 3 that’s been x-ed out by hand with marker), a painting of the Virgin Mary.

But the real key to the equation, it seemed, happened when the circle broke. That sweaty day in August, one attendee, visibly the youngest, spearheaded the interruption.

At first, she just seemed distracted. In between utterances of Hail Mary and pray for us sinners now, her eyes lifted from the scripture, past the vortex of the circle. Something caught her attention—then, more darting glances, a nudging of her neighbor. A mumble was exchanged, a decision was made. Someone shoved a pamphlet into her hands, and she started walking towards a young woman at the stoplight at Whitney and Edwards Street, headed away from Planned Parenthood. En route, her walk broke into a jog. Solsbery tagged behind, with even more urgency and more pamphlets. Later, Solsbery told me that the woman they


stopped was pregnant, that she seemed interested in IOBMA, and that she said she’d stop by. Back on the sidewalk, prayer resumed.

When first looking for Solsbery’s prayer circle in August, I accidentally approached a different group stationed at the Planned Parenthood sidewalk, on the other side of the parking lot. There, a woman handed me a brochure with more blatant messaging than the one Solsbery distributed. Where Solsbery’s asked Pregnant? Worried?, this one straightforwardly implored PLEASE HAVE YOUR BABY. Where Solsbery’s included a drawing of a fetus, this one was more photographic, with an insert displaying HUMAN GARBAGE fetus corpses in a trash can. Where IOBMA offered alternatives to abortion, this one pleaded To save the life of your BABY the LAMINARIA (seaweed sticks) can STILL BE REMOVED

But both brochures featured the same list of six crisis pregnancy centers in the Greater New Haven area and an abortion pill reversal hotline. IOBMA is the first on that list.

“They’re more vocal,” said Solsbery, referring to the other group. “We do the quiet approach.”

IOBMA’s sidewalk recruitment is getting quieter, and getting centralized. Solsbery recently applied to and began a partnership with Sidewalk Advocates for Life—an organization with the mission statement to train, equip, and support communities across the United States and the world in sidewalk advocacy: to be the hands and feet of Christ, offering loving, life-affirming alternatives to all present at abortion facilities, thereby eliminating demand and ending abortion. The organization currently operates 239 sites nationwide, and is helping train new volunteers to revamp the IOBMA prayer sessions outside Planned Parenthood. Solsbery said she realized that the old method was “intrusive,” and she wanted to make her sidewalk presence more approachable.

When I visited in November, Solsbery had already gained a new uniform and a goodie bag: a Sidewalk Advocates-branded blue traffic vest, and a pink-clothed sack containing Bath & Body Works lotion alongside some brochures. A few hundred feet away, in the middle of the parking lot, Planned Parenthood’s escorts stood empty-handed in neon pink traffic vests.

Going forward, prayer will be moved further away, to the other side of Edwards Street, while Solsbery will recruit alongside Sidewalk Advocates-trained volunteers where prayer happened. Solsbery said she’ll be distributing some additional literature: business cards for hotlines— Love Line and Option Line—that connect callers to local crisis pregnancy centers. The signs are coming down, too, and being replaced by a single sign advertising the link and hotline of the Abortion Pill Rescue Network. Abortion reversal—advertised as a counteracting treatment to medication abortion—is based on “unproven and unethical research,” according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,


the nation’s leading organization of reproductive health clinicians. The Abortion Pill Rescue Network and Option Line are both programs of Heartbeat International, one of the largest crisis pregnancy center networks in the country.

The new recruitment strategy is showing results already. She’s barely tried out the new methodology, but more people, she said, are stopping on the sidewalk than she’s seen

6. No Harm, No Foul

Crisis pregnancy centers have strong free speech protections. Laura Portuondo—a Fellow with the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at Yale Law School and an advisor for the Law School’s Reproductive Rights and Justice Project—explains it this way: the Supreme Court has “essentially tied itself into knots” to protect crisis pregnancy free speech. These protections were bolstered back in 2018, when the Court heard National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (nifla ) v. Becerra—a lawsuit filed by one of the nation’s largest crisis pregnancy center networks—in response to a law passed in California requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post information about state-offered abortion and contraception services, along with a notice that they are medically unlicensed. NIFLA argued that the government violated their right to free speech. The Supreme Court agreed, striking down the law in a 5–4 decision. Before the time of nifla v. Becerra, crisis pregnancy center speech was more so regarded by the Court as the commercial speech of an operational business. Now,

Lukas Flippo / The New Journal Blue brochure obtained from Ivana Solsbery in August 2022. Pink and yellow (human garbage) brochure obtained from a different group protesting outside Planned Parenthood in August 2022. Business cards obtained from Ivana Solsbery in November 2022.

the Court regards it as “traditional speech, like you or me,” said Portuondo. And this speech is much harder to regulate.

Still, Connecticut has attempted to regulate it, following in California’s footsteps. In 2021, Connecticut passed a bill targeting deceptive advertising and created an avenue for reporting it through the Attorney General, who can then determine if it’s deceptive and open a court order to have it taken down. Deceptive advertising, as the bill puts it, constitutes “any statement concerning any pregnancy-related service or the provision of any pregnancy-related service that is deceptive, whether by statement or omission, and that a limited services pregnancy center knows or reasonably should know to be deceptive.” The bill has limited some online advertising, according to State Representative Jillian Gilchrest (D-West Hartford), a co-sponsor of the bill, and otherwise cracking down has been a game of “cat and mouse.” And there’s still the caveat that “there can be crisis pregnancy centers who might be misinforming individuals who actually enter their physical space or who have misinformation in the physical space.”

Connecticut’s advertising bill is being challenged by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the same organization that defended NIFLA in the California case, and that helped draft and defend the Mississippi legislation that led to the toppling of Roe v. Wade. ADF filed a federal lawsuit against Attorney General William Tong, on behalf of the Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut using a similar interpretation of the First Amendment to the California case.

Liz Gustafson is the State Director of ProChoice Connecticut, a non-profit that works to protect and expand reproductive freedom in Connecticut, and that collaborates with similar organizations across the country to engage nationally with its mission. She’s also a former escort for Hartford GYN, an abortion clinic that used to share a parking lot with a crisis pregnancy center. Liz Gustafson said that the legal backing of crisis pregnancy centers crystallizes their critical role in the anti-abortion movement.

“[Crisis pregnancy centers] fundamentally operate as the frontline for the anti-abortion movement, so while they may be operating in some kind of different way, all of them move right into the same courtyard,” said Gustafson. And if crisis pregnancy centers weren’t the frontline, she asked, “then why is the legal arm of the anti-abortion movement challenging our Attorney General legally?”

Crisis pregnancy centers seem to exist at a remove from legal and political realms of the anti-abortion movement, despite serving it, in part because they have largely been unbounded by legal responsibility for communicating accurately to clients, in part because appearing nonpartisan helps them recruit clients. These factors

combined have helped crisis pregnancy centers work to change minds and hearts about abortion in as personal a means as possible.

