A Reflection on the Renovation of Dwight Hall

Written by Peter G. Crumlish, Executive Director & General Secretary

The beginning of the  academic year is always an exciting time, bringing new students, new opportunities, and renewed energy. This year brings with it an even greater opportunity and the promise of a new beginning in our historic building.  

Common Read discussion groupAs of August 7th, we have been operating out of a swing space on 143 Elm Street, (the “Governor’s House” on the corner of Elm & Temple) while the physical building named “Dwight Hall” undergoes a renovation during the 2017-2018 academic year. Yale University has committed substantial funds to make this project possible, recognizing the value of Dwight Hall to the Yale student experience and building on the support of Dwight Hall donors from a prior Capital Campaign.  Our central community space is being renovated to better support the development of student leadership and social innovation at Yale.  The renovation will begin in the fall of 2017 and includes:

  • re-designed student meeting rooms, collaboration spaces and co-working technology;

  • an elevator in the north wing, accessibility, air conditioning, and improved mechanical infrastructure; and

  • refinishing of Dwight Hall’s historic interiors and extensive millwork.

While the renovation will cause some temporary disruption, the students and staff of Dwight Hall are enthusiastic about the opportunity to upgrade the space and enhance the impact on the Hall’s programming. Dwight Hall has a long history of creating the right environment for student-led service and activism in New Haven and we are anxious to begin this new chapter.

While in our temporary home at 143 Elm, we are hoping to capitalize on our proximity to the Green and The New Haven Free Public Library.  We will have a meeting room–similar to the Library at Dwight Hall–available for reservation and will explore new ways to use our space creatively, like the Human Library Project for which our students are seeking funding from Campus Compact.

Existing member groups will see little change in programming, other than a new pickup location for car keys and a new spot for the copier.  In fact, the swing space offers us a conference style room we’re reserving for member groups and institutional programs meetings, plus lots of storage space for groups like Demos and MathCounts.  Overall we are very excited for this new space knowing that upon our return we will be even more equipped to become a bustling hub for students. This will also provide us with an opportunity to become more engaged with the new Haven community by locating us more directly in the heart of the city.

Whenever we look forward to our future direction, it’s important to take a moment and reflect on what’s led us to this moment. Earlier this summer, President Salovey wrote about the importance of service in the Yale experience. Dwight Hall has carried this tradition through our 131 year history of working every day to inspire students to become leaders of social change. There are countless examples in the previous year, like the reflections from outstanding leaders like Matthew Coffin and Joel Bervell, or the experiences of this year’s twelve Dwight Hall Summer Fellows.  I was able to visit Summer Fellows Daniel Hamidi in New Orleans and Marwan Safar Jalani in Palo Alto, as they helped launch a new pilot with the Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance (YANA). It’s one thing to see student energy on campus, but something else entirely to see our students in full force during the summer.  These students, and the alumni I was able to visit, continue to inspire me to keep Dwight Hall at the forefront of social action.

We are proud to bring social action into our space as well. Last year, Zelda Roland became the Director of the Yale Prison Education Initiative, which seeks to bring Yale classes to incarcerated individuals and works for educational opportunity for all people in Connecticut. More than once this summer, Zelda and her summer fellows have organized common read events, again turning Dwight Hall’s historic library into a place where ideas are exchanged and where we ground ourselves in social justice.  

I am also happy to announce that Ony Obiocha, has joined our staff as the Director of Innovation.  He spent the last year learning the Yale landscape as a Social Entrepreneurship Fellow, and will head up our Social Innovation Lab, an opportunity we’ve developed to give the most dedicated social change agents an opportunity to thrive.  Ony joins an already bustling arm of programs at Dwight Hall, and his dedication to creating and supporting  leaders of social change will be a positive addition to our team.

At a time of significant attention to the power of social innovation to develop student leaders and extend the University’s commitment to its community, the modernization of Dwight Hall is very meaningful. We believe that attractive, flexible collaboration space and technological tools will help our 131-year-old institution tap the energy of today’s students, faculty, and community members, as well as enhance Yale’s leadership role in higher education as an institution dedicated to nurturing and inspiring the leaders who will make the greatest contributions to society.

As we prepare for this renovation and as I take a minute to reflect on its importance, I am struck by the living history of our building.  Over the past year, we’ve begun an archiving project that has resulted in 5,480 scanned documents (so far) detailing Dwight Hall’s history, relationship with Yale University, and student engagement with New Haven.  Deep in the closet we even found newspaper clippings from 1926!  Still, nothing makes me more proud than connecting a current student with alumni who were in New Haven during the Black Panther Trials, knowing that both could talk about sleeping on the floor of Dwight Hall! While we may be excited about our temporary space and its close connection with New Haven, we are even more excited to start the next 130 years carrying on the proud tradition of service and social justice inside Dwight Hall at Yale.

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