Coggins: Gift campaign goes for broke

As every member of the class of 2010 knows, we are in the midst of the three-week-long senior class gift campaign, in which seniors are implored to give money to Yale to celebrate our class and our time here.

That’s a shame; Yale would be a better place if it scrapped the venture.

I’m not writing to discourage those who can afford to donate. Even with its many flaws, Yale is probably still a pretty good cause, and it is, in some sense, ours. Students with money to give could do worse.

But the SCG rests on a premise that all seniors should donate now. According to an e-mail sent last week to the entire class, the campaign’s goal is to collect donations of at least five dollars from “each and every graduating senior.”

The rhetoric is backed by incentives. The SCG Web site tells us that alumni donors will award a $10,000 scholarship to an incoming freshman in the residential college with the highest participation rate. Moreover, an “anonymous donor” has offered to double the amount of the entire class gift if the schoolwide participation rate exceeds 89 percent — the 2009 record.

In the midst of such moneyed enthusiasm, we would do well to ask ourselves why anyone should ever want 90 percent or more of seniors to donate. Hard as it is for some of our classmates to understand, many of us have little or no money — any amount I might contribute would come straight from the loan I took out last month.

Proponents of the SCG argue that donating, even in small amounts, allows students to show gratitude and take ownership of the Yale idea, but if one must donate to be recognized as an active and appreciative member of the community, it follows that those with more to give have an advantage.

When lower- and middle-class students decide to come to Yale, they do so on the assurance that they will feel no less at home than their wealthier classmates. This assurance is part of a smart deal Yale makes to attract the best applicants and to ensure a highly marketable socioeconomically diverse student body.

Yale takes commendable steps to follow through on this promise, with numerous summer fellowships, subsidized recreational activities and a good financial aid program (though not good enough until we eliminate the unequal burden of the self-help requirement).

But this school is still an exceptionally difficult setting in which not to have money.

Class problems shape deeply the lived experience of many of us here. Do I pitch in for a suitemate’s birthday cake if it means cutting my bank account balance in half? What do I do between work-study paychecks when my glasses break or my computer crashes?

These difficulties are compounded by the feeling that one’s peer group does not understand or relate to them. At most universities, number-crunching is an expected and universal part of student life. At Yale, this is glaringly not the case. Fifty percent of students are on financial aid; the other half can afford to spend $50,000 a year (or much, much more, in many cases) to go to school.

In this light, what makes the SCG particularly offensive is its savvy manipulation of peer-group enthusiasm, redirected from the familiar spirit-building channels of intramural sports and extracurricular activities.

According to the SCG Web site, the Development Office has designated 138 SCG volunteers among the class of 2010. That means one in every 10 seniors has been charged with convincing her classmates to give to Yale, right now.

I trust that my classmates who have volunteered mean well. But for students on tight budgets, having groups of friends, some of them significantly better off than we, apply polite but pointed pressure on us to cough up even more cash is stressful. So are the mass e-mails, cocktail hours, T-shirt designs and elaborate videos created to encourage us to give.

I could find five dollars to donate, but what sense does it make for me, as a current undergraduate in debt, to give to the Yale pot, where my gift would be shared with students who need it much less than I?

Furthermore, why give to a campaign so insensitive to struggling seniors? I’d much rather attend a Yale more welcoming to disadvantaged students than one with a higher undergraduate giving percentage. And no pitch from the Development Office is going to convince me that collecting five dollars from every poor senior will help accomplish the former.

Of course, the real reason for the SCG’s focus on participation rates is to prime the pump for future donations. Students who give as seniors are more likely to donate later in life. But the Development Office has forgotten that, as students, very few of us have had the chance to earn money ourselves.

I suspect that one day the current SCG campaign will be remembered for what it is: a relic of lingering classism at Yale. But, for now, if there is going to be a gift campaign, it must curb its ambitions or else continue to poison class relations at Yale. Give if you can: That’s the most we should ask of each other.

Chandler Coggins is a senior in Davenport College.

Comments

  • yale11

    A courageous article, Chandler, and one that I’m sure will earn you some criticism. But as a yalie who doesn’t have the funds for the donation prompter, “give up a couple cups of starbucks coffee” to even make sense, I appreciated it.

    I really do believe that giving to Yale has inherent value, and I trust that someday I will be able to. However, the greater problem is the point you make; the enthusiasm and group-mentality that SCG plays on has classist roots. Unfortunately, it is an insight that I don’t think many people see at first glance.

  • Y10

    thank you

  • Yale 2011

    Keep fighting the power, Chandler! I for one refuse to donate! Yale should be free, for all the money they have. There are enough wealthy students here to subsidize the rest, and even if there weren’t, the Yale endowment is big enough to cover the difference.

