Dwight Hall should not rush financial move

The decision of how Dwight Hall will manage its endowment is, as Amy Zwanziger’s column last week (“Dwight Hall wrong to delay money transfer” 10/10) suggests, one of great financial and moral significance. As such, it should be the subject of a deliberate and inclusive communal dialogue – not a rush to judgment by those who, like Zwanziger, are so sure of their own views that they apparently see no point in taking the time to listen to others.

Zwanziger’s column makes clear that she has made up her mind: Dwight Hall should have its endowment managed by the Yale Corporation. What her column doesn’t do is explain why the rest of us should be deprived of the opportunity to discuss the issue as a community and consider one another’s perspectives.

As a student active in Dwight Hall programs but without a role in institutional leadership, I am grateful for the chance to reflect on this question and have my voice heard alongside others. If that open and inclusive conversation delays a final decision, it strikes me as a very small price to pay.

Nevertheless, Zwanziger says that we can’t afford to wait for further discussion, because with each passing day, Dwight Hall could be making more money than it currently is. But this argument is glaringly circular: the decision Zwanzinger wants us to rush, in order to save money, is itself about whether money should be the sole factor in our decisions. In other words, her evidence of urgency takes for granted what it sets out to prove. So it can’t be taken seriously as a reason to short-circuit an informed and thoughtful conversation among Dwight Hall’s membership.

As it happens, I don’t share Zwanziger’s priorities for Dwight Hall. Personally, for example, I’d give up hundreds of thousands of dollars in Dwight Hall’s operating budget to ensure that our social justice community is not bankrolling hundreds of thousands of murders, rapes, and expulsions in Darfur. I think it would be perverse for Yale’s anti-genocide activists to take their budget – no matter how large – from the returns on investments in companies that finance a genocidal regime.

More generally, we live in a world so riddled with injustice that those of us who strive to be conscious of our surroundings can quickly become overwhelmed and disheartened. In such moments I take some solace in the knowledge that, when we can’t offer a solution, we can at least ensure that we are no part of the problem.

For example, we can make certain that our own projects and efforts are in no way funding oil companies that insulate Khartoum from international pressure, or private prisons that lobby for draconian drug laws, ravaging communities and dismembering families. This principle, more than any particular example, informs my belief that Dwight Hall should have its endowment managed by one of the many funds that specialize in socially responsible investing (SRI).

Still, I don’t think the issues are straightforward, and I don’t think mine is the only legitimate perspective. I take issue only with Zwanziger’s rash proposal that perspectives like mine be excluded for the sake of expediency – that is, so that she can have her way as soon as possible, without the scrutiny that accompanies a fuller discussion.

Indeed, the same principle which leads me to favor SRI for Dwight Hall – a principle which really just amounts to practicing what we preach – explains why I find Zwanziger’s suggestion that discussion be cut short so disturbing. As an institution committed to principles of equity and inclusion in its work, Dwight Hall should strive to practice these values in its institutional life. The decisions of the Board, the Executive Committee and the Yale Corporation to delay any transfer of funds until a fuller and more inclusive conversation has taken place highlights the best values we share as a community, pursuing justice at once both within and beyond our walls. By contrast, the proposal to overturn that decision is anathema to the ethos that makes me proud to count myself a member of Dwight Hall.

Ben Eidelson is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. He is a Dwight Hall Public School Intern at New Haven Academy.

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