Dwight Hall kicked off its efforts to assist Hurricane Katrina victims with an open-microphone event Tuesday night, combining poetry, dance and music.
The aim of the event, co-coordinated by the Social Justice Network at Yale, was to raise funds for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s disaster relief fund while increasing awareness of what organizers characterized as the delayed relief efforts and racial disparity of the disaster’s impact.
Erica Greenberg ’06, one of the main organizers, said Dwight Hall’s fund-raising effort is unique for choosing to donate to the NAACP, an organization which has historically fought against inequality and promoted the rights of African Americans. Greenberg said most other student organizations have chosen to donate to charities with no ideological focus, such as the Red Cross.
“The social injustices made apparent through this disaster were so horrifying that we wanted to donate to an organization which takes them into consideration,” Dwight Hall co-coordinator Ben Staub ’06 said.
Jared Malsin ’07, another organizer, said that while slow relief efforts were a detriment to all hurricane victims, social inequalities caused some citizens to be more severely affected. Hurricane evacuation plans relied on the availability of cars, Malsin said, while 35 percent of African Americans in New Orleans did not have access to cars.
“The hurricane was worse for people who are less privileged,” he said.
Emily Jones ’06, another organizer who acts as a liaison between the Dwight Hall Executive Committee and the Social Justice Network at Yale, thinks the hurricane – and its aftermath – is as much a man-made disaster as it is a natural one.
“It is very important for everyone to realize that this tragedy represents a very concrete failure,” she said. “It is an international failure, a policy failure, a failure of compassion and justice.”
Various student artists and groups joined forces for the fund-raiser. Since the event was open-microphone, any performer who decided to attend could sign up for a time slot. Performers included Whim ‘n’ Rhythm, Tangled Up In Blue and A Different Drum, as well as individual student rapping, dancing and singing.
Funmi Showole ’08, a member of the Yale performance poetry group WORD, said she was very excited at the opportunity to make her voice heard.
“It’s a great venue for people to come together and express their feelings about the tragedy, whether it be through song, music, dance or spoken word,” she said. “As a member of WORD and simply as a person living in the U.S., I definitely felt the need to make my voice heard.”
The performances were followed at intervals by five-minute discussions facilitated by Realizing Race, a group that semiprofessionally facilitates discussions about race in different communities. Throughout the event, students were also encouraged to sign pre-written letters urging federal representatives to provide health care, housing and education to citizens affected by the disaster.
The organizers said Dwight Hall intends to continue efforts to help victims while motivating students to become advocates for change.
“This is clearly a long-term problem, and there needs to be a long-term response,” Malsin said.
Staub said that although plans are not yet definite, organizers are considering hosting discussion panels and inviting students and professors from universities in the affected areas as special guests. He also said Dwight Hall members will be encouraged to reflect on the social justice issues underlying the catastrophe during upcoming cabinet meetings. Jones said Dwight Hall is also likely to become a drop-off point for food and clothing donations.