Robbie Short

Friends and family members of the late Janifer Lighten ’83, the inaugural president of the Yale Black Alumni Association, gathered with other members of the Yale community on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the dedication of the Janifer Lighten Theater at Pauli Murray College.

A mother of four children — all of whom graduated from Yale —  and an alumnus known for her generous support for the University, Lighten died in 2012 after a battle against cancer. The Lighten Theater — a sleekly designed courtyard-style theater located in Murray — will allow performing arts groups to stage productions in the new colleges. For those involved in the dedication, the naming of the theater in honor of Lighten could not be more fitting.

“The dedication of this performance arts theater is especially apropos for honoring my mom’s service to Yale because … she was nothing less than a dynamic force,” said Lighten’s daughter, Adrienne Lighten ’10, in a speech at the event. “She had a magnetic personality and boundless energy for perpetual and proactive engagement. To dedicate this space at a time when the institution is so focused on legacy and paying attention to the power of names — I, for one, could not be prouder to have Janifer Lighten’s legacy continue in Pauli Murray.”

The event began with a welcome address from Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun and Head of Pauli Murray College Tina Lu and continued with remarks from Vera Wells ’71, Llewellyn Hyacinthe ’84, and Adrienne Lighten. The a capella group, Shades of Yale, and Kersten Stevens ’06, accompanied by Jonathan Berryman MUS’96, performed musical selections in between speeches.

In her speech, Lu emphasized that a number of diverse performances are already scheduled to take place at the venue, including “The Silent Lyre,” an original new opera performed by the Yale Baroque Opera, the Pauli Murray Talent Show and a play about Pauli Murray being put on by a group based in Durham, North Carolina.

In his remarks, Chun highlighted the fitting relationship between the Lighten family and Pauli Murray, explaining that they both bring distinction and grace to Yale.

“This theater is just reprsentative of her activism, her action oriented commitment to Yale, and it’s apropos that a performance arts space is dedicated to someone who was so active in her commitment to this school,” said William Lighten ’86, who met Janifer when they were both students at Yale and married her just two days before he graduated. “We as a family have been committed to a number of different community service organizations, but Yale is paramount in terms of our passions, in terms of our collective effort to give back, and it’s one of the places that has given a lot to us, so we’re excited about this dedication.”

William Lighten is also a Yale Sterling fellow and a member of the Yale Development Council.

Karen Smith, a friend of the family, said she is glad Lighten is being honored in a way that will allow young people to “see and feel her energy still living.”

The Lighten Room in the Afro American Cultural Center is also named in honor of William and Janifer Lighten. Wells, who first came into contact with Lighten through her work at the Yale Office of Development, told the News that the Lightens have not only donated money to Yale and spent time on University committees, but they have also spent time and energy personally engaging with students across campus.

“[The Lighten Family] represents the best of Yale, Jan in particular loved this place, but what she loved more than the place was what the place could do for students, what it did in her life, what it enabled her to do in other people’s lives,” Ralph Dawson ’71 said. “Jan was a very committed person who put her heart and her good sense and experience into all of what she did, and … that paid off big time for the University, this is fitting commemoration for her impact.”

Britton O’Daly | britton.odaly@yale.edu