Ford: Giving back, paying forward

The Good of This Place

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s Senior Class Gift season.

The middle of February always brings a barrage of op-eds and letters to the editor regarding this tradition — usually equal parts reverence, loathing, love and resentment. I’ve read them every year since I was a freshman, wondering what kind of mess might unfold in 2011 when it came time for members of my own class to fork over their five dollars (or, as is cleverly suggested, $20.11).

Many students embrace the campaign in a big way. This year there was a cocktail party kickoff event in the President’s Room, and Handsome Dan (with devoted handler and SCG co-chair Haley Cohen) led a defiant parade through a sleetstorm the following afternoon. Yesterday, Saybrook became the first college to reach 100 percent participation; overall, the Class of 2011 has already raised over $30,000 with a week left in the campaign. By comparison, 2010 raised a total of $29,670.

But every year, those who are unsure or apathetic about donating turn misanthropic in response to the peer pressure that inevitably accompanies a large-scale student fundraising campaign. There are consistently two types of complaints: those easily alleviated by a visit from a well-informed SCG operative, and those made irreparably worse.

The former fall into the “Yale doesn’t need my money/I’ve paid enough already/this isn’t a good cause” camp. For the record: it does (donations are more pliable and effective in the short-term than endowment funds), you haven’t (even those paying full tuition only cover half the price of a Yale education) and it is (the colleges with the highest participation rates get to present one of their incoming freshmen with a $10,000 scholarship). And even if none of these practical reasons work for you, it’s something to do on principle, a way of showing Yale your appreciation. Sure, you might pay to be here, but Yale didn’t have to admit you in the first place.

The latter type of complaint, however, is more difficult: “I just don’t like Yale.” None of the counterpoints they teach at the SCG training workshops will help with this — just ask Dartmouth’s Class of 2010. Last year their senior class gift campaign came up one person short. One. That’s 1,065 students of 1,066. 99.9 percent overall.

A certain Laura DeLorenzo flatly refused to contribute. Friends begged and pleaded her, and aggressive ads were even taken out in the school newspaper demanding she donate. The Class of 1960 was even willing to give an additional $100,000 if the Class of 2010 hit their 100 percent target. Still no dice. DeLorenzo received a police escort to class on the last day of the campaign, and Dartmouth fell one student short of an unbeatable participation rate.

My initial reaction to this — one shared by the Dartmouth community at the time — was outrage. No abstract complaint could possibly be worth $100,000 and a lifetime of notoriety as the most stubborn and excessively obstreperous student to come out of Hanover. This girl was just trying to anger as many people as possible, and she succeeded.

But then I read her explanation, published on a Dartmouth blog. “I believe when one donates money to an institution/organization, one implicitly embraces the values held by that institution/organization,” DeLorenzo wrote. “After having spent four years at Dartmouth, I am comfortable with my conclusion that the values I see displayed by our student body on a daily basis are not values I endorse … precisely because of what I feel is a pervasive lack of a sense of community responsibility on campus.”

I hate to admit it, but that’s not unreasonable. And there’s the rub: I feel very invested in the Yale SCG because I, like most of my friends, absolutely love this place. But there are people who don’t. There are no facts or incentives that can suddenly make their last three and a half years more enjoyable than they really were. Calling them out with a full-page ad in the campus daily probably won’t help either.

Instead, look forward. DeLorenzo complained about a lack of community responsibility; what would have been a better way for her to change that than complete rather than impede a historic senior class gift? If you’ve never felt a part of the undergraduate community, here’s a good chance to join. Rather than refusing to endorse the elements of Yale you dislike, donate to develop the elements you’d rather see instead. In this sense, those most fed up are the ones with the most to contribute. You can specify where the money goes. We’re not just rewarding Yale for showing us a good time — we’re investing in helping it grow.

riley scripps ford is a senior in Saybrook College.

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