    And I agree that it is suspicious having an ‘anonymous’ donor matching the gift if it gets high. It would be nice to have a little transparency.

    DON’T give in no matter how MUCH heat you might get, Chandler!

  • PC10

    I don’t understand people who say that they don’t even have $5. Yale’s financial aid is very generous and between working a full-time job every summer and working 10 to 15 hours a week during the school year, I’ve never been that strapped for cash. If you don’t have $5 get an on-campus job and earn it; that’s what the rest of us are doing.

  • Yale2010

    Thank you. The group mentality of giving and chipping in is a good point to make, because it’s annoying to make friends feel guilty when you can’t chip in for birthday dinners at Bespoke. I wonder if the volunteers realize how much even $5 can mean to their peers.

  • Y09

    I applaud everyone involved with the Class Gift campaign, whether you are one of the volunteer cheerleaders or a guest at one of the great parties that always seem to fall in these three weeks. I can’t believe a year has already passed since our class got to do this too, and believe me, one year from now, you’ll also be looking back with the deepest fondness for your Senior spring semester.

    The anti-enthusiastic crowd manifests itself every single year. Last year, I, too, listened to some of my more naturally-combative friends try to come up with reasons that Yale did not “deserve my $5″. There are reasons, and then there are reasons. There is always reluctance to donate, and this is understandable. Money is tight. But to the author here, I say: think hard about whether your reluctance is well-reasoned, or whether yours is a reaction to the horrid notion of being part of a 90%+ majority. (This seemed to be part of the argument, and is no doubt the animus behind this inevitable piece.) You better believe that no one in New Orleans is ashamed to be part of the 99.99% majority backing the Saints this weekend!

    This year, unlike previous years, Yale’s need has never been more palpable. The endowment is astronomically large by institutional standards, and yet most of it is based in restricted donations from alums much older than us who are still waiting for another mega-construction opportunity to open up. In the meantime, all the little things at Yale that wouldn’t normally attract a dedicated financial base but that we as Yalies enjoy so so much will begin to slip away. There are too many to list, but they are the caulk in the cement, if you will, that makes the Yale experience the vibrant and rich one that it can be for any student who wishes to have it.

    This is certainly a year where I’d encourage my friends in the Class of 2010 to think beyond yourselves (yes, even beyond your senior essays!) and proudly embrace being part of that 90%+ majority.

    That is unless you don’t think you have what it takes to beat our record.

  • DC10

    @PC10 it’s not about whether one is able to hand over a $5 bill but rather the principle behind such encouragement to hand that bill over.

  • y10

    You realize Yale doesn’t have to admit bitter poor people like you at all, right? They didn’t used to, so perhaps you should be grateful you’re here in the first place. It’s much easier (and more enjoyable for the rest of us) to run a school if you don’t have people who can’t turn up an extra fiver come senior year and complain about it in the YDN.

    And #3… when you inevitably have made money with that pending Yale degree you so vehemently refuse to be grateful for, we’ll see if you’re hankering to pay for the poor students in your son or daughter’s class. Socialism is only fun until you’re the one being exploited.

    I’d rather be classist than classless. Grow up, people.

  • Y12

    You just sound severely cheap/misanthropic to me. I have plenty of friends from very, VERY low-income (read: nonexistent) families who would scrounge under the couch to find change to donate to Yale as seniors.

    Perhaps a little gratitude is in order? After all, it’s thanks to Yale that you won’t BE poor anymore, and your children won’t have to write such obnoxious articles in their college papers.

  • @#5

    No, we really don’t. Five dollars is nothing. Unless you are literally living ON THE STREETS, you can find five more bucks to give to your college. This article, and everyone agreeing with it, is seriously out of control. Embarrassing you people go here.

  • y10

    Bravo, thank you.

  • ’10

    The article raises important points about sensitivity to differences in spending ability across the student body. I agree that certain expenses, like pricy birthday dinners, are unquestioned parts of the Yale social scene, and they accumulate in ways that are not always evident to friends who don’t have to count dollars. It’s classist and wrong to make students feel guilty or socially ostracized because they cannot afford a big donation right now.

    BUT my impression of the SCG campaign is that, while they want lots of participation, they are not at all pressuring us to spend more than $5 to express our thanks. If Bob thinks, in the course of paying tuition, he’s repaid Yale adequately for his education (and I suppose that’s valid, given the cost), fine. But there’s no reason why a less wealthy student who WANTS to show some extra appreciation shouldn’t be able to spare $5. And the SGC ads are targeted at students who WANT to say thanks.

  • @Yale2010

    Uh, yeah, that part where some of us pay full tuition, and others don’t? That’s called “subsidizing the rest.” Thanks for playing, though.

  • @#7

    For some, maybe, but Coggins makes it an argument of practicality, not principle. Therefore he can be refuted on that basis.

