Several days after Dwight Hall announced it will leave the Old Campus chapel it has called home for the past 80 years, students and alumni have mixed opinions about divorcing their organization from its namesake building.
In 2010, the nonprofit organization will move from the heart of Old Campus to a new location at 143 Elm Street. Though the move will dramatically increase the organization’s facilities and funding, students and alumni said Dwight Hall will face new challenges in recruiting freshmen to student activism and community service groups.
Freshman members of Dwight Hall-affiliated programs said part of the reason they originally signed up with a service or social justice group was the organization’s prominence in their everyday treks through Old Campus.
“Because students won’t be able to see the opportunities right in front of them as they go about their daily lives, they won’t feel the impulse to participate in Dwight Hall activities,” said Joshua Colon ‘10, who participates in the Best Buddies program.
Some students said many of the groups under Dwight Hall are not effectively advertised to incoming Yalies after the initial flurry of activity during the first weeks of school. But having Dwight Hall just steps outside of their dormitory doors makes community service more accessible, students said. When the organization’s offices are relocated even just a block outside Phelps Gate, they said, it will become increasingly difficult to seek out opportunities for civic involvement.
But other current students and alumni said they think the move will not detract from student interest in Dwight Hall because the purpose of the organization is to provide a link between Yale and New Haven. The undergraduates who end up working with service groups are looking to move beyond the insular college life and to work among people from the city of New Haven, some alumni said, and having the offices off-campus is simply the first step.
Josh Eidelson ’06, a former member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee and Jews for Justice, both affiliated with Dwight Hall, said he thinks relocating outside of the Yale campus will further the mission of Dwight Hall. While many people associate the organization inextricably with the Old Campus building, he said, he thinks the move is a positive step forward.
“Whether it’s political work or service work, much of what Dwight Hall encourages and fosters involves stepping past the Yale campus, and that’s how it should be,” Eidelson said. “Moving to a location across the street from a public bus stop is a fitting continuation of Dwight Hall’s legacy.”
A number of students said they thought the biggest problem with Dwight Hall’s relocation is the impending separation between the organization and its historic building. Although Dwight Hall currently shares its building with the Institute of Sacred Music and the Yale Chaplain’s Office, students said the service group is the most relevant to undergraduate life. At some point during their Yale careers, over 3,000 undergraduates participate in social justice and service work under the umbrella of Dwight Hall. Many of these students said they do not find it a problem to go off campus for meetings, but any change will have an impact on the legacy of the institution.
Justin Ash ’07, public relations coordinator for Dwight Hall, said there is a certain sentimentality attached to any space with history, and the organization will have to work to transfer the spirit of its work to its new home on Elm Street.
“I think it’s going to be challenging because right now people identify Dwight Hall not just as an institution but as a place,” he said. “People need to see the spirit of Dwight Hall and what it represents rather than the building and where it is.”
Ash is a former Production & Design editor for the News.
Other students involved in Dwight Hall said they feel the significance of the organization to student life lies in the work of individual groups and not in the overall governing body or the central campus connection.
Carolina Solis ’05, who worked as the coordinator of Grandparents for Yalies during her junior year, said while she thinks it might be beneficial to have more meeting space and room for social events, she only went to meetings at the Old Campus location a few times each semester.
“While it definitely is in a central location, I feel like Dwight Hall is a governing body for community service,” she said. “What makes Dwight Hall unique isn’t going on in Dwight Hall itself, so I don’t know how much of an impact the move would have on students.”
Some students said the promise of larger meeting spaces, improved facilities and increased funding are large enough incentives for Dwight Hall to relocate that the organization can afford to give up its Old Campus location. But members of the student board recognize the growing need to publicize their activities in order to retain the same level of undergraduate participation.
“I do think it’s nice that Dwight Hall has the close proximity to the freshmen, although that is not a reason to stay,” Ash said. “I think we certainly have a challenge ahead of us in reestablishing ourselves in a new location off Old Campus. But I think it’s a challenge we can meet.”