Today’s Dwight Hall has rejected its historic past. Instead of providing a forum for debate and thought, supplemented by community activity, it offers a chance for like-minded students to engage in the needs of “social justice” — with little explanation of what that entails.
By examining the evolution of the Dwight Hall program from its founding in 1881 to the present day, Dwight’s rejection of its intellectual engagement with Yale and the community becomes clear.
Dwight Hall’s original mandate, according to the 1939 Yale Banner, is to take “leadership in a worldwide movement toward a World Christian Community — as an active member of the [Christian] movement on campus, Dwight Hall attempts to arouse and foster interest in religious questions.”
The activities of the organization were comprised of study groups, religious services and active work in New Haven. Furthermore, numerous Yale athletes would dedicate their time to Boys’ Clubs, the Yale Hope Mission and other activities.
As Yale become more religiously diverse, Dwight Hall still maintained many of its Christian underpinnings, while welcoming those of other faiths. According to the 1962 Banner, “It was founded within the Christian tradition back around the turn of the century. It is dedicated to Christian ideals and ethics, but provides a means of expression to all, whether Christian, Jew, atheist or skeptic.”
Continuing, the passage notes that Dwight Hall “provides a means of expression to those who feel an urge to help someone else, an urge to see injustice undone, or an urge to confront fellow students and themselves with some of the urgent issues of our times and persistent questions of all ages.”
During its earliest days, community service acted as a form of Christian outreach. Students entered the community in order both to explore their faith and fulfill a commandment to love their neighbors. Even as Yale began to reject its Christian orthodoxy, the community aspects of Dwight remained, providing ways for students to explore their desire to help and engage those of their own and other religions.
Religion and intellectual inquiry provided motivation for the inquiry of that day.
The changing focus of the Dwight Hall can trace its roots to the religious and social egalitarianism of the 1970s; the loss of religion did more than simply strip Dwight of any eschatological undertones. Rejecting its goal of producing community oriented Christian leaders, it rejected its leadership goals completely.
While Dwight’s members originally sought to use their talents to further their religious commitment, many now act in order to alleviate a sense of guilt that a privileged upbringing and world-class education cultivates.
The social justice arm of Dwight concerns itself with “an urge to see injustice undone,” but fails to offer a cogent challenge to its activists. When Dwight sponsored a teach-in on Sept. 20, like many events there, it was not concerned with engaging the issue of America’s response to the Sept. 11 attack, but with attacking the privileged status of the United States and her citizens. In short, the social justice movement carries with it a remarkable amount of self-abnegation by its followers.
Instead of embracing a liberal education as the first step to understanding world issues, the social justice orthodoxy requires and active adherence in the name of such lofty phrases as “justice,” “equality” and “rights” — terms which have boggled greater minds than ours for centuries. The activities of Dwight seem more akin to therapy sessions than thoughtful engagement with the campus-at-large.
Students’ time would be better spent examining such ideas and wrestling with them, one of the earliest purposes of Dwight Hall, rather than staging sit-ins, vigils and the like. The greatest failure of today’s Hall is that it fails to challenge its members to question and defend their own beliefs.
Community service can be a very beneficial activity for students, when seen as a way for them to develop their leadership capabilities. As a supplement to their academic and on-campus activities, it provides an outlet for students who have serious concerns about New Haven. Relieving a guilty conscience should not drive such activity.
Dwight Hall’s historical goals were noble and can be reinvigorated. Yet so long as students use community service and social justice to atone for the sin of being Yale students and fail to use Dwight’s resources to question their own orthodoxies, it will fail to adequately address the needs of her students and the causes they defend.
Justin Zaremby is a junior in Calhoun College.