  • ’10

    I inexplicably typed “Bob” when I meant “Coggins.” Yeahhhh.

  • BR 11

    The whole notion of a transactional Yale education–Papa Yale has given me this pricey Ivy League education so I’m giving back a monetary donation–totally misses the point. Everyone (yes, even legacies, one would hope) works hard to get here and is entitled in that sense to full participation in Yale academic and social life. People who don’t meet Coggins halfway and can’t even conceptualize what it means to not have sums of cash readily on hand are throwing away their real Yale education.

  • FailBoat

    I agree with Mr. Coggins. Some students here pay $40,000+/year in tuition. Others are running debt while still in school. If I feel like donating later in my life, I will. For now, I’ll use the money to buy food and books.

  • ’09

    I remember having mixed feelings about this campaign as a senior last year. There was this strange feeling that after 4 years of paying vast sums of money for my education, my *school* wanted even more money from me.

    But I did a lot of thinking about it. And what I came up with is essentially the following: Each of us at Yale takes an extraordinary benefit from all those who have come before us. We benefit from them in any number of ways, one of which is through their extreme generousity.

    Yale spends significantly more per student than it brings in in tuition (even if every student were paying full tuition). Where does all that extra money come from? Largely from alumni, giving back to their Alma Mater.

    Ever seen the movie “Pay It Forward”? That’s exactly what Yale is all about. Yes, a Yale education is expensive, but if you didn’t think it was worth it, you wouldn’t be here.

    The idea of the senior gift campaign is to encourage a culture of giving back to Yale, or rather, Paying Forward to future generations of Yalies in thanks to those who came before us and enabled us to be here now.

    Perhaps the campaign could do a better job explaining itself – making it less about the money now and more about the culture of gratitude and support that will enable the next generation of Yalies to enjoy a Yale experience tomorrow.

  • YaleCollege2010

    Yale College offers unbelievable opportunities and nearly unlimited resources to those that attend. But one can be grateful for all that Yale College has to offer its undergraduate students without believing that Yale College is worth either supporting financially or helping to perpetuate into the future.

    If you have an extra $5 dollars, or $20.10, society would be better served by donating that money your state University or your local community college — or Gateway Community College, here in New Haven. All of them need the money much more than Yale College does, and a lot more students (and their present and future families) will benefit as a result.

  • 2010

    Chandler, one point on which I must disagree with you is your assumption that if you’re not on financial aid, you can easily afford to pay the >$50,000 tuition. Considering that my parents have been borrowing heavily from family members to pay my Yale tuition for at least the past two years if not longer, and also considering that I know many people who are in a similar situation, your statement is incorrect and a little narrow-minded.

    I know this isn’t the point of your (interesting) article, but it’s an assumption I try my best to correct.

  • Y2010

    As someone on significant financial aid, I know that $5 can be a bigger deal than some people realize. My bank account isn’t too close to empty, so I end up spending money that I really should be saving. $5 doesn’t seem like much now but my current bank balance would only cover a couple months of rent; I’ll need every dollar after graduation.

    I did end up giving to the SGC, and I gave more than I probably could afford because I realized I could direct that my money go to financial aid. I would not be here without it, so if I’m going to contribute to Yale, that’s where I want it to go.

    But like Chandler I was disgusted by the way the campaign was handled. Videos and emails which pressure people to give because everyone else is doing it are silly—the real reason to donate is to help Yale be awesome and affordable for future students. The t-shirts and cocktail parties are nice and all, but if Yale really needs the money they should save what they would use to “reward” us and use it for financial aid, or for the salaries of the employees who will otherwise lose their jobs this year.

    As a side note, I also felt that beginning the campaign right after the earthquake in Haiti was a poor choice. As dear as Yale is to me, the people in Haiti need immediate help more than Yale does.

  • Ferny

    I’m confused why Yale spends more money trying to get money out of of us for a ‘senior class gift’ than it gets from said gift (happy hours, t-shirts, etc.)

    I’m planning to donate to Yale in the future. Just not right now. It just seems that the hype around this is very silly. NOBODY’S FINANCIAL AID IS GOING TO BE SAVED FROM THE SENIOR CLASS GIFT.

  • SY ’10

    As many have said, the $5 actually stops very few of us from donating – if someone here actually doesn’t spend a single cent on non-essentials (alcohol, going out to eat, buttery food, etc) then the actual amount of money might constitute a hardship. But the vast majority of Yalies can find $5 that they spend that they didn’t need to.