For Dina Montemarano—who studies disinformation in the anti-abortion movement as the Research Director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, a large nonprofit national organization that leads lobbying, political action, and advocacy efforts to protect reproductive freedom—of all the ways that the anti-abortion movement spreads disinformation, crisis pregnancy centers might be the most severe: “meeting people face to face at a time when they desperately need someone who they can trust, who can give them correct information—in some way that’s the cruelest way that [the anti-abortion movement] is spreading that disinformation,” she said.

Crisis pregnancy centers have honed and shifted tactics over time to persuade pregnant women to carry their pregnancies to term. Meanwhile, legal challenges to abortion have shifted strategy in the context of what can be argued as constitutional. IOBMA has narrowed in on family services that address real, important needs of families—but that is an approach crisis pregnancy centers have used for decades to target low-income women and women of color. IOBMA’s family focus, and its lack of abortion service advertising, make it seem relatively mild in a sea of crisis pregnancy centers that present as Planned Parenthood-like medical clinics. In the eyes of the law, it’s pretty clean. But that doesn’t change that, while its operation provides real and necessary services in the process of delivering our Lord’s message of life over abortion to the most needy and vulnerable communities, it’s part of the center’s particular mechanism of a broad mission to end abortion. This means that IOBMA might be quite helpful for pregnant clients who know they’d like to carry their pregnancies to term, especially because IOBMA’s services are free. But for clients who might otherwise have decided to have an abortion, IOBMA could be dissuasive. And now, by recently gaining an ultrasound machine and deprioritizing prayer on the sidewalk, IOBMA is partially sacrificing its non-medical appearance in favor of approachability, potentially to the effect of dissuading those clients who might have otherwise sought out medical expertise and an abortion.

Liz Gustafson recognizes the value of the services of crisis pregnancy centers in spite of their stances on abortion. “The provision of free resources is important, right? Because obviously there is a gap in terms of people being able to acquire the resources that they need, like free diapers,” said Gustafson. “That doesn’t negate the fact that they are still a component of the anti-abortion movement. I think, if anything, that should be an opportunity for our local and state government to fill in that gap. Of course, we don’t want these organizations who are perpetuating dangerous misinformation and also just stigma and shame and just terrible,

Lukas Flippo / The New Journal
“meeting people face to face at a time when they desperately need someone who they can trust, who can give them correct information in some way that’s the cruelest way that [the antiabortion movement] is spreading that disinformation,” she said.

inaccurate information, but also we need to make sure that people who need free resources are able to get those resources.”

Solsbery works hard to fund, deliver, organize, and execute her services. At Thanksgiving, she drove approximately forty turkey dinners to families in and around New Haven. “They were people in need,” she said. “And that’s what I’d hope that Planned Parenthood would realize someday: that if they’re for choice and the woman that chooses life, how come they don’t help her?”

New Haven’s Planned Parenthood doesn’t deliver turkey dinners, but, in addition to offering abortion and abortion referrals, it offers adoption services, adoption referrals, fertility awareness education, pregnancy options education, pregnancy planning services, birth control, emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, and trained staff to talk with patients who’ve experienced early pregnancy loss, or miscarriages.

These cost of these services is low, if not free, through Medicaid, and other health insurance programs, and Planned Parenthood’s subsidization programs. Connecticut also offers, as a part of its Medicaid public health coverage, Health Care for Uninsured Kids and Youth (HUSKY) Health. The program subsidizes health services either at low cost or for free—depending on income—for children, parents, relative caregivers, and pregnant people, among others. Undocumented immigrants are eligible for HUSKY coverage for prenatal care; children up to age nineteen qualify regardless of family income. There’s also the REACH Fund, Connecticut’s first state-level abortion fund, which started partially funding abortions this fall using a $50,000-and-growing fund. There’s other nonprofits that help with basic childrearing necessities, too—like Connecticut Diaper Bank, which delivers 300,000 diapers to 6,400 families in the state each month.

IOBMA is far from the only alternative to getting an abortion at Planned Parenthood. While IOBMA has the guarantee of free services, it’s up against some robust competition and affordable avenues to obtain them—many of which are bound by privacy laws and rigorous standards of professional qualifications.

Despite Connecticut’s resources, however, US Census Bureau Data consistently shows that Connecticut is a state with extreme wealth disparity. And there will always be those who don’t have insurance, or who don’t know all the options available, or times when government support isn’t enough. And perhaps IOBMA will be there for them.

Solsbery’s concerned with the truth, and the women she says are being deprived of it. “It should just be about being truthful with each individual,” she said. “They have the choice in the end—not me, not you. Whoever’s in this situation, they have the choice in the end, but if they know all of their choices—there’s many out there, really—then that still becomes free will. God

gives us free will, so that becomes that person’s free will. But if they’re not told the whole truth, no, that’s not right.”

The anti-abortion movement has evolved into an amalgamated giant over the last fifty years, and through it truth has remained a moral fact bolstered by false information. Reflecting this central truth of the anti-abortion movement—that abortion is wrong—through the prismatic lens of In Our Blessed Mother’s Arms’ many helpful services, that helpfulness seems more sinister.

IOBMA comprises one woman working with one pregnant client at a time, in a state with some of the strongest guarantees of abortion rights, in a city with services supporting access to reproductive care. Solsbery has helped at least one client fund an abortion, and she’s not interested in proselytizing. It seems harmless. But IOBMA doesn’t exist in a solitary vacuum: it builds on the wisdom and resources of generations of crisis pregnancy centers created to persuade clients to carry pregnancies to term. The delicate, hodgepodge, homemade quality of IOBMA reflects a powerful lifeblood of the anti-abortion movement: white women with a cause and the maternal approachability to persuade. The mission, after all, is to end abortion.

7. For the Road

Back at Planned Parenthood, Ivana Solsbery is doing her sidewalk circle duties. It’s September, and the wind’s got a bite. There’s talks in the group of getting an abortion pill reversal sign soon, but for now recruitment is still happening the old way—the spotlight’s on prayer, signs, and the rosary.

Mid-prayer, the wind knocks over a sign. A few minutes later, someone riding a bike knocks over another, mumbling something. Both times, the signs are immediately put back, with a similar urgency to the literature distribution jogging.

“There you go. That’s the other side,” said Solsbery, with a sigh, to no one in particular.

Election season’s on the horizon, too, and one of the prayer attendees is wearing a Leora Levy cap. On the car next to her, there’s a Leora Levy sticker. In the trunk, there’s a Leora Levy lawn sign. In November, Leora Levy—the Connecticut Republican Senate candidate endorsed by Trump—lost the Senate race.

At one point, Solsbery’s attention turns to the Planned Parenthood escorts in pink traffic vests in the middle of the parking lot. She’s flabbergasted. “Why would anyone volunteer to do that?” she asked. ∎

—Nicole Dirks is a junior in Branford College and the Co-Editorin-Chief of The New Journal.


On Monday Oct. 31st, student protestors gathered before the Supreme Court to protest in support of affirmative action.

They rallied through the court’s hearing of oral arguments for Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC and SFFA v. Harvard. Protestors sported uniforms of teal bandanas and t-shirts with the text #DefendDiversity, a rallying cry for the protection of race-conscious admissions.

