Yale’s ‘social justice’ organization denies pro-life service group access to university resources

Choose Life at Yale

A pro-life group at Yale University that also provides community service has been refused membership in the school’s “social justice network,” denying it access to campus resources.

Choose Life at Yale (CLAY) was rejected after an anonymous vote held by organization leaders of Dwight Hall, Yale University’s Center for Public Service and Social Justice. CLAY had already been on “provisional status” for a year, helping to raise money for the network, but was ultimately turned away for undisclosed reasons. They are the first organization in close to 10 years to be rejected.

“We are all obviously disappointed and frustrated with this decision, especially after having gone through the year-long provisional process,” Christian Hernandez, president of CLAY’s 2014 board, told the Yale Daily News.

Dwight Hall’s stated mission is “to foster civic-minded student leaders and to promote service and activism in New Haven and around the world.” But despite CLAY’s pursuit of community service, such as volunteering at a pregnancy crisis center that provides support to mothers who opt not to have an abortion, the group was not granted acceptance.

“What it looks like to me is [the cabinet] knew all along that CLAY didn’t have a fighting chance, but they wanted to see what was going to happen,” Courtney McEachon, a CLAY board member, told Red Alert Politics. “There were comments like, ‘This is Yale, what did you expect?’”

CLAY began incorporating service into its mission throughout the last two years, Hernandez and McEachon detailed in an op-ed in the Yale Daily News. Club members began volunteering at the Saint Gianna Center, which according to its website provides free pregnancy testing, housing options for clients, childbirth and parenting classes, and labor and delivery support. And CLAY volunteers often helped coordinate baby showers for St. Gianna clients, assisted in finding resources for women, and drove them to medical appointments.

“We accept, at the heart of our organization’s mission, a definition of social justice that includes fighting for social equity and providing everyone with a chance to live a full and enriching life,” Hernandez and McEachon wrote. “We believe strongly that any comprehensive definition of social justice must affirm pregnancy and childbirth.”

What’s more, CLAY, a pro-life, student-run organization founded 10 years ago, applied for acceptance to Dwight Hall at the urging of several of the center’s current members. The group spent a year on provisional status to bolster support for its acceptance, which in addition to raising money for Dwight Hall included attending required meetings and complying with membership rules.

But the 90-member Dwight Hall Cabinet, which includes leaders from the member organizations and an executive committee, struck down their application Wednesday night. Though CLAY members said some voting seemed “biased” — citing one co-cordinator who opted to wear a “Yale Feminists” t-shirt to the meeting — Dwight Hall’s cabinet maintained that the vote was “democratic.”

“We treated CLAY as we did every other group,” Teresa Logue, a junior who wore the aforementioned shirt, told the Yale Daily News. “It was a democratic decision.”

Groups applying for membership into the social justice network have only have 60 seconds to plead their case in-person. But discussion surrounding acceptance of the pro-life group in the weeks leading up to the vote far exceeded that of any other organization that applied, Shea Jennings, the nonprofit’s public relations coordinator, said.

“Generally what happens is in most member groups the decision is made without as much discussion,” she said. “Because this was a more political decision, there was more discussion.”

But political advocacy — and legislative advocacy — is encouraged by Dwight Hall, as current member groups include chapters of Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Social justice takes many forms, as Dwight Hall knows — many of its groups take very different, and sometimes conflicting approaches to furthering social justice,” Hernandez and McEachon wrote in their op-ed. “While the points to emphasis differ, the mission is the same. Our effort to help pregnant women and their babies in no way distracts from this mission.”

Still, members weren’t swayed.

“To allow CLAY into the Social Justice Network would signal that we consider its work social justice, and would compel Dwight Hall to divert funds away from groups that do important work pursuing actual social justice and helping communities in New Haven and around the world,” Andre Manuel, chair of Yale’s ACLU chapter, wrote in a competing op-ed in the Yale paper. “Social justice means fighting injustice and discrimination, and working to provide everyone with the chance to live a full and enriching life.

The vote count on CLAY’s application for membership was not revealed, though Jennings said it was not unanimous.

The center operates on an $800,000 budget. A whopping 34 percent of its funding is through grants, with another 31 percent coming from an endowment. The remaining portions are obtained through donations, facility rentals and the Yale Office of New Haven State Affairs.

Though CLAY was ultimately denied — the two other groups that applied alongside it were approved — members are debating applying once more. However, the group will have to undergo the provisional process again and is considering restructuring its program.

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