Community service and “social justice” at Yale is coordinated through Dwight Hall which helps student organizations with basic administrative functions: photocopying, lending cars, some funding, and provision of rooms for meetings. While technically a non-profit and independent of Yale, the organization sits on Yale’s campus, is the main clearing house for community service, and uses Yale’s name with the permission of the university. Here’s the mission, according to the group’s website:
The mission of Dwight Hall at Yale is ‘to foster civic-minded student leaders and to promote service and activism in New Haven and around the world….’ Dwight Hall recognizes that long-term solutions to the world’s problems come from focusing on developing passionate innovative leaders. Dwight Hall exists as a place to cultivate student leaders invested in ethical productivity, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Dwight Hall promotes a culture of action and reflection that encourages student leaders to share best practices, learn from successful leaders, and collaborate on solving societal challenges.
The organization brags on its website about its outreach:
Dwight Hall is comprised of four networks that support our student-led programs. The Networks promote community-based learning, innovative programming, best practices, and collaborative communication. These networks are categorized as Education, Social Justice, International, and Public Health and together contain over 90 student-lead programs that engage 3,500 students each year in service and social justice activities. Dwight Hall students contribute more than 150,000 hours of direct service and advocacy each year.
The organization’s cabinet—comprised of the leaders of other student groups and elected officers—have, without explanation, denied “Choose Life at Yale” (CLAY) membership. Here’s the report from the Yale Daily News:
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.”
Personally, I am more on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate than on the pro-life side, although I both respect the views and principles of those who come down on the other side of the debate and shudder at the radicalism inherent at the extremes. But, even as someone who would disagree with CLAY’s broader goals, the vote to deny CLAY full membership is a poor reflection on Dwight Hall, Yale University, and its undergraduate student body. It shows the closed mindset of the Yale campus and the failure more broadly of Yale’s administration, deans, and faculty to cultivate an atmosphere that prizes debate on divisive social issues rather than tries to wield power arbitrarily to shut it down.
Are Yale’s pro-choice organizations really lacking in the self-confidence or ability needed to debate ideas and, if necessary, out-compete in organization? Social justice is always an amorphous concept prone to political abuse; it is too bad that Yale student leaders interpret social justice in terms of political conformity rather than any real diversity. It’s hard not to look at Dwight Hall’s action and not see something rotten in New Haven.