Photos by Rachel Shin

God is not dead, God is just a loser

God is not dead, god just lost someone he never had

God is not dead, god is a glass cabinet of possibilities

God is not dead, god is a 42 nd Street ceviche

God is not dead, god is a sickly sycamore and its offshoots

God is not dead, god is my soup-scorched tongue

God is not dead, god’s just gargoyled and rusting

God is not dead, god is no longer worried about the sriracha recall

God is not dead, god just grabbed a beer with a priest, a challah baker, and his Spectrum guy

God is not dead, god remembers the molting San Simeon seals

God is not dead, god’s just reeling with the neo-jackbooted noww

God is not dead, god brought his binoculars

God is not dead, he’s just watching the birds

The birds aren’t dead, they’re just watching god.

Friday night

It is Friday night. No date. Any Friday night you want.

I am playing chess with my Dad after we get back from the synagogue and before we eat dinner.

I am chuckling as my Dad recycles old jokes. My favorite one he tells: “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.”

I am a child. Any age you want but a child.

I am playing chess with my Dad after dinner and before we go to bed. He usually falls asleep in the middle. I keep the game up, play on his behalf, moving the black pieces now too. I don’t blame him. I don’t.

Premonition On My Father’s Funeral

On the day after the shivering Jews weep at God. February’s wormy grass stomped on by their shovels, digging down past him, burying us both, getting us confused. My mother’s tongue in a knot on a word I typed at the dinner table for her. Then my turn. I adjust my father, slur across the bad years. No mourner here’s heard how I wrote this tribute: three days ago I iced the shower water to blue-lipped and knew that he would die. It made me trip and twist into the bath curtains. Out flowed the little I knew in him. Only then could my father’s fatherhood ink my pen.

Illustration by Charlotte Rica

As local activists and legislators attempt to make Connecticut’s beaches more accessible, a writer reflects on her coastal childhood in California.


photos by lukas flippo & layout by kevin chen

The stretch of sand between Lifeguard Towers 30 and 38 has seen my mom, my aunts, my sister, and me gain too many constellations of freckles to count. We store decade-old boogie boards and scratched-up beach pails up the block at the far end of the hallway in my grandparents’ apartment; the jury is still out on whether our gear is worn-in or worndown. My family insists on reminding me that when we first moved from Managua to Los Angeles, I was none too fond of our coastal Californian afternoons. I missed warm lake water and the tried-and-true stability of Marco Polo and a pool—and I made it everybody’s business. I may have hated the lingering tendencies of sticky sand, but I soon learned to love the cold Pacific. I found cigarette butts, sandcrabs, and claw machine treasures all in scoops of sandy mud. I held open houses for my drip-dry castles, I chased down kites, I poked my mom for another ziplock bag of grapes or goldfish. I bugged my dad and older sister to brave the waves with me, arm-in-arm.

Connecticut’s beaches are grassy by comparison. From the Waterford Beach dunes to the Calf Pasture pier, the state’s 338 miles of jetty-ridden shoreline stretch into the cold Atlantic. This past summer, however, I learned just how hard it is to visit Connecticut’s beaches: throughout the state, local restrictions

have transformed Connecticut into one of the most exclusionary shorelines in the country.

24 of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns border the Long Island Sound. Over half of Connecticut’s population lives in coastal zones defined by these cities’ borders. Across the state, municipal beaches have curbed non-resident access to their shores by charging skyrocketing rates for seasonal passes. Westport, for example, charges out-of-towners over fifteen times more for beach parking than its residents—$50 a season for residents and $775 for everyone else. In Stamford, residents pay a flat rate of $26 a season while non-residents pay the town $292. New Haven’s beaches hold some of the state’s least financial restrictions—with the famed Lighthouse Point Park charging non-residents $25 per day or $100 for the summer season. But just a few miles away, West Haven keeps the bar to entry high, requiring non-residents to pay more than double New Haven’s ask, at $250 for the season.

“Connecticut beaches are gated in ways that should be offensive to every resident of one of those towns,” said New Haven and East Haven Connecticut State Representative Roland Lemar, on a call with me in late September. “In essence, too many public beaches in Connecticut have become country clubs.”

Exclusionary beach fees render the coast economically inaccessible to all but

Rosy gray and hazy blue Venice Beach days have marked nearly every week of the last fifteen years of my life.
Paola playing on the beach. Venice beach, California, 2010. Paola Santos / The New Journal Lukas Flippo / The New Journal

the towns’ wealthy and predominantly white residents. These fines are more than a summertime inconvenience: they perpetuate a persisting legacy of racial and economic exclusion in New England. They are emblematic of national manifestations of rampant injustice which certainly do not begin or end at the coast.

The emergence of private beaches in Connecticut can be traced back to the 1880s, when the state legislature granted a charter allotting self-government to affluent families who had converted Old Saybrook into their new vacation haven. Early twentieth century commercial developers then bought up the state coastline, converting farm and forest lands into vacation homes packaged for middle-class whites. Charters barred non-residents from operating parks, beaches, and streets, and they explicitly enacted racially restrictive housing covenants preventing Black and Jewish buyers from becoming coastal homeowners.

Even after the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968—which prohibited housing discrimination by landlords, municipalities and other housing providers on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, familial status and disability— these racially discriminatory real estate practices persisted. Local policymakers made the switch to using language that centers one’s residential status to perpetuate these segregating measures. Today, thinly veiled, racially coded language

bars “non-residents” from beachside parking or weekend beach access in beach towns like Westport. And, in many locales, these restrictions are also reflected in the accessibility of housing and renting. Combined, they make the possibility of a beach weekend in some regions in Connecticut unfeasible.”

“The towns that are most egregious in establishing these differential rates for parking are the towns that have made it almost impossible for folks to move into those communities,” Lemar reflects. He speaks with equal parts history teacher authority and soccer dad optimism. “The Greenwiches, the Fairfields [these towns] have very restrictive zoning laws that don’t allow for multi-family homes or for new home construction. They essentially close off their borders purposefully to new occupants. And then they say ‘our beaches are only for people who live here.’”

Today, Greenwich bans multi-family housing on over 95 percent of its land, despite the fact that multi-family homes once drove the town’s suburban growth. This push to build a community made almost entirely of single-family homes, and therefore push out lower-class and often non-white residents, was bolstered by a 2017 Planning and Zoning Commission measure to formally ban multi-family developments in the neighborhood. Fairfield has followed suit, as exhibited by some Fairfield homeowners’

active resistance to state-mandated affordable housing developments within their town in the interest of protecting their uniform wealth and whiteness.

Effectively denying out-of-towners and the non-wealthy access to the beach is part of a legacy of broader policy patterns like restrictive zoning that continue to engender segregation in Connecticut neighborhoods. Andrew Kahrl, professor of history and African American studies at the University of Virginia, studies the environmental history of land use and segregation in the twentieth century, particularly in Connecticut and the American South. An even-tempered academic, he talked through the phone with a punchy, resolute tone. He unflinchingly classified Connecticut as a state whose restrictive beach practices had a clear racial effect, “even if they disclaimed racial intent.” He stressed that the creation of resident-only, private beaches in the Northeast served as an example of local government-sanctioned practices of blatant segregation.

