BTFO 1.0 Coordinator: Jamal Davis Neal, Jr.

Hello! Welcome to Yale Divinity School!

Right up until and through Orientation, I will be posting a series of blogs to help foster a smooth transition into the Yale Divinity School community. Our first post (after the Yale Connect navigation video) is an intoduction so you can learn a little bit more about me!

My name is Jamal Davis Neal, Jr. and I use he and they pronouns1. I’m serving as the BTFO 1.0 Coordinator this year! My task is, in collaboration with Associate Dean of Student Affairs Jeanne Peloso, to manage the planning and running of first year orientation! I’ll shepherd us through, making sure we cover all things necessary for a smooth transition into our community. 

Over the summer, I’ve been working on the schedule, writing blog posts like this, learning and setting up our Yale Connect page (which you can find here), helping run the Facebook group page (which you can find and join here), and coming up with activities to run throughout BTFO. 

I’m also here as a resource for you–whether that means now, in the near future during this next semester, or throghout the rest of your time here at Yale Divinity School. Please feel free to reach out via phone or email if you have any questions, comments, or concerns!

Without further ado, a little bit about me: 

I was born and raised in Groton, CT, the Submarine Capital of the World–a little town about 45 miles east of New Haven. I then attended the University of Vermont where I majored in Neuroscience, thinking I wanted to be a doctor, and graduated in 2019. During the course of my junior year, three major events took place: 1) I realized that my calling, my purpose in life, was not, in fact, healing people with my hands; 2) I came out publicly as Queer and began the process of becoming my truest self, a self I’m still working on building and learning about to this day; and 3) I got involved in student activism on my college campus, which catapulted an insatiable hunger for justice and equity. 

We can talk all about 2 & 3 in-person or on Zoom some other time, but #1 is directly related to why I’m here–upon re-realizing a call to ministry I had felt when I was younger, I struggled with how that call seemed to be at odds with my disincination toward parish ministry. Growing up in a very white American Baptist Chruch in Mystic, CT showed me all the wonders and disappointments related to that path. What was I to do with knowing that I was meant to be at Divinity School, but parish ministry, ministry I was not interested in, was my only evidence of actualized minsitry? Or… so I thought. 

I declared a religion minor and fell in love with intentional and critical religious scholarship and literacy in my junior year. After talking to a family friend about my aspirations, she directed me toward social work as a career path. I quickly became interested in this prospect. 

During my year of service with AmeriCorps at a school in Bridgeport, I did some research on schools–did I want to pursue an MSW and an MDiv separately? Are there joint programs? I knew I was vaguely interested in YDS because a youth minister went here and because of Andover Newton’s affiliation, and so I checked it out a little… and lo and behold, they had this wonderful partnership with UConn’s School of Social Work. I applied to YDS and 6 closeby MSW programs, got in, and now I’m here!

This last year I did my first year here at Yale Divinity School–met some wonderful friends, was affirmed in my abilities as a scholar, and learned a lot about myself while taking classes online and staying isolated in an apartment that harbored a toxic enviornment. I’m thankful for who I am on the other side of all of this and excited for what this next year has in-store. 

Speaking of, this next year, as part of my joint-program, I will be attending my first year at UConn’s School of Social Work. I’m excited to see how Social Work education is and for the growth that I’ll experience at UConn. But! Don’t fret! (If that’s what you were doing!) I will still be an available resource for y’all as you navigate Yale and I will still be an active part of the community even though I’ll technicially be in absentia status. 

My eventual goal in life is to open a community center where I’m able to do something different everyday–provide therapy, religious literacy, identitiy development, social programming, and perform rituals for my community members who I hope will be Queer Youth of Color. We’ll see where I end up, but I believe my education through both schools will aid my journey toward that goal. 

I’m excited to be the BTFO Coordinator for your class because (among other reasons!), since I’m in the joint-program, I will be graduating with your MDiv students in 2024. 

Anyway, that’s a little bit about me! Feel free to ask me more about my journey when we meet and start to get to know one another. 

Between now and Orientation you will be receiving several blog posts from me to help with the transition into our community. In the meantime, please don’t be afraid to let me know how I can be a resource for you! I’m more than willing to hop on a quick Zoom call to chat, answer questions, or (my favorite) help with registration ideas! Just contact me at any of the outlets below. 

I hope this finds you all well and excited for BTFO! Talk soon.

Jamal Davis Neal, Jr. (He/They1)
BTFO Coordinator

1Pronouns: A Resource by GLSEN