Adapting to Remote Service but Hoping for an In-Person Return

At the start of the spring 2022 semester, Dwight Hall Executive Director Peter Crumlish announced that, following campus COVID-19 guidelines, Dwight Hall would move forward with another semester of remote service activity. Following a review of the Fall 2021 Record, where Dwight Hall collects data on student engagement and activities, and the Spring 2022 Review, where the Hall collects data on proposed activities, we can discern the effect of remote service on the student level, both where service was successfully adapted to a remote context and where students continue to lament policies preventing them from connecting in person with the community.

From July 1, 2021 to April 7, 2022, Dwight Hall offered students 152 fellowship and programming placements. In those 152 positions, students recorded over 7700 hours of remote service. Civic engagement, even in a remote and heavily restricted context, was high.

Notably, with First-Years in Support of New Haven, a program which aims to introduce first-years to the city of New Haven through community speaker events, sustainable community engagement, and service, 8 undergraduate coordinators worked a combined 982 hours developing programming to connect first year Yale students to nonprofits and New Haven community partners. In August 2021, Joseph Bennett ’24 said, “the other coordinators and I had a really comprehensive conversation about the format of the program this year coming out of COVID and gave some of our thoughts about the program last year. Some notable ideas include leaving full-group speaker events online bi-weekly, off-week smaller groups with an older and new co-coordinator for reflection and community building, and extending meetings to an hour and a half to allow for more immediate discussions after speaker events.” As with many Dwight Hall programs and member groups, First Years in Support of New Haven developed innovative adaptations to continue connecting with students and community members within Yale’s campus safety guidelines.

Community Response Fellows, a pandemic-era fellowship meant to support students already working with the community, also showed intense remote involvement: 8 Community Response Fellows recorded over 600 hours of work with their community partners. Community Response Fellow Charlie Tran ’22 worked with Fair Haven Community Health Care Center (FHCHC) over the summer as a Dwight Hall Summer Fellow, and the Community Response Fellowship allowed him to continue this work through the school year. Working remotely with FHCHC, Charlie says, ​​”As always, I’m excited to be working with an organization that prioritizes community care and invests in innovative/social-facing initiatives to healthcare.”  Speaking about Community Response Fellows, Dwight Hall Director of Programming and Evaluation Mark Fopeano said, “The number of service hours these students committed these past few months bears out the value of the project…The Community Response Fellows are going out and executing on their ideas.” Mark predicts that Community Response Fellows will become a permanent Dwight Hall program.

Though groups like First-Years in Support of New Haven, Yale Campus Girl Scouts, and the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP) had success adapting to a remote context, the Fall 2021 Record and Spring 2022 Review revealed that 40% of Dwight Hall groups and programs wanted to serve in person. About 60% of Dwight Hall groups said they had varying degrees of success in operating remotely, but much service, like YHHAP’s work in New Haven soup kitchens, could not be transitioned to a remote context. Some groups developed creative workarounds to Yale’s in-person restrictions. For example, a group that seeks to fill a gap in elementary school education by combining athletics with female empowerment, Girls on the Run will sponsor students from the Nursing School and Southern Connecticut State University to coach at Truman Elementary in their place. “We will be working with the girls virtually due to Dwight Hall and Yale College restrictions, while [the Nursing School and Southern students] will be able to work with the girls in person,” says student leaders Ashley Lin ’22, Julianna Suprenant ’24, and Caroline Parker J.D ’22.

This past week, for the first time in two years, Yale re-opened Old Campus’s gates to the public. Restrictions on guests and student events have been lowered, and campus masking requirements are also lessening as COVID-19 case rates remain low. As the university begins to transition to safely re-engaging with the Yale and New Haven community, Dwight Hall is hopeful that in-person service will soon be approved by Yale’s Campus and Community guidelines. Once guidelines are established, Dwight Hall can communicate with our 80+ member groups and guide them through safely transitioning back to in-person activities.

About the Author

Lydia Burleson

Lydia Burleson served as the Communications and Alumni Engagement Associate for Dwight Hall at Yale, Center for Public Service and Social Justice from June 2021-June 2022. A first-generation low-income student from rural Texas, Lydia graduated from Yale cum laude in 2021 with a degree in English and a nonfiction creative writing concentration. During her college years, Lydia increased awareness of marginalized voices with the public writing she did for The Yale Daily News and the Yale Admissions office. Her Dwight Hall experiences included free college advising with student-led member groups REACH and Matriculate. Dwight Hall empowered Lydia to uplift other disadvantaged students and to increase access to education for people who might not have otherwise received these resources. She is currently completing an English PhD at Stanford University with a Knight-Hennessy Fellowship.