“In practice, Connecticut is a profoundly segregated state around racial and class lines,” Kahrl told me. “[White and wealthy] communities fight like hell to prevent affordable housing, equitable public schools, and shared public resources.”

In the predominantly white, wealthy shoreline communities that Karhl and Lemar refer to, local signage bear


Series of photos from Jennings Beach in Fairfield, CT. November, 2022.

declarations such as The beach has reached capacity, or Non-residents have to pay their fair share. These signs and fees serve as tangible manifestations of the beach town belief that its residents have an unquestionable right to their adjacent coastlines, while non-residents do not.

O thers point to the financial inequity that they believe would follow from expanded Connecticut public beach access. As reported by the Greenwich Free Press, Brian Farnen, formerly a Connecticut State Representative in Fairfield (D-132), insisted on looking at the question of beach access from “an equity perspective”—that is, financial equity. As a reason for limiting beach access, he cited a perceived imbalance in tax dollars: Fairfield residents sent too much to the state capital, he wrote, when considering the funds that they received back to invest in their local community

“Our typical resident is paying so much money in property taxes to upkeep these beaches, [and] yes they should get that benefit,” Farnen noted.

State representatives like Lemar were quick to remind me that the idea that these wealthy coastal communities were primarily responsible for their beach’s upkeep is a fallacy. In reality, the Long Island Sound and its beaches are kept clean by state and federal governments. They invest hundreds of millions of dollars annually in sewage treatment

and other wastewater management— dollars which, ultimately, come from Connecticut residents, many of whom will be excluded from the beaches they help pay for.

“They’re not charging differential rates because they need help upkeeping their beaches,” Rep. Lemar insists. “That’s a bold-faced lie. They’re charging differential rates to keep people out.”

New Haven beaches rank low in terms of restrictive access to the coast along the Long Island Sound. But the pandemic, Lemar told me, offered public health restriction justification to limit beach access, even in previously accessible locations. This shift spurred Lemar to look at beaches through an equity lens—and in turn made his concern for the future of Connecticut beach accessibility heighten.

“[I soon saw] that what started off as capping off beaches from a health and safety justification quickly shifted to lingering resident-only regulations,” Lemar recalled, thinking back on summers in the state once COVID-19 cases had begun to decline. “I saw this right here in East Haven, which shut down access to the beach and went out of their way to ticket and tow non-locals, like my constituents in New Haven. The refusal to relax those rules after public guidance had relaxed, along with the continued expansion of these differential rate structures, points

to an underlying racial prejudice in the state and a [hoarding] of the very things all those in Connecticut should have the right to access.”

The myth of local beach upkeep functions in the interest of municipalities, who then monopolize these shorelines at the cost of widespread public access.

“But all waters run to Long Island Sound: whether they like it or not, the whole state is involved,” Connecticut State Representative Michael Winkler of Vernon, Connecticut (D-56) echoed.

My mother grew up a block away from the infamously-bustling and borderline-mythical Venice Beach boardwalk: an ecosystem defined by screenwriters with a dream, skaters with a cause, and NIMBY-homeowners with a fight to pick. My grandparents still live in a century-old Californian apartment building in sight of the water. It’s the beachside heartbeat of our family.

About twenty miles west of the Rose Avenue Beach Tower in Venice stretches the long-fraught Malibu coastline, in which public access to the beach has come at an unearthly price. With the city’s founding came the violent desecration of sacred Chumash land, as present-day Malibu stood as the southern capital of the 200-mile spanning Chumash territory. Since its unlikely inception as the “Malibu Movie Colony” by the railroad-rich Rindge couple in


the 1930s, Malibu persists as the poster-child for private property and public trust disputes in the state. Just as Rhoda May Knight Rindge—the “Queen of Malibu”—once unsuccessfully attempted to block the construction of the Pacific Coast Highway through the Malibu Pier in order to tuck Malibu away from widespread public access, Malibu’s billionaire elite have been closing off their beach fronts for decades. They’ve used public intimidation tactics to scare off visitors, along with clout and capital to try to justify their exclusive right to the sea.

“There’s a sense in L.A. that if you’re rich you have earned the right to be insulated, to not have to live next to public lands,” formerly L.A.-based environmental organizer and public artist Jenny Price GRD ’98 said to me. “What that means is that many people can’t get to the beach that they can see out their window.”

I wanted to better understand how the idea of access and upkeep are at play by the Pacific, so I spoke via Whatsapp with environmental historian and Southern Californian beach scholar Elsa Devienne. A Parisian native who for a decade has dedicated her research to the study of Southern Californian beach culture and climate, she called me while on holiday back home in the French countryside. She managed to both poke fun at our spotty telephone signal and solemnly discuss climate scientists’ predictions

that sea level rise in the West Coast will reach 8 inches by 2050, leaving all but the largest Malibu beaches, like Zuma, swept below flood levels.

“Beaches are what climate engineers call ‘rivers of sand,’” Devienne noted. “L.A. beaches were artificially enlarged in the seventies with generated sediment in order to meet rising demands to create modern beaches for a modern city. And due to a combination of both climate change and standard beach deterioration, they’re rapidly eroding.”

It’s a stunning and disconcertingly equalizing omen: even these coveted, star-studded beaches are not built to last. And still, fights for equitable public beach access along Broad Beach and other famed Malibu beach fronts persist along this degenerating coastline.

Malibu property owners have pushed back against expanding public beach access since the beachtown’s unlikely inception in the early twentieth century. Notably, American billionaire and entertainment industry mogul David Geffen made headlines in 1983 when purchasing his beach mansion, which conjoined two existing properties and blocked a state-mandated sidewalk-to-shore public pathway. He made the news again in 2002 after refusing to make public easements or beach access points on his Carbon “Billionaire’s” Beach Malibu home. Yet, in 2007, after substantial pushback, he agreed to open

Sunrise at Malibu Lagoon, 2020. Paola Santos / The New Journal Lukas Flippo / The New Journal

up a 42-foot stretch of the prized Carbon Beach to the public in exchange for a 10-foot privacy go-between. Despite this seemingly small-scale victory, Geffen’s concession marked a historic and precedent-setting win for the state.

“The best way to make a beach public is to get the public onto it,” Price said. “You have to learn which signs you can smile at and which you can ignore.”

California is the only state to enforce public beach access thanks to the regulatory powers of the California Coastal Commission, an organization created by the state’s voters in 1972 amidst a rise of coastal and environmental activism in the 1960s and 1970s.

In early August, Linda Locklin called me from her turquoise blue, knick-knack filled office space in Santa Cruz, California. She speaks with a warm, instinctive grin. Locklin lets me know that she’s been the Coastal Access Program Manager for the commission for over three decades. She dreamed of marrying her interests in environmental planning and fieldwork with public benefit, and she feels she has achieved just that. She fearlessly loves this agency, what it stands for and what it defends.

Locklin speaks proudly of the critical victories the commission has secured. Through their issuing of permits for development across 1.5 million acres of state coastal lands, over the last thirty to forty years, the California Coastal

Commission has been able to successfully obtain public walkways between houses on private property and public lands, despite private homeowners’ perpetual resistance to state regulations. She notes that widespread present-day access to Malibu beach fronts stands as an example of how the public right to beach space can win out against the muscle of capital.

