Over the last two years, Dwight Hall has brought on two more graduate student fellows and two more full-time employees, in addition to establishing two new fellowship programs to broaden the organization’s reach.
The new full-time hires are Onyeka Obiocha, the director of innovation, and Zelda Roland ’08 GRD ’16, the director of the Yale Prison Education Initiatives. In Obiocha’s first few months in the position, he is pioneering a Neighbor in Residence program — which connects students with New Haven through a local resident familiar with the city — and a Change Maker in Residence program — an incubator for alumni projects — to expand Dwight Hall’s resources.
Drawing on lessons from the social innovation lab at Johns Hopkins University, the Neighbor in Residence program seeks to connect students with project partners in New Haven. The ideal candidate would be either a lifetime resident of the city or someone who knows their way around the institutions and people of New Haven, Obiocha said.
The change maker in residence program seeks to identify a Yale alum or a group of less than four people doing work in social justice or public service. The program is geared towards projects “making a measurable difference” at various levels, Obiocha said. Projects will have already identified a market for the product or service.
Before he was director of innovation at Dwight Hall, Obiocha owned and operated a coffee shop in New Haven. The Happiness Lab, as he called it, invested 100 percent of the profits in the communities from which it sourced its coffee, from places in East Africa to Latin America. Obiocha was later hired to lead the Social Innovation Lab, which was established last fall to incubate student ideas in service or social justice.
Previously, Dwight Hall only housed a McGee Fellow, a graduate student responsible for leading reflection for students engaged in service. However, last year, the nonprofit pioneered the Graduate Service Fellowship to engage graduate and professional students in service. Patrice Collins GRD ’22, a second-year student studying sociology, will serve as a liaison to Dwight Hall.
This year, Dwight Hall introduced the position of Artist in Residence to explore ways to use art to engage with social justice and service, said Dwight Hall Executive Director Peter Crumlish ’09. Projects could include art installations, exhibits, film series, events or gatherings, he added.
Dustin Gavin DIV ’18 initially approached Crumlish to apply for the McGee Fellowship. But after discussions about visual projects and art series curation, Crumlish established and offered Gavin the artist-in-residence fellowship. Gavin plans to direct his projects towards his own academic interests in social justice, specifically masculinity and queerness in the south, and ground his art in history as well.
Though projects are still in the works, Gavin is currently considering projects about the HIV crisis to address stigma about HIV and encouraging safe sex. Inspired by a previous website dedicated to Yale affiliates who had been affected by HIV and AIDS, Gavin said he would explore both immaterial and material forms for the project.
“I don’t think art necessarily has to be located in a private space for it to be called art or even to be something obviously material for us to consider it art,” Gavin said.
Gavin plans to partner with Yale students and local groups in New Haven, such as the New Haven AIDS Project.
Dwight Hall also has plans to expand service opportunities for undergraduates. Co-coordinators Anthony D’Ambrosio ’18 and Matthew Coffin ’19 said the First-Years in Service program will double in size from 20 to 40 students. Last year, the program saw a 25 percent acceptance rate.
Since the 1990s, Dwight Hall’s executive committee has grown from a committee of eight to roughly 18, D’Ambrosio said. The growing student governing body has allowed for specialized programs like the Outreach Fellows, representatives who connect service opportunities with residential colleges, sports teams and Greek organizations. The executive committee has also increasingly solicited involvement from underclassmen.
As Dwight Hall undergoes major expansions, Director of Development and Alumni Relations Johnny Scafidi ’01 is also re-evaluating the organization’s fundraising model, which he deemed “a bit antiquated.” Scafidi hopes to increase alumni engagement, specifically young alumni, and connect them with current students. Instead of writing a letter to recent graduates, Scafidi proposed the idea of holding events for young alumni in cities to gather and fundraise. Last year, Dwight Hall travelled to Washington, D.C. and New York City on fundraising and engagement trips.
Dwight Hall will be temporarily located at 143 Elm St. while the 67 High St. building undergoes renovations.