The Yale Divinity School, a training ground for many future ministers, has taken a unique approach in its efforts to raise awareness about the plight of refugees around the world.
In a student-led project, the Divinity School has installed six Global Village Shelter units in the heart of the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle — the central site of the school and its affiliates — as visual reminders of the poverty-stricken communities that exist around the world. The GVS units, which are used as transitional shelters and health clinics in countries such as Pakistan, Grenada and Afghanistan, were erected last week and will be on display until the end of February. Students and administrators of the ecumenical institution said they hope the project will encourage other members of the Yale population to recognize the global need for shelter and compassion.
Judith Dupre DIV ’09, who proposed the project and spearheaded the installation of the shelters, said she hopes the units will fuel more discussion on homelessness and displacement, especially among Divinity School students who may go on to work in areas of the world that utilize GVS.
“Many divinity students will be working with the world’s poorest communities at some point in the future,” she said. “This was a way to give people practical hands-on experience at assembling structures and understanding what types of temporary housing are being used today.”
Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge said the school always encourages its students to seek out new, creative ways to open dialogue on pertinent issues of the day.
“Having temporary houses here has been a new experience for all of us,” he said. “I hope this will raise consciousness about the conditions that cause the problem of refugees.”
Dupre said she became inspired to lead the project after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and drew national attention to the problem of housing those displaced by disasters. After obtaining support from the Divinity School for her campaign, Dupre contacted Ferrara Design Inc., a father-daughter architectural company based in Morris, Conn., that designs prototypical shelters for use in refugee situations. The company donated six units for the Yale exhibit.
Ferrara Design co-owner Mia Ferrara Pelosi said the structures are made of a corrugated cardboard material and can last from eight to 12 months if well-maintained. The shelters — each of which can be assembled in under 20 minutes — have areas of more than six square feet, are typically between five to seven feet in height, and can generally house two to four people, Pelosi said.
Dupre said GVS units are generally more expensive than tents or tarps, but surpass both alternative forms of shelter in overall security and privacy.
Matthew Leaycraft DIV ’08, who assisted in the installation of the GVS units, said he thinks the Divinity School quadrangle was the perfect location for a physical installation highlighting an issue that concerns “community and experience in the real world.”
“It’s easy to be captured by the pressing demands of academic life,” he said. “This project helps shift our consciousness toward wider issues and other realities in a very tangible way.”
In the fall, the quadrangle also served as the site of the “Boots on the Ground” exhibit, which commemorated the civilian casualties in Iraq.
But Catherine Amon DIV ’10 said she found the general student reaction to the GVS units to be somewhat lukewarm.
“Unfortunately, in some ways the response parallels the common response to homelessness in our world: not enough people taking enough time out of the day-to-day demands of their own lives to pay sufficient attention,” she said.
With 349 students, including some who are enrolled part-time, the Divinity School is the fifth-largest professional school at Yale. Though interdenominational and nonsectarian, the school has traditionally focused on training students for work in the ministry, in contrast to similar institutions such as Harvard Divinity School which attempt to foster a more secular approach to religious studies.
Divinity School Student Council President Erinn Staley DIV ’07 said while most students plan to enter traditional forms of ministry — which includepositions such as parish pastors and hospital chaplains — many are interested in doctoral work in religion and teaching careers. Staley said she thinks many people in the community would be surprised to discover that Divinity School students are “normal” Yale graduate students.
“Most members of the [Yale Divinity School] community are more liberal theologically, politically and socially than the stereotype of an American Christian,” she said.
Paul Cho ’02 DIV ’07 said he thinks the physical distance of the school from the rest of campus means that many undergraduates are not familiar with the institution, something that he himself encountered while attending Yale College. The fact that the quadrangle lies north of Science Hill may discourage many Yalies from visiting the school, he said.
Dupre said once the Global Village Shelter display is taken down at the end of February, the school will offer the units to any group that may have a use for them. Some of the units have already been claimed by a church for Lenten liturgy services and art students as a surface on which to project films, she said.
GVS units have also recently been on display at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.