“People have always known they’re welcome in vast public beaches like Zuma or Surfrider, but it takes gumption to walk down recently-opened public pathways to smaller beach fronts .” Locklin reflects. “They make you feel like you’re not wanted even though you have every legal right to be there.”

Now the Coastal Commission has the power to levy fines against public access violators, such as resistant coastal homeowners. They often go to court and, Locklin boasts, they have yet to lose.

I n notes directed at the Connecticut state legislature opposing Rep. Lemar’s coastal equity bill, state residents from historically restrictive coastal suburbs like Fairfield and Greenwich said things ranging from:

“As municipalities have seen over the years, Hartford creates an issue where there is not one and then passes the buck” to “I hope that you will reconsider, otherwise you will be ruining our town!”

Other opponents believe beaches are a scarce resource that must be limited in

order to avoid overwhelming capacity numbers.

Connecticut State Rep. Steve Meskers (D-150) of Greenwich explained that the popular beach destination, Greenwich Point, contained 1,100 parking spaces, while the town consists of 60,000 residents. He voiced that capacity was nearly oversaturated as is, particularly on summer holiday, and there was no obvious area for additional beach parking or practical train transit.

“I’m not sure how I grant more incremental access,” Meskers told the Greenwich Free Press.

He further outlined that no state bills considered the over-extension of public access to non-state residents; shorelines like Greenwich touch the New York border, and are a common destination for residents of both states.

“I’m concerned I’m being asked for reciprocity to residents of another state,” Meskers suggested.

At the beginning of the century, many state beach activists hoped the issue of undue beach restrictions had been settled. Although the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling in Leydon v. Greenwich in 2001 affirmed the right of non-residents’ use of municipal beaches, beach restrictions still run rampant. As a result of the Leydon ruling, non-residents are now legally allowed onto municipal beaches, but due to an onslaught of town-ordered

Lukas Flippo / The New Journal

financial penalties, the act of doing so continues to be feasibly impractical. In response, in July of 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union named financially restrictive beach policies in counties like Greenwich and Westport as present day examples of de facto segregation. They also accused these measures of violating the Public Trust Doctrine, which ensures the public’s right to land above the mean high water line in coastal states like Connecticut.

For the last two years, and most recently this past spring, Rep. Lemar has led the charge alongside other state government officials to push for reform through the enactment of HB 5361, an unpassed bill which aims to implement financial penalties to counties who do not abide by beach equity standards. After years of refraining from commenting on the subject, this spring, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont—a Greenwich native—agreed there should be studies on the matter of beach access, withholding any definitive stance on the topic beyond supporting the “bipartisan effort to take a closer look at this important issue.” Lamont and other suburban shoreline candidates have sidelined this issue, likely due to an unwillingness to rock the political boat from the interests of politically influential suburbanites.

“Voters don’t want studies, voters want solutions,” Rep. Winkler retorted on a call with me in July, urging the

governor to both acknowledge and take a stand against systemic class and racial disparities by the coast. But months later, in November, Ned Lamont would go on to win re-election for governor.

each climate scholar Devienne acknowledges that coastal access is embedded in Californians’ sense of what is right and what is their right. Emboldened by the protections offered by the Coastal Commission and precedent-setting efforts to fight for public space, they seem to possess an inherent belief that the every-day non-billionaire is entitled to coastal leisure, that one cannot simply weaponize their whiteness and wealth to warrant an unjustifiable claim over nature. Despite a deep-rooted history of exclusivity, evident in Connecticut’s implicit and explicit removal of Black and Brown beachgoers and beach town residents, a determined contingent of present-day Connecticut residenc seem to echo these sentiments for protected public beach access.

Still, the environmental and social history of contested state and public land is irrefutably tied to the history of Indigenous removal, Black exclusion, and the preservation of whiteness in the outdoors, measures of erasure most often achieved through state violence. It may seem dangerous and illogical, therefore, to encourage state regulation as a means

of pacifying the interests of local governments and rich landowners, and in turn addressing their particular wrongdoings, let alone in re-introducing a collective protection of leisure and the outdoors. While these reforms might successfully ensure the public right to access the outdoors in legal terms, how these protections will manifest in government action, particularly as coastal lands become more and more of a scarce resource as the climate crisis progresses, is yet to be seen.

What is certain is that exclusive beach access and its restrictive practices are extensions of long-ingrained systems of racial exclusion. And the protection of wealth and cementing of privilege come at a steep price: the perpetuation of a generations-spanning landmine of exclusion. All of this tug-of-war comes as climate-caused coastal flooding promises to wreak havoc on anybody unlucky enough to stand in its way, neither discriminating by race nor class. It may be that the coastal beach-house billionaires are less territorial of their beachfront in the coming decades. It may be that as these beaches erode, so might the issue of beach access. Rest assured, however, that from coast to coast, there will continue to be calls to free whatever beach that remains. ∎

—Paola Santos is a sophomore in Davenport College and an Associate Editor of The New Journal.


Hotel Dreaming

Between the walls of the Graduate Hotel lives a hidden artists’ society.

The studios are easy to miss. To find the one in New Haven, you have to go to the Graduate Hotel on Chapel Street, right across from the Yale School of Art. Walk through the doors, up a small flight of stairs and emerge into the lobby. Go past the mismatched sofas and armchairs, tacky wallpaper, and framed Yale paraphernalia. Ignore the coffee counter— even if that sharp whiff of freshly pulled espresso starts to draw you in. Go further, into the back room. Then the very back of the back room.

If you see the small gold plaque by the wooden double doors, then you’ve found it. Graduate Dreams Society, it’ll say. That’s it.

I only found it because I was kind of forced to. There was a New Journal meeting in the back of the Graduate’s lobby for the design of the previous issue, and as a God-fearing Associate Editor of this magazine, I attended. But I didn’t know a thing about design, so my eyes wandered. I looked at lamps, then students staring at their laptops, then the big double doors. Then the shiny gold plaque right next to them.

I almost thought it was one of Yale’s secret societies.

A visit to the Sweet Dreams Society’s website is just about as vague as the plaque. The first thing to load on the screen is the all-seeing eye at the center, just above the words “Dulce Fomnii,” which could mean “sweet dreams” in Latin if “Fomnii ” wasn’t one letter away from “somnii,” the actual word for “dream”. This could’ve been a mistake in transcription—a version of the letter ‘s’ in Old English and Roman cursive can easily be confused for a lowercase ‘f.’ But to really learn about the Sweet Dreams Society, you have to move your cursor until the link to the About page presents itself in the top left corner of the screen. Turns out, my guess about the Society was close. Those big double doors are the entrance to an art studio, one of ten tucked away in select Graduate Hotels across the country.

The Graduate Sweet Dreams Society is an immersive artist-in-residence program and creative community, the website says We’re helping emerging artists turn their dreams into a reality.

And for four months last summer,

Yale undergraduate Geovanni “Geo” Barrios held the keys to Graduate New Haven’s studio and did just that, slipping behind those big double doors and that strange gold plaque.

