New home will help Dwight Hall’s mission

The Board of Directors of Dwight Hall at Yale recently voted to move Dwight Hall to 143 Elm St. As co-coordinators of this institution, we are so excited about the opportunities that this move brings. Dwight Hall’s new location at the corner of Elm and Temple streets will support and increase our capacity to fulfill our mission of fostering civic-minded student leaders and promoting service and activism in New Haven and around the world.

After the decision, we spent the next 56 hours talking to leaders from every Dwight Hall member group to let them know about the decision and the history leading up to that decision.

We know that the Dwight Hall community is wider than the student leaders we have met with. We wish that we could sit down with all 5,000 or so undergraduates and walk each of you through this process. Unfortunately, we did the math, and we don’t have enough time to have all of those conversations before we graduate. We’re glad we have this opportunity to tell you here.

Some history is necessary to understand why the decision to move makes Dwight Hall stronger. Dwight Hall was founded in 1886 and moved into its current location in 1932. Dwight Hall never had a written agreement with the University about the terms of our tenancy and has shared the building over the years with many different groups. In the past decade, our membership has exponentially increased; because of this increase — and the accompanying need for space — we have had unrestricted access to the entire building, until this semester.

At the beginning of this school year, the Office of the Secretary and the Chaplain’s Office found their space needs to be increasing. Therefore, the Office of the Secretary has taken over the scheduling and occupancy of the Dwight Hall Chapel, which severely limits Dwight Hall’s programmatic space.

Also, Dwight Hall has been planning a renovation, but complications arose during the final design phase. For the renovation to meet our space and program needs, the plans call for the historic balcony to be restored. The balcony was needed to make the entire building accessible under the Americans With Disabilities Act as well to meet federal, state and local fire and safety codes. However, the Dwight Hall Chapel is home to a world-famous organ used by outside groups, and those groups have concerns about the impact of a balcony on the acoustics of the space.

Understanding these physical constraints and Dwight Hall’s need for space, the University offered Dwight Hall an exciting option. Instead of renovating 67 High St., a building that was only partially ours, the University would renovate the building at 143 Elm St. for Dwight Hall’s exclusive use.

We know that there will be challenges in preparing and moving to our new location. The student leaders of Dwight Hall and the Dwight Hall Board of Directors are following this decision with extensive plans to examine in-depth marketing and re-branding activities to address concerns about the less central new location. Whether the building is at 67 High St. or at 143 Elm St., one of Dwight Hall’s priorities is increasing student participation in community service and social justice. This move gives us the opportunity to intensify that dedication to significant student involvement.

The move also makes us stronger financially, preserves our independence and increases the space we have for program work. If we stayed at 67 High, we would have been responsible for contributing $5 million toward the renovation of that building; by moving to 143 Elm, Dwight Hall is only responsible for $3.8 million of that building’s renovation. At 67 High, Dwight Hall is reduced to using two wings of a severed building, while in the new location, we will have complete control over the space. The new building also offers approximately 1,000 square feet more of programmatic space with wider latitude for design.

The coming years and the new location offer Dwight Hall fresh opportunities for fulfilling our mission. In the next semester, students will be involved in designing the entire space of 143 Elm; it can be transformed to suit our needs. In the next few years, we have the chance to expand a campuswide discussion about the value of community service and social justice, which are core tenets of many students’ education at this university. Finally, Dwight Hall can look forward to engaging even more students, community members and Yale faculty and staff in the collective process of making Yale, New Haven and the world better and more just.

Helena Herring is a senior in Berkeley College. Amy Wojnarwsky is a senior in Calhoun College. They are co-coordinators of Dwight Hall.

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