Dwight Hall reflects Eli interests

Yalies interested in pursuing activism and social justice may find there are now fewer people working alongside them at Dwight Hall than there once were.

While social justice and activism remain very important components of Dwight Hall, the umbrella organization has seen a shift toward community service since the activist-dominated days of the 1970s. While the total number of students volunteering annually with Dwight Hall has steadily increased, recently passing the 3,000 mark, the past five years have seen a further decline in the presence of activist groups, with numbers of committed members of activist groups dropping about 40 percent in that time.

Ben Staub ’06, Dwight Hall’s publicity coordinator, said the shift was a reflection of the changing interests of students.

“Dwight Hall is student-driven,” Staub said. “No nonprofit executive is determining our focus — the students are determining it. If they see activism as the cause of the time, that’s where the time and resources will go — As the will of the students changes, so does the will of Dwight Hall.”

Dwight Hall co-coordinator Brian Goldman ’05 said he had seen a slight decrease in activism since he was a freshman, but added that much of activism at that time had been leading up to the University’s dispute with its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35. Johnny Scafidi ’01, Dwight Hall’s program director, said there had been a bit of a lull in student involvement with social justice groups, but attributed the change to the nature of activism.

“Activist concerns are more short-term — they often don’t need the institutional structuring that a tutoring and mentoring program, for example, might need,” Scafidi said.

But not all groups have followed the trend. Nick Seaver ’07 said his group, the American Civil Liberties Union, had seen interest dramatically increase this year. Seaver worked the ACLU table at the Dwight Hall freshman bazaar, which was held last night.

“We had eight or nine people last year, but our first meeting this year we had 40 — probably three times as much as previous first meetings,” Seaver said. “The bazaar is a great recruiting tool and it allows us to tell people whose only knowledge of the ACLU comes from Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity what we actually do and what we really stand for.”

In addition to the prospering activist groups like the ACLU, some Dwight Hall groups have begun to recognize that many students are interested in doing both community service and activism, making it increasingly hard to find a group that does not do some of both, Scafidi said.

Staub, however, said the biggest change he had noticed in his time at Dwight Hall was a greater emphasis on taking service and activism seriously. He mentioned the debate at Dwight Hall in the spring over whether or not to join the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition, a group that calls for Yale to make a voluntary contribution to city government. After much debate, the Dwight Hall cabinet was almost evenly divided and chose not to join the coalition.

“In the past, we might just have signed on to that,” Staub said.

The Dwight Hall freshman bazaar Wednesday featured booths from almost all the organization’s 60-plus member groups, drawing just under 800 people. Alexandra Suich ’08 said she was interested in almost all of the organizations.

“There seems to be at least one organization to represent every interest,” Suich said. “Everyone’s really articulate about their organization. It’s neat to talk to so many passionate people here.”

The Dwight Hall bazaar, held once each semester, introduces hordes of freshmen to the various volunteer opportunities at Yale.
Zoe Pershing-Foley
The Dwight Hall bazaar, held once each semester, introduces hordes of freshmen to the various volunteer opportunities at Yale.

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