Geo’s tools and near-finished projects were scattered around the studio in a kind of frozen chaos.

To my right: paintings and prints that I could barely make out from a dark corner. On an open shelf that split across the middle of the room: assorted blades, thick bundles of yarn, mason jars of handmade dyes. Then the floor: skinny birch trunks with the roots and branches amputated, their crowns decapitated too—really, just rough poles, bound by rope to one another in some abstract frame, a large wooden ‘X ’ at its center.

I watched Geo kneel on the floor, eyeing a tail of rope that dangled from the frame. “This one’s too long,” he said, holding it up so I could see. He kind of looked like a dad with his baseball cap, cargo shorts, and dark mustache. And it suited him, his relatively simple appearance inside this busy room, against the overall noise of the Society’s kitsch

56 November 2022 TheNewJournal

marketing. Geo’s voice was easy to follow, too—light, with a slight slowness that made his words feel more deliberate. It was the day before his capstone solo exhibition, and I think he was practicing how he would finally speak to an audience. But at the moment, we were talking about the beginning.

Last May, near the end of the school year, Geo still didn’t know what he was going to do over the summer. He’d been looking into art fellowships and other residencies, ways to spend time making art without the pressure of needing to work. This was before he found the Sweet Dreams Society. By the time he did, the application—a video proposal— was due in two days.

“Two. Days.” He repeated to me. “I saw it, and I was like, holy shit.” Any longer, and the Society would’ve slipped away, unnoticed.

Geo found the Sweet Dreams Society the same way I did: by chance, browsing in the back of the back room of the lobby of the Graduate Hotel on Chapel Street in New Haven, Connecticut. But Geo might not have found it without a little happenstance

either—he didn’t have Wi-Fi where he lived, but the nearby Graduate did. With little time for planning, he grabbed his camera and recorded his application on the spot, describing a project of his that had never come to pass.

“Everyone’s an artist in some way, shape, or form. I believe.”

His government name is Paul Blair. His professional name is DJ White Shadow. He’s got blue eyes, a healthy gray beard, and several black-ink tattoos that run down his arms to his fingers. DJ White Shadow is the type of guy that looks like he’s got a story or two, and he probably does, having produced the likes of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and Artpop, and the 2002 Yu-Gi-Oh! theme song.

More importantly, DJ White Shadow is the founder of the Sweet Dreams Society.

My first time seeing Blair is through a promotional video posted to the Graduate Hotel’s Instagram in December of 2021. He steps in front of an unassuming white background, taking a seat on an unassuming white stool. The Sweet Dreams residency, he says, is about space.

“I believe that in order to create the best product, you need to experiment with where you create. You need to be comfortable where you create. You need to create in a positive, uplifting environment.”

What matters to Blair aren’t just the spaces the artists are entering, but also the spaces they’re coming from. According to its online application, the Society seeks “artists with strong ties to the Graduate community they’re applying for.”

I found this confusing.

Graduate is a hotel chain, with each of its thirty-three locations established specifically in college towns like Berkeley, Fayetteville, and New Haven. We are all students, its tagline declares. But I wondered why the Sweet Dreams Society lives out of a hotel chain of all places, where the idea of community becomes a nebulous, even secretive thing. After all, the only people consistently around are the ones clocking in and out for work, the people behind desks and counters and in employees-only back rooms. Then, there’s the fact that Graduate hotels are college town hotels, meaning the other

57 TheNewJournal November 2022
Layout by Camille Chang & Kevin Chen
Geovanni Barrios signing editions of “Portrait of the Artist as a Young General” in his studio in the Graduate Hotel Geovanni Barrios / The New Journal

“consistent” presences are passersby, like visiting alums, students’ families, and tourists. And are New Haven locals also included in Graduate New Haven’s community, even without a reason to ever spend the night there?

I wondered what it meant for someone—for an artist—to be tied to a hotel community, anyway.

In any case, Geo had solid enough ties to the Graduate community as someone living in New Haven, a student attending Yale, or a guy who regularly visits the lobby to do work. Maybe a mix of everything. Looking at what had clearly been months of work in the studio— the many careful knots of rope keeping his sculpture together—Geo proved himself well. Whether it be within the Graduate or Sweet Dreams or really any other community, I think Geo does have the ability to tether himself wherever he’d like, if that was what he wanted. My question lies in how tight this tie to the Graduate community was and would continue to be, and what exactly it looked like from both sides of the rope.

The backgrounds of the rest of Geo’s cohort continue to reveal how much

more pliable the criteria of community can get. Already an upperclassman on academic leave, Geo’s the youngest resident of the eight-member Summer ‘22 cohort by about four or five years. He is this cohort’s only college student. Geographically speaking, the rest of the 2022 cohort is a mix of bona fide locals, alumni of host towns’ associated schools, and total newcomers. As a whole, the Graduate and the Society’s community ties tangle into a knot.

To be fair, the Sweet Dreams Society is still young. At the time of writing, it has recently opened the application for its Winter 2023 residency, which will be its third cohort of artists. Maybe the Society’s obscurity, both in reputation and logistics, is reasonably unintentional. But I still find this interesting with a figure like DJ White Shadow in charge.

Then again, “We are all students,” said the tagline. The Society could still be learning how to emerge, too.

Talking to DJ White Shadow is like talking to a quirky uncle. Though we were on a phone call between New Haven and Paris, I could

almost hear the expressions he made as he spoke, the way his hands might’ve been waving around when he called people he didn’t name directly “boneheads,” “total turds (to be frank),” and “full of shit.” Incredibly nice guy, though.

“We’re trying to build something that’s emotional. Like, for lack of a better word, very loving and tied to our surroundings.” He went on, “The basic ethos of the Sweet Dreams Society is that hotels are in the community, the hotel has space, and all the space in the hotel should be used—preferably for good rather than evil.”

Paul laughed as he said this.

It turns out, his tie to the Graduate community is a simple one: he’s been friends with the owner for about twenty years. And so he chose Graduate’s spaces for good because they both shared the idea that a hotel should serve the community it’s in. It was an easy choice to make. Paul’s goal with the Sweet Dreams Society, then, was to serve Graduate communities with spaces that their community members could create in. That is, with a private hotel chain’s private studios, which were often discovered by

“We have a lot of interactive fabric between the artists, and we encourage them to get to know each other. I try to put people in the same room, put them on the same call, put them in the same position,” Paul explained to me, “so they know, you know, you’re not the only weirdo in the world.”
A visitor observing “The Pioneer” at Barrios’ New Haven studio show. Geovanni
Barrios / The New Journal

chance or word-of-mouth.

Logistically, the Graduate makes perfect sense as the home of the Sweet Dreams Society. But in practice, at least in the practice of its marketing and presentation, I’m still unsure what to make of it. I remember, in particular, when Geo told me about friends who had passed by the Graduate without ever knowing he was working in a studio in the back—“You’re telling me you’ve been there? Every day, ten hours a day for the last four months, and we have never been inside?”

The studios are for their communities. Their Graduate communities, specifically. But before anyone else, the keys belong to the artists. I had asked Geo if his time working in the studio felt influenced by Yale, perhaps the most present Graduate New Haven-related community sitting outside those doors. He shook his head no.

