The conversations that would become Go South began in 2014 and 2015 over dining hall breakfasts and late-night study conversations that would often turn to our deep awareness of the disconnect between the places we call home and the school that we attend. We knew from personal experience that folks at home were deeply suspicious of Ivy League students, and we also knew that many Yale students maintained a set of assumptions and prejudices about the South. Back then, we weren't sure what to do about it. But following the 2016 election, public conversations on Yale’s campus showed us that other people—and not just people who grew up in the South—were beginning to think about this disconnect as well. So we decided to act.
The Go South working group was organized in the winter of 2016 as a group of undergraduates who met frequently to talk about how to begin a cultural conversation between our Southern hometowns and our Yale peers. As we debated ways to connect students to places that were 20 hours and thousands of miles away from our classrooms in New Haven, we came across a stunning statistic. 75% of Yale graduates take post-graduate jobs in five states: New York, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and D.C. What, we asked ourselves, could happen if Yalies were connected with jobs in the South? What if internships with Southern nonprofits were as accessible and well-publicized as internships in New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C.?
We drafted a proposal for a fellowship that would match Yale students with Southern nonprofits. At the same time, we wrote an op-ed column in the Yale Daily News urging students to consider working in the South. Both of these efforts were met with an astonishing amount of enthusiasm and support from the Yale community and from our own hometowns. When Michelle Solomon ’96, a Piersonite living and working in Savannah, GA, reached out to us asking about the potential of placing Yale students as interns with Savannah nonprofits, Go South Summer was born.
Photo courtesy of Teresa Earnest. www.teresaearnestphotography.com