Skip to navigation

Smart Matters

Get Connected on YaleNet.orgGet Connected on
Welcome To YaleNet - Boola Boola Bulldog Rules
get connected with your One Click Club
YaleNet is YOU - ADD CONTENT, browse or   Search -->


Origins of Activism

Dwight Hall was founded in 1886 as the Yale University Christian Association. It was incorporated twelve years later as an independent, non-profit educational and religious organization. Throughout its history, Dwight Hall has been a student-run organi zation. Students form the Cabinet and Executive Committee. Dwight Hall staff support and advise students and act as liaisons between the Dwight Hallers and Yale. Dwight Hall provides students with resources, the support, and the space necessary to part icipate in social justice and public service work. Although many Dwight Hallers and Dwight Hall organizations take political stands and participate in controversial actions, Dwight Hall as an organization is neutral, which means that it often criticized by the "radicals" and "establishment" alike. However, without neutrality, Dwight Hall students would not have the freedom to develop their own projects, organizations, or moral values.

In the beginning, there were three types of activities in the Hall: religious work, social action/justice, and public service. At Dwight Hall, students met for discussion, Bible study, and worship. These Christian activities motivated Yale students' in volvement in the public service and social justice work. Throughout the Christian Gospels, Jesus taught through word and example that it is the duty of Christians to serve other people in need and to create a more just society on Earth. Since the 1970s, Dwight Hall has not been an explicitly Christian organization, although Dwight Hall has continued to be a place where students develop and explore their own moral and religious convictions.

Since the 1800s, Dwight Hallers have participated in various kinds of public service work-including tutoring local children, mentoring children, helping create service organizations for the poor and homeless, creating and serving in soup kitchens, and so on. Today, there are over 70 Dwight Hall organizations, the majority of which are public service organizations that help New Haven residents improve their life skills and life situation. Based on their experiences doing public service work, many studen ts have also been motivated to work for systematic change.

In the early 1900s, Dwight Hallers also traveled to other countries on mission trips: they founded a hospital and a school in China. In the 1930s, many Dwight Hall students became involved in helping Yale's workers unionize and organized annual "peace s trikes" to demonstrate their commitment to pacifism and working for peace. Numerous Dwight Hallers were conscientious objectors in WWI and WWII. One Dwight Hall alumnus, David Dellinger, has been a peace activist since the late 1930s.

Dwight Hall students in the Civil Rights Movement

During the 1950s Dwight Hall produced many students who participated in the Civil Rights movement in the South-participating in the freedom rides, sit-ins, and marches. In the 1960s, Civil Rights work continued. The University Chaplain at the time, William Sloane Coffin, also participated in freedom rides, sit-ins, and other such activities. While attending Yale as an undergraduate, 2000 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman also participated in the freed om rides. Emerging with a national reputation for student activism, Dwight Hall served as the central location for East Coast student activists participating in the freedom rides. Students would travel from Harvard, Brown, and other East Coast colleges and universities in order to take the bus from Dwight Hall to the South. Students would board buses on Friday afternoon and return on Sunday night. The freedoms rides were so frequent that the bus drivers raced to see which bus would arrive in the South first.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dwight Hallers were very active in the anti-Vietnam movement. During the famous May Day situation in 1970, Dwight Hall served as a "neutral" space where both Black Panthers and FBI could gather to discuss and negotiate . In brief, the May Day situation developed because Bobby Seale, a leader of the Black Panther Party was on trial in New Haven. Many radicals, Black Panthers, and Weathermen congregated in New Haven. Everyone thought that riots were go ing to break out, but they did not, thanks in large part to Yale students. Dwight Hallers served as marshals, set up soup kitchens, emergency stations, and other important facilities.

The Establishment of the Social Justice Network

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Dwight Hall has continued to be a hub of activism. In the 1980s, many students were involved in fighting apartheid in South Africa and in the environmental movement. In the 1990s, the Student Labor Action Coaliti on (SLAC) supported Locals 34 and 35 efforts to negotiate a fair contract with Yale in December 1996, numerous student organizations formed the Student Coalition Rallying Against Proposition 187 (SCRAP 187) in 1994/1995, United Farm Workers at Yale successfully petitioned to ban California table grapes from Yale University dining halls in order to improve the plight of the farm workers, and the Yale Hunger and Homeless Action Project (YHHAP) hel ped get the New Haven Living Wage bill passed in 1997.

The Social Justice Network (SJN) developed alongside SLAC in 1997-1998. The idea was to create a sustainable, institutionalized network of organizations devoted to social action and social change. In addition, it was clear that SLAC ha d taken on a life of its own, rather than continuing to be a coalition of organizations. Crucial in the development of SJN were Christina Leano '97 and Kate Andreas '96. Initially, the SJN was simply a series of monthly meetings at which representatives from the cultural organizations, the Women's Center, the LGBT Co-op, SLAC, and representatives of New Haven organizations. These meetings served as opportunities to share information, collaborate, support one another, an d strategize. Room 11 of Dwight served as the SJN office and Nicole Tuchinda, Eunice Cho, and others lobbied to create an SJN line-item in Dwight Hall's annual budget.

The lobbying efforts succeeded and the following year, 1998-1999, an SJN steering committee formed. MESH, the SJN semi-annual newsletter, evolved into the Yale Alternative under the leadership of Jessica Champagne '01. Meanwhile, the main subjects of activism included the reform of the tenure system and the financial aid system at Yale and pressuring the University to make Yale "sweat-free." Dwight Hallers are involved in the movement to close down the School of the A mericas, the effort to end the sanctions against Iraq, the drive to clean up the power plants in Connecticut's cities, and many other issues. In order to expand its student base, Dwight Hall co-sponsored dinners with the cultural centers and religious or ganizations in order to open up dialogue.

In 2000, Students Against Sweatshops (SAS) at Yale occupied Beinecke Plaza in order to pressure the administration to be more socially responsible for its clothing manufactured in El Salvador. SAS asked the administration to switch from the Fair Labor Association (which is funded by the corporations and announces upcoming inspections) to sign onto the Workers Rights Consortium (which is independent and provides unannounced random inspections). The occupation lasted into the Bulldog Day s Weekend and a number of prefrosh joined student activists in the Beinecke Plaza occupation.

Because of the availability of resources and continuous student initiatves, social action continues to become a part of the Yale experience within or outside of the SJN.

Compiled by Teresa Mithen '96 (1996-1997 Magee and Social Justice Fellow) and Rafael Trujillo '01 (1999 Dwight Hall Co-Coordinator) based on the current flier "New Haven-A Brief History," "Out From Behind the Walls of Ivy," personal experiences, and colle cting oral histories from Dwight Hall alumni.
(written Summer 1998; revision, January 1999; second revision, November 2000)