For Dwight Hall, changing faces, switching spaces

With the presidential elections running at high speed on the nation’s airwaves, the YCC elections drawing to a close tonight and classes rushing toward the finish line, it’s easy to let things slide. Forget about an obligation or two.

But in the end of the year push at Dwight Hall, things keep moving: Yale students sign out cars, take buses and walk to New Haven Public Schools to volunteer their time. They put in long hours interning in city government, assisting community nonprofits and hosting events to educate students about community needs. Chances are that you, reading this, are one of the 3,500 students who have worked with Dwight Hall this year.

And if you know us, you know that there is one big thing we rarely get around to doing: honoring our graduating seniors. They are turning in their senior essays, packing up their bags and taking off to begin their careers as teachers, advocates, community organizers, non-profit leaders and philanthropists around the country and the globe. But before they do, we want to say, “Thanks.” Your leadership has changed us.

As a student-run nonprofit, affiliated with but independent from Yale, Dwight Hall offers something special for aspiring student leaders invested in civic engagement and social justice. Many Yale students have already become leaders through the organization. It provides resources and support for over 70 student-run member groups, ranging from Reach Out to BSAY to the Roosevelt Institution. Dwight Hall offers work-study or stipend-supported fellowship programs such as the Urban Fellows, initiatives such as Community Based Learning, student-designed Summer Fellowships, a student-inclusive Board of Directors and a 10-student Executive Committee. Roughly 60 percent of the student body is involved with Dwight Hall during its time at Yale.

Dwight Hall student leaders see the tangible results of their work — in the 2006-2007 year, the volunteers effected the lives of 19,500 people in Connecticut alone. On campus, they inspire others to get involved in the causes they feel passionate about. Roommates sign up roommates, fro-cos pitch to their freshmen and the word spreads. Their inspiration touches other communities; after weekly meetings with her mentor, a New Haven middle schooler sees college as an option within her reach. A high school student registers his classmates for AIDS Walk New Haven this Sunday. University administrators back the call for divestment from Sudan.

The more-than-70 groups that organize the efforts of these volunteers need leaders, too. The students who coordinate Dwight Hall member groups provide vision and direction for their groups that can range in size from a few volunteers to over 150 members. They work with the complex problems of motivation, organization and execution that challenge all leaders. Together, these coordinators form Cabinet, the voting body of Dwight Hall that decides on issues like membership and institutional voice.

For all these reasons, Dwight Hall is recognizing the contributions of graduating seniors who all too often go unsung. Today at 6:45 p.m. in Dwight Hall Chapel, Dean Salovey, our keynote speaker, will thank and congratulate outstanding seniors on their accomplishments. This ceremony will allow seniors to reflect on their experiences, give them a chance to speak and encourage them to carry the values they share with Dwight Hall into the next stage of their lives.

Like the seniors it will honor, Dwight Hall, too, soon will make a transition in two important ways.

By early 2010, Dwight Hall will move out of its historic building on Old Campus and into a newly renovated 143 Elm Street. As plans for this new building develop, excitement is building among the members. The opportunities that this move presents, including a greater quantity and quality of meeting space and improved access for the New Haven community, are motivators for us to face the accompanying challenges of identity preservation and accessibility to Yale students.

More immediately, Kathrine Burdick, who has been Dwight Hall’s wonderful executive director for 10 years, will retire this summer. We will miss her and are thankful for the dedicated years of service she has provided Dwight Hall, especially to initiatives like Dwight Hall Early Childhood Education Fellows. Her retirement presents the organization with an opportunity to select its next executive director. This process, nearing completion, allows students and alumni to contribute to the shaping of Dwight Hall’s future.

Like all transitions, these two call for strong leadership. Hundreds of seniors have answered this call during their time on campus. Their valuable efforts have prepared them for life after Yale and have left a deep impression on the Hall and the rest of its members, inspiring us to continue their work. For this, we thank them.

Chris Lewine, Amy Rothschild and Eliza Schafler are juniors in Timothy Dwight, Silliman and Ezra Stiles colleges, respectively. Lewine is the public-relations coordinator of the Dwight Hall Student Executive Committee. Rothschild and Schafler are co-coordinators.

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