After a unanimous decision by the Dwight Hall Cabinet more than two weeks ago to keep its name, Dwight Hall took a step Friday to close wounds left by slavery.
Dwight Hall co-coordinators Jessica Bulman ’02 and Alan Schoenfeld ’02 unveiled a plaque that acknowledged the pro-slavery practices of Dwight Hall’s namesake, Timothy Dwight, while maintaining the organization’s mission of social justice. Bulman and Schoenfeld also presented plans to address the stains left by Yale’s legacy of slavery, as addressed in the report published this past summer, “Yale, Slavery and Abolition.”
“With this plaque, Dwight Hall at Yale renounces the pro-slavery thought and actions of Timothy Dwight, while reaffirming our predecessors’ work on behalf of justice and equality,” reads the plaque, which will be displayed inside Dwight Hall. “We maintain the name Dwight Hall to ensure the ideological continuity of this work in the minds of Yale students and New Haven residents, who associate Dwight Hall with the ideals of public service and social justice.”
Dwight Hall members began discussing a potential name change at the beginning of the year in response to the report’s allegation that, during his tenure as Yale President, Dwight trained more pro-slavery clergymen than any other educator in the nation. On Oct. 23, the Dwight Hall Cabinet voted unanimously to recommend that the name Dwight Hall not be changed.
“While we disavow the teachings and actions of Timothy Dwight, we feel that maintaining the name Dwight Hall is essential to our continued success as a public service organization,” Schoenfeld said.
In response to the report, Dwight Hall’s initiatives include a recently formed task force that intends to develop an action plan addressing racism, prejudice and inequality. Bulman and Schoenfeld said Friday that Dwight Hall also plans to work more closely with Yale’s cultural houses, the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Racism, Slavery and Abolition and community organizations that combat racism.
In addition, Dwight Hall will participate in Martin Luther King Jr. Day events at Yale and will seek to establish a fellowship relating to cultural diversity and social justice.
Antony Dugdale, one of the report’s three authors, appeared before Dwight Hall members earlier this year to answer questions about “Yale, Slavery and Abolition.” He said later that he was only there to present historical facts.
“When we wrote the report we were very careful not to turn it into a treatise for what Yale should do, and not to say Yale should do this or Yale should do that,” Dugdale said.
University Chaplain Jerry Streets and Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, have met with community members at least three times about Yale’s response to the report.
The Rev. Eric Smith, a member of the New Haven Reparations Committee, was present at the meetings and said residents were skeptical that the University will respond definitively and quickly enough.
“We’re living in 2001. Racism is on the agenda,” Smith said.
Dwight Hall, originally named the Young Men’s Christian Association, was founded in 1886. At the time of its inception, it was housed in a building erected in honor of Timothy Dwight, president of Yale from 1795 until 1817. The building was torn down in the early 1920s, and the YMCA moved into Dwight Hall’s current facility, Yale’s former library building. It was during this move that the organization adopted the name Dwight Hall.
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