After spending the year as a provisional member of Dwight Hall, Choose Life at Yale (CLAY) — Yale’s pro-life student organization — was denied full membership status in Dwight Hall’s Social Justice Network for the upcoming school year.
The approximately 90-member Dwight Hall Cabinet, which comprises member group leaders and executive committee members, gathered Wednesday night to vote on CLAY’s status within Dwight Hall. After deliberation, they denied the organization membership, blocking further access to Dwight Hall’s resources, including funds, cars and printing services.
“We are all obviously disappointed and frustrated with this decision, especially after having gone through this year-long provisional process,” said Christian Hernandez ’15, the president of CLAY’s Spring 2014 board.
Each full member organization of Dwight Hall is allowed one vote during cabinet meetings, according to Shea Jennings ’16, Dwight Hall’s public relations coordinator. Representatives from each organization up for a vote, including CLAY, gave a brief presentation before the cabinet voted, she added.
Jennings said that the body does not debate immediately before a vote, as Dwight Hall assumes each representative comes bearing the carefully considered views of his or her member group. Still, in the weeks leading up to the vote, she added that discussion among member groups about CLAY far exceeded that of any other organization seeking full member status this year.
“Generally what happens is in most member groups the decision is made without as much discussion,” Jennings said. “Because this was a more political decision, there was more discussion.”
The vote was not unanimous and had an unusually high proportion of abstentions, said Dwight Hall co-coordinator Sterling Johnson ’15. Multiple members of Dwight Hall’s executive committee declined to specify the exact number or breakdown of votes cast.
Still, members of CLAY present at the meeting said that members of the executive committee seemed “biased” against their organization’s pro-life stance. Courtney McEachon ’15, CLAY’s president last spring, pointed to co-coordinator Teresa Logue’s ’15 decision to wear a “Yale feminists” T-shirt to the cabinet meeting.
“It was an affront because the person wearing the t-shirt was leading the meeting,” she said. “It seemed like a shameless plug against CLAY.”
Though Logue said that she personally identifies as pro-choice, she was careful not to advocate against the group in any way.
“We treated CLAY as we did every other group,” Logue said. “It was a democratic decision.”
Members of the Social Justice Network, including Johnson, encouraged CLAY to apply for Dwight Hall provisional membership in fall 2013, citing the group’s volunteer work at Saint Gianna Center — a local crisis pregnancy center on Whitney Avenue — as community service.
CLAY regularly sends its members to volunteer at Saint Gianna Center, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and education for pregnant women, Michaels said. In addition to offering free pregnancy tests and assistance in obtaining baby supplies, the center helps expecting mothers find housing and employment as needed, she added. The center ensures that women who wish to keep their pregnancies have the ability to do so, McEachon said.
In addition to approaching CLAY, Social Justice Network members also contacted other religious groups that engaged in community service, such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Visions of Virtue, a Christian mentoring program for adolescent girls, Johnson said.
Before joining Dwight Hall as a provisional member group, CLAY had applied to become a member of the Women’s Center twice, McEachon said. Because its mission did not align with the Women’s Center’s constitution, which specifies that new groups must offer women “reproductive freedom,” CLAY was rejected both times, she said.
“I personally do not think promoting crisis pregnancy centers on their website that may seek to shame and guilt women into carrying pregnancies they may not want, and which may neglect to inform them of all their options, is serving the community,” Laura Kellman ’15, the Women Center’s political action coordinator, said in an email. “I do not see working to strip people of their rights to control their own bodies as service.”
CLAY currently receives funding from the Undergraduate Organizations Committee to host speakers, participate in the March for Life and hold candlelight vigils.
Had CLAY become a Dwight Hall member group, the money it received would have gone towards similar activities, said Molly Michaels ’15, CLAY’s spring 2014 secretary.
“We would like to be more involved in the Yale campus by doing more outreach and having more resources to promote life and to oppose abortion on campus and in New Haven at large,” Michaels said.
Money received from Dwight Hall would have also gone towards holding an annual pro-life conference at Yale, Hernandez said. CLAY held its first conference in October, bringing in speakers of different faiths to engage students in discussions about the issues surrounding abortion.
CLAY members have not yet decided if they are going to continue pursuing membership in Dwight Hall, Hernandez added.
Assuming it will need to undergo another yearlong provisional process, CLAY will consider spending the following year restructuring its program before re-applying for Dwight Hall membership, Hernandez said.
In addition to voting on the membership of CLAY, the cabinet also voted on the admission of two other provisional groups, New Haven REACH and Circle of Women, Johnson said. Both groups gained full membership into Dwight Hall.