“This is my space,” he’d said, looking over his projects and furniture and scraps of rope. He smiled.

I am still unsure of what kind of artist community the Sweet Dreams Society aims to build from the already loose bounds of what makes the Graduate community. What would actually emerge if you combined, into one communal space, all ten of these isolated and far flung studios, the three to four months of personalized work from each artist, and the depth that would come with each of their solo exhibitions?

I don’t doubt that Paul is making an honest effort. I’ve heard from Geo, and three other Sweet Dreams members, what a valuable time their residency has been in terms of their art, having a space of their own, and the validation of working with people at similar stages in their careers.

“We have a lot of interactive fabric between the artists, and we encourage them to get to know each other. I try to put people in the same room, put them on the same call, put them in the same position,” Paul explained to me, “so they know, you know, you’re not the only weirdo in the world.”

Geo held his Sweet Dreams Society solo exhibition on the night of October 15.

Morally Straight was set up in Graduate New Haven’s back room, as well as the inside of his studio. Geo put five works on display: “Untitled,” a series of projected AI-generated scout badges with gay epithets for keywords; another untitled piece, Scout-related archival audio layered over the sounds of the Everglades and a conversation between Geo and a friend; “The Pioneer,” a set of 9 by 9 foot birch frames centering a piece of embroidery; a set of three Riso prints; and “Die Faggot,” a still-in-progress flag of hand-dyed cotton yarn. His show was deeply personal, an engagement with the homophobia, nationalism, and the “dash of racism” he’s faced as an

openly gay Boy Scout, an organization in which he’d spent about fourteen years of his life.

There was a lot going on. The light of the projector, the speaker’s constant music and chatter and birdsong, the sheer size of “The Pioneer” as it seemed to fill up its portion of the studio. And yet it all came together and worked, offering a place more cohesive, more open than the contradictions and liminality of the Graduate Hotel’s broader space. It was the final night in which this room was still officially Geo’s, and he did a good job of making it count. He gave an identity—his identity—to this empty space that DJ White Shadow had envisioned, somehow, as both comfortable yet experimental. There were no more secrets.

Eventually, Geo’s guests gathered around him—a fairly large group of mentors, friends, and friends’ friends. Addressing the crowd, Geo told us the story of one of the key moments that inspired Morally Straight. “I remember back when they announced the legalization of gay marriage. I was on a Scout retreat in the middle of nowhere, and we were listening to the radio. And the other boys were saying things like, ‘Hey, f *gs can marry now.’”

He paused. His voice shook as he continued, and everyone was quiet. My eyes welled up. I felt like I was listening to his diary.

“Thank you all for being here with me.”

59 TheNewJournal November 2022
Close-up of Barrios tying a square knot on “The Pioneer.”

A week and a half after Geo’s exhibition was the Sweet Dreams Society’s collective artist showcase. All eight of the Society’s 2022 cohort would finally convene in New York City, in Graduate Roosevelt Island’s Panorama Room. This was where I began to realize that maybe the Sweet Dreams Society and its collective identity, at large, aren’t supposed to make much sense. But I wanted to try to understand it anyway.

The Society’s little gold plaque was almost as hard to find in the Roosevelt Island hotel as it was in New Haven— behind the receptionist’s island counter in a small cubby of a hallway. But that night, the studio doors stayed shut. I walked just a bit further to the elevator, blocked off by velvet rope and a pair of security guards. I showed them my ID and they allowed me to ascend to the top floor. The elevator opened to more velvet rope and two people with a list, taking names by the door.

I stepped into a rooftop bar. Geo’s work was the first thing I saw, but just a portion of what had been on display in New Haven: his three Riso prints on a small table and his AI Scout Badges, projected on the floor nearby. Right behind the projections was DJ White Shadow himself, working a DJ set from an elevated booth. Despite the crowded bustle of the bar and the music that was so loud that you had to yell if you wanted to talk with someone, he was cool, focused, and remarkably unnoticeable—I never would’ve guessed that he was the founder of all this.

The rest of the showcase had been set up in a long, narrow lounge annexed from the rest of the bar. There, about three to four paintings from four different artists were intimately packed together, flanking both sides of me as I walked down to look. Still wearing my puffer coat from outside, I tried not to bump into the easels as I passed by (but this would happen anyway, multiple times). Between these artists’ works, there was actually a fine amount of room. Just not enough to get the full picture of what they’d really done for all those months over the summer— not unless you put in the effort to find a closer look.

Here were the artists of the Sweet Dreams Society, finally all together in this communal and surely bonding celebratory experience. But what seemed to have happened when they were put all together, at least to me, was that their

community was too tightly-woven and too distant all at once; it was incredible to see all the different things they’d put together under the same mentor and in the same chain of hotels, from fiber installations to paintings to huge papiermâché sculptures, but each had taken a little of the focus away from its neighbors, especially due to the hotel bar’s lack of dedicated space for the show. I saw a lot of the Sweet Dreams Society’s art, but I didn’t know how much I could see of the artists themselves.

Everything from that entire summer of working away in privacy was finally out in the open. But as I sat in that little lounge, surrounded now by guests who seemed like they mostly came for the charcuterie board, their complimentary drinks from the bar in hand, I wondered what all of this was really for. The celebration of the work, or the act of the party? Maybe I wasn’t tied closely enough to their community to know.

The fifth display, at the end of the lounge, had a little more room and was intended to be an experience. Yen Azzaro’s ALTAR|ALTER is based on the Buddhist shrine of her childhood home. But rather than gifts for the spirits, Azzaro’s altar was filled with items related to survivors and victims of antiAsian hate crimes—a chunk of concrete, a knife, a target bag, a bottle of massage oil. There was also a bundle of incense for observers to “pray” with and leave in a bowl of rice. I grew up Buddhist too, and I thought this was beautiful.

Azzaro couldn’t ship the original “altar” from Michigan, so what sat in front of me was a small table from the outside lounge, with some of the items on its surface while others were relegated to the floor. Alongside those were vinyl signs with instructions on how to approach the exhibit.

ALTAR|ALTER by YEN AZZARO 欢迎, Welcome. If fitting, please feel free to remove your shoes.

60 November 2022 TheNewJournal Snapshot
Barrios’ table at the Sweet Dreams Society’s New York Collective Art show.
New Journal
Geovanni Barrios
/ The

Since I was at a rooftop bar, I kept my shoes on. But either way, it felt wrong to step on someone’s words, even if I was stepping on them to pray. When I held the incense between my palms and thought about the awful things that happened to these people, and what it must’ve been like to go to a studio every day and think about it even more, I got emotional. This didn’t last very long though.

The club-style Lizzo remix booming over speakers snapped me out of it.

I was hoping to just let you in on my little world of crafts, but I was convinced by a friend that you might appreciate some footnotes.


did for him as an individual artist. He’d been given the space, time, and money to really flesh himself out, to continue emerging with an identity of his own. Morally Straight was powerful. And confessional and eclectic and distinctly Geo. I am happy that this is a place in New Haven, now, for people to go and make this kind of thing happen.

