Even in an organization as big as Dwight Hall, manpower can still be hard to come by.
Members of the Yale chapter of Amnesty International attended a lobbying meeting at U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s district office last spring and helped convince her to sign a letter that would go to Kathleen Sebelius, the current U.S. secretary of health and human services. That night, Yale Amnesty International indirectly helped create what would eventually become a bill, said Helen Jack ’12, one of the group’s co-coordinators.
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To do so, they needed lots of volunteers — something that can at times be difficult to round up within the giant community-service umbrella organization of Dwight Hall. Members said the over 85 groups within Dwight Hall, many of which have similar goals, could be more effective if they worked harder to support one another. Jack has worked this year to centralize advocacy efforts at Dwight Hall, attempting to reach a wider audience and present students with ways they can contribute to activism with a minimal commitment.
Advocacy efforts require lots of volunteers, said Jack, who helped launch a newsletter and blog this fall to rally students inside and outside Dwight Hall. The newsletter, Advocacy Minute, details up to three actions that recipients can do as soon as they get the letter to help bring about change, she said, such as calling a senator or signing a petition.
“Advocacy is like a puzzle; you need a million little pieces to make this one whole,” she said. “It may be hard to see your individual contribution, but we really do need a lot of foot soldiers.”
Advocacy Minute is one of many communication tools already in existence within Dwight Hall. Newsletters go out to students involved in social justice, public health and education groups; another letter caters to those interested in urban studies; and a third letter called Moment of Service announces one-time direct service opportunities. A central letter, “D-Holla,” lists a variety of events and service opportunities, sometimes overlapping with the other newsletters.
But Jack said these general e-mails are not effective at helping the groups coordinate advocacy efforts — something many groups are involved with that benefits greatly from mass collaboration. She added that Advocacy Minute will help Dwight Hall showcase all the opportunities for students to contribute to advocacy in one place.
“There may so many of these opportunities within Dwight Hall, it’s hard to know where to turn,” she said. “That’s why Advocacy Minute is needed, because Dwight Hall is so big, because there are so many other groups, individuals can’t go out and find these petitions to sign or any other initiatives.”
Dwight Hall member Rachel Payne ’12, a part of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, said she thinks the lack of collaboration between groups is mostly due to students’ busy schedules. But the idea behind Advocacy Minute reflects an understanding of this reality, she said, because the newsletter allows Yalies to make a meaningful contribution in very little time.
She said she thinks Dwight Hall could improve its inter-group coordination, and this could improve its approach to service.
Jill Hagey ’11 and Thomas Meyer ’11, co-coordinators of Dwight Hall’s student executive committee, said Dwight Hall does a good job of making contact and getting people to turn out for different projects. Meyer said he thinks the Yale community is already engaged in service, but instruments like Advocacy Minute help groups share their volunteer bases.
“The vast majority of members in Dwight Hall are committed long-term,” Meyer said. “There’s already a shared sense of identity within their groups and networks.”
Dwight Hall Executive Director Alex Knopp said using e-mail and other technologies to communicate allows Dwight Hall to reach out to students for first-time engagement, but does not guarantee a more consistent level of commitment.
Jack said Advocacy Minute is not supposed to foster long-term commitment, but rather to spark speedy action from people who receive the newsletter.
The Advocacy Minute e-mail was originally intended to go out every other week, but will temporarily go out every week because of the high number of petitions student groups have sent through the blog for inclusion.