In honor of its 50th anniversary and in recognition of its beginnings at Dwight Hall in 1971, the nonprofit organization Marrakech has honored Dwight Hall with a Founders’ Award. Marrakech, Inc. is an organization with over 700 employees that provides a broad array of programs for people in Connecticut with and without disabilities. Dwight Hall is proud to accept the Founders’ Award and to acknowledge our shared history with Marrakech, a history which reflects our collective dedication to creating positive change in the New Haven community.
As Yale’s Center for Public Service and Social Justice, Dwight Hall partnered with Marrakech in the spring of 1971, when undergraduates Susan Waisbren ’71 and Frances Brody ’72 dared to envision a “halfway house” where young women with intellectual and developmental disabilities could live in a supportive community and gain critical life skills outside of an institution.
Both Susan and Frances modeled how students should engage with the community: they balanced relationships with the New Haven Regional Center, academic researchers, city government, funders, and other entities while keeping the eight young women in the original Marrakech program as their primary focus. Dwight Hall provided guidance along the way, chiefly through the advisement of the legendary Herb Cahoon.
Throughout the 1970s, several Dwight Hall Summer Interns continued to support the operations of Marrakech as its mission and programs expanded. At various points during these early years, students combatted zoning regulations, developed new revenue streams, and de-stigmatized the self-sufficiency and independence of young adults living with disabilities in the community.
Students working in close collaboration with the community achieved something extraordinary. As Susan and Frances wrote in their program report following the summer of 1971: “We never really wanted normalization. We wanted something better. Too often, normalcy in our society means conformity and compromise. We strove for consciousness, tolerance, and imagination.”
Susan Waisbren ’71 as a Yale student (left) and today (right) as a neuropsychologist and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School
Collaborative efforts with Marrakech also spurred innovation and growth at Dwight Hall. In the 1980s and 1990s, Dwight Hall expanded its role as an incubator for innovative programs when it served as a fiscal sponsor for the Association of Artisans to Cane, a program which has since become part of Marrakech’s East Street Arts. Today, Dwight Hall’s Emerging Projects initiative supports the continued development of local community partners.
At Dwight Hall, we believe in change. In these uncertain times, we believe change has never been more important. That is why we do everything we can to make social change a reality. Marrakech is a deeply valued partner in this vision for lasting social change.
Congratulations to Marrakech on its first half a century milestone. Dwight Hall looks forward to the next 50 years!