    But #19 gets at a much better argument for not donating to Yale – that there are other places where the money would go to far better use. Most of us don’t spend a whole lot of our money on charity. But it seems like, in this situation, where anyone donating has decided they have money to spare that can be used to selflessly help other people, we might as well makes some sort of effort to send that money somewhere where it will do the most good. Giving to Yale means supporting a student body that is, on average, extremely wealthy so that it can have things like free wine tastings in the residential colleges and free NY Times in the dining halls. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with those uses of money, but as someone with a limited budget for giving, it seems like a poor priority. Yes, you can restrict your donation to financial aid, but money is fungible – and Yale’s financial aid budget is not based on how much money people donate for that particular purpose. And regardless, it’s pretty clear that money given to UNICEF or Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam is going to do far more good than money given to Yale. And if you prefer to give your money more locally, use it to support a homeless shelter in New Haven, or as #19 suggested, a local community college.

    There’s also the argument that we owe a special obligation to Yale because of all it has given to us. I’m sympathetic to that argument, but it seems to me that Yale is in a position where it can continue to be a fantastic place for people to study even without our help. Despite the recent losses, Yale still has a huge endowment that is likely, in general, to continue to grow even without new donations being made. The better way to pay back Yale probably isn’t by giving money to it, but by using our Yale educations to improve the world we live in, whether through research, public service, or even donating the large amounts of money some us will earn in the financial sector to causes more needy than Yale. That is, after all, what Yale’s mission would seem to demand of us.

    Anyhow, as someone who can find $20 to give to Yale if I want to, I’m going to instead give that money to a worthier cause, and I’d encourage my fellow seniors to do so as well.

  • ’10

    Thanks, Chandler. I still haven’t decided whether I’ll give or not, but I’m grateful to hear any criticism that brings attention to class inequalities at Yale — I think too often this issue gets swept under the rug.

  • 2010

    I agree with Chandler that Yale has class inequalities, but the fact remains that NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE UNIVERSITY DOES, these inequalities will continue to exist. Many Yalies are rich and some aren’t, and we can’t blame Yale for it. As a student on financial aid myself, I believe that Yale does a reasonable amount to iron out these class differences and allow me to enjoy my Yale experience to an extent comparable to my millionaire friends. There is no limit to how much I can keep complaining and demanding: should I demand an increase in my financial aid because my roommate always eats at fancy New Haven restaurants and wears designer clothes? Please, be reasonable!

    Also, I am disappointed by Chandler’s sense of entitlement. He doesn’t hesitate to complain about the self-help requirement that every student on financial aid has to fulfill. What he overlooks is that the reason why this self-help requirement is still so low ($2500) as opposed to some other schools, is BECAUSE OF THE GENEROSITY OF OTHER YALE ALUMNI. Chandler is quick to demand that this requirement be eliminated, but when Yale turns around and says, “okay, why don’t you pitch in so that we can work around reducing that requirement for future students?” Chandler throws his hands up in the air and screams classism!

  • ’60’s Guy

    I sympathize with the author’s observation that there is a lot of wealth at Yale, but it is a little sad that the author will graduate with a chip on his/her shoulder that really doesn’t belong there. Fundraising is what created the endowments that fund the scholarships for a large chunk of the student body. Get over it, and be thankful that someone is raising the money to fund today’s and tomorrow’s scholarships. And that isn’t something to be ashamed about either as a donor OR as a recipient!

  • Y’10

    I have four jobs. I’m on nearly full financial aid. I donated to (and volunteered for) the SCG because perpetuating all that is good about Yale, everything that has shaped me so profoundly in my time here, is one of my top priorities. If it isn’t one of yours, that’s perfectly understandable — there’s no want of worthy causes in the world, many of them mentioned above.

    That said, all of this outrage over classism is just absurd. Confession: I’m a legacy — and when my father went here, there was no financial aid. He finished paying off his student loans thirty-one years after graduating. I, with similar family finances, will be graduating almost debt-free. How could I possibly eschew a small gift now as thanks for a future without college loans stretching into the 2040s?

    For very few of the naysayers is $5 really the last straw before abject poverty; if it truly is, by all means keep your money. If your objection is philosophical, though, I question what at Yale has kept you from enjoying a single Master’s Tea, a single fellowship opportunity, a single visiting lecturer, that made you deeply, viscerally glad to be here. These things take cash, and when my gift goes towards transmitting such significant little joys to Yalies yet admitted, I’ll be content.

  • Rothko

    Chandler, I Met you once, I thought we were friends, but in the end I see know I hardly knew thee. The $5 is but a symbolic act- None of us has paid our full tuition. Correct these figures please, but I believe the donations of those who came before (along with swensens financial saavy) now pay for well over half of what it costs for us to be here. If it costs 100k for a student, at worst we paid but 50. Not counting the enormous debt we owe to the people at Yale or the 000’s that name on our degree may add to our salary (If your the I banker type), we must give back so that the very classism you speak of may be lessened. Financial aid exists today because rich old blues gave big bucks and everyone else tried to pitch in. So give a bit and hope that future Yalies will see it’s put to the best use possible.