Navigating Community Building, Allyship, and Voice with Dwight Hall’s Institutional Service Coordinator, José Garcia ’22.

José Garcia ’22, is one of many students at Dwight Hall who redefines community building and activates allyship, voice, and a responsiveness to community in the home of Yale – that is New Haven. 

From Orlando, Florida, José is a Junior at Yale College majoring in Ethnicity, Race and Migration, and is currently the Institutional Service Coordinator on the Student Executive Committee at Dwight Hall. Dwight Hall staff sat down with José to understand his work, devotion to public service, and how his journey through Dwight Hall serves as a model for fellow Yale students who strive to thoughtfully engage with public service and allyship across New Haven. 

As a first-year student, José served as the Dwight Hall Social Justice Coordinator, crafting his own approach to public service. Working with JUNTA for Progressive Action, he engaged in volunteer financial literacy efforts, tax preparation with community members, and case management in the New Haven Latinx community. 

“JUNTA’s work was very connected to communities coming from a similar background, so I wanted to get plugged into those efforts. I became interested in what wraparound services mean and what community can look like,” Garcia said. Understanding and responding to community in a way that respects the aspirations of community partners has not only played a significant role in allowing Dwight Hall to build long-lasting relationships, but has created a window for fellow Yale students in how to navigate community building as a guest to New Haven. 

When José joined Dwight Hall as a First-Year, he wanted to know how Yale students interested in social justice could be present in the community and also be purposeful about building community relationships. 

We asked José, “What made you decide to get involved with Dwight Hall as the Institutional Service Coordinator on the Student Executive Committee? In other words, many other Yale groups were already doing this kind of work before you came along. What made you think there was an opening for you?”

“I was looking for ways to make sure we are not burdening community partners with our desires for doing service, but we are meeting the needs that are present in the community,” Garcia said. “A lot of my decision was informed by communicating with member groups directly and helping to form those long-lasting relationships.”

Meaningful community relationships are not imposed, but consented upon.

For Dwight Hall students like José, consolidating resources to community partners is not just about the labelling of service, but stepping up to create, preserve, and materially transform the social conditions of New Haven and beyond. Building off of Dwight Hall’s lessons,  José emphasized the need to disrupt the way students see the relationship between Yale and New Haven, and center that revised scope of community through actions of service. 

When navigating community building, Garcia emphasized the importance of intention and purpose when trying to organize in a community in which one may be unfamiliar. Dwight Hall is often a first stop for many incoming Yale students when pursuing conversations of inequality, social justice, and activating reform. 

We asked, “How do you think your Yale experience would be different if Dwight Hall did not exist?” 

 José responded, “There would not be an opportunity for those community counter-narrations and reimagining those partnerships. How I engage with community and how I understand space would be completely different. But because student activism has always driven what Dwight Hall has produced, students coming together in efforts that Dwight Hall currently consolidates would have made a Dwight Hall if it did not exist. Students have been active and looking for something different, and Dwight Hall provides space for that difference.”

At Dwight Hall, students like José are asking: What does the community need, where can we be, and what will have sustainable impact? Our mission of public service is committed to leveraging the breadth of institutional service, activating students like Garcia to explore the essence of community partnerships, and awakening what it means to be an active ally to our shared home of New Haven. 

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.