But there are still those unanswered questions for me about community. I wonder how the Sweet Dreams Society will continue to “learn as it goes” (says Paul), and how long it might take for it to emerge as the kind of community Paul wishes for it to be. I wonder, in the very back of my mind, if there was ever a concrete idea of a “Graduate community,” or if it ever was possible to carve one out in the liminal bustle of a college town hotel.

Getting back to New Haven was a fever dream. An all-nighter at my cousin’s place in Queens, a 5 a.m. F train, a 6 a.m. Metro-North train, and an 8 a.m. Lyft to my 9 a.m. lecture. And the

entire time, I was still deciding whether or not I knew what the Sweet Dreams Society really was yet. Even now, I’m still thinking about it.

For a residency trying to push the work of unestablished artists into the world, the Society can be an enigma to outsiders like me, with its closed doors and private studios and obscure online marketing. To really understand what goes on in those studios, you need ties to the Graduate community. Specifically, you need to have ties to individuals in the Graduate community, or you might find yourself at a rooftop bar bumping into easels and wondering what was going through any of those creators’ heads for that whole summer of being a member of the Sweet Dreams Society.

I was lucky to have ties to Geo. Since I saw his own little world of crafts before the Society would take it someplace bigger (not to mention, own the rights to those crafts afterwards), I saw what it

If you find yourself in New Haven, I think it’s worth stopping by the Graduate. Again, on Chapel Street, across from Hull’s Art Supplies and the Yale School of Art—down the street from the Yale University Art Gallery, if that helps too. Walk into the lobby, and for the purposes of this visit, poke around a little. Take in the kitsch furniture, the random Yale artifacts on the walls and shelves, the pizza payphone blocked off by a line of rental bikes. Go to the coffee bar, have that shot of espresso, and do some people watching. Who’s working in there that day, and how many have migrated from the back room to the back of the back room? Or did the hotel close it off for a private event?

If it’s open, definitely walk inside and look for the gold plaque. The doors to the studio will probably be locked, but they’re fun to look at when you take guesses at what could be behind them now, in the in-between of the summer residency and the winter residency to come. If it were me, I’d take guesses at what kind of person might get the keys next. I would also make guesses about the shape of the community sitting outside those doors, the community that would be sitting all around you. What are their ties here? Do they have any?

Go to the Graduate. Find the studio. Figure it out for yourself, too. ∎

—Kylie Volavongsa is a sophomore in Silliman College and an Associate Editor of The New Journal.

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Yen Azzaro's modified ALTAR|ALTER exhibit.
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The Farm

Jeremy smiles into the folds of his skin. Late October. He likes this time of year for its calm: “The grass here is just covering crop right now. The whole farm feels sort of tucked away.” We are cold, sweat-flecked and shivery.

Today, it’s garlic. With the heels of our hands, we mash down on the bulbs and split cloves from roots. Then, we stake out little holes in the soil, ensconcing a clove every six inches. Occasionally, I de-glove one and slip it in my mouth. More than occasionally, I snack on Komachi turnips. Technically we get three each today. (But I’m compen sating for the total fools who don’t even try them. Like the fools who never wanted their daily Babybels: I used to do the rounds of the canteen, collecting desiderata. So more like seven.) I feed the chickens the roots of seven turnips before going back to the garlic columns. A greybeard once told me who wait until they finish their Beverly Gage papers never plant. He added, If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.

62 November 2022 TheNewJournal 285 Nicoll Street, New Haven CT 06511 203-936-9446 www.mactivity.com Fitness Center
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1 British rule in India 4 Sovereigns abolished in 1917 9 Glide 14 Aladdin’s monkey

Titular Tyler Perry character 16 Like pools and highways

Film character who says, “If karate used defend plastic metal trophy, karate no mean nothing.”

Subject of many drug tests

Comedian Mort 21 Famous web developer? 23 “Mr. ___”, 1983 Styx hit 25 They make up over 50% of the human population 26 Hey Jude’s “na, na, na, na-na-na na” e.g. 28 Baby louse 30 Key on a PC 31 Unruly 32 Allot a task 34 Sarcastic response to “Are you asleep?” 35 Purchase for a lazy baker

Diminutive Italian suffix

Pass for a second time

Partner of cease

Dial up

Mild oath from a Brit

Cool ___ cucumber

Natural Splenda alternative 59 Philosophy that posits the unity of all things 51 Soulmate 53 Hit 1970s BBC miniseries starring Brian Blessed as Augustus 55 Dothraki king 58 Melancholy bell sound 59 2008 comedydrama described by Variety as “likely to be irresistible to almost everyone but cats.” 61 Falco and Sedgewick 62 Greek god with an ocean named after him 63 “An object in motion stays in motion”, e.g. 64 Kanye West 2021 album 65 Walter’s sidekick 66 Cease


Half of L.A. footballers

Aramaic for “I will create”, often used by magicians

Martial arts takedowns with 68 variations

“I don’t want to know!” for a texter


Get fitter over time


Word after “he” and “she”

Talks like a drunk

Like 3 of the 20 most followed Instagrammers in 2022

Type of cracker that’s actually a cookie


Address used by an English servant for a nobleman

Make food at home

“I’m available!”, on some price tags

“Wolf! Wolf” for example

Garden weeder

“Are you sure?”

We revolve around it every day

Leave college early, as a blue chip student athlete

Sculptor and landscape architect Noguchi

Impetus for highwaisted pants, perhaps

“Gimme ___”, repeated cheer at Indiana University sporting events

One in a pod

Inflicted pain, as at boot camp or a dentist’s office

Leave satisfied

Like a beefcake

De-brief oneself, sartorially speaking

“___ a lifetime”

Cars that charge a lot

Like most professors in big lecture halls

Chip dip

Key of Mozart’s Prague Symphony: Abbr.

To ___ (each and every)


Suffix with “crossword” or “legal”

The New Journal was founded in 1967, under the following mission statement: “This university has once again reached that stage in history when people are talking about the New Yale, presumably to be distinguished from the Old Yale, which in its own day was presumably considered new. Wishing to share in this modernity, we have chosen The New Journal as the name for our publication. Besides, things seemed slow around here.” Today, The New Journal is published five times during the academic year by The New Journal at Yale, Inc. Two thousand five hundred copies of each issue are distributed free to members of the Yale and New Haven community. The New Journal is printed by TCI Press, Seekonk, Massachusetts; bookkeeping and billing services are provided by Colman Bookkeeping of New Haven. Office Address: P.O. Box 3311, New Haven, CT 06515. While this magazine is published by Yale College students, Yale University is not responsible for its contents. All contents Copyright ©2022 by The New Journal at Yale, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction either in whole or in part without written permission of the publisher and editors in chief is prohibited. Recycle Icon from Flaticon.com.

12 Lease
13 Paradises
Getting Symbolic
PLEASE RECYCLE THIS MAGAZINE Correction: “Wilson from the Office” is RAINN , not
. Sorry! ANSWER TO PREVIOUS (SEPTEMBER) PUZZLE TheNewJournal November 2022
Puzzle by Jesse Goodman © The New Journal
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