EDWARDS: A gift, not a statistic

Once, while walking down York Street next to my beloved Jonathan Edwards College, a homeless man shouted to me and asked, “Hey you! What’s the best nation in the world?”

I stared at him with a blank look on my face before responding. “Uh … Bangladesh?” I said.

“No, no, my friend. The best nation is a do-nation.” Amused by his pitch, I gave him a dollar. It was an unexpected moment of philanthropy. In any case, it was worth it for the entertainment, and I gave willingly.

This month, we have a different type of beggar flagging us down on the street — our own classmates. February marks the start of senior class gift fundraising. Earlier in the year, Yale seniors received an email urging us to participate in this year’s class gift effort. Since the beginning of this month, the emails have become more frequent and even more urgent. But I will not be participating.

First and foremost, the senior class gift is not treated as a gift but as an entitlement. Having lived with seniors last year, I witnessed firsthand senior class gift coordinators — and even administrators of Yale College — haranguing a suitemate, coming to the suite and demanding a nominal gift of $5. After about a week of what I would call harassment and even written appeals from the dean and master, my suitemate finally succumbed to the pressure. And so his donation was marked down in the books as another percentage point in JE’s heralded 100 percent participation rate.

But just how much of that 100 percent was voluntary? I doubt all of those donations were done as willingly as mine on York Street some time ago.

But wait a minute. This campaign is called the senior class gift. Aren’t gifts supposed to be voluntary? Well, maybe not. As the Senior Class Gift coordinators see it, it is your duty as a Yale undergraduate to keep the dollars flowing back to the institution’s coffers. To me, this senior class gift feels more like a senior class tax expected of my classmates and me, with non-payment punished with shame and alienation.

I also take objection to how some of the senior class gift funds are allocated. Don’t get me wrong; these gifts go to a lot of areas of the University worthy of support. The funds raised by the senior class gift campaign can support Yale College’s financial aid fund, our libraries, general undergraduate life and the facilities budget. These are all great, and if I were to give, I would gladly help finance all of those causes.

However, the senior class gift is also partially allocated to fund what the campaign’s website refers to as “Faculty Support and Curriculum Development.” This one-line item piqued my interest. Aren’t faculty support and curriculum development among the primary budgetary costs of Yale College? When did the senior class gift become part of the operating budget? Who decided to start funding essential costs of Yale College with gifts?

This feels just a little bit too presumptuous. To me, it feels like my gift will just end up fulfilling some kind of donation quota for senior class gift coordinators. To me, it feels like someone in the budget office doesn’t necessarily view the senior class gift as a voluntary donation.

Let me be clear: I don’t have a grudge against Yale College. As I’ve said, I would be happy to support many of the elements of the Yale experience that the senior class gift supports. However, the gift has become more of bureaucratic requirement than a thoughtful, concrete donation. I may give to Yale in the future, but for now, I’m holding off.

David Edwards is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at david.edwards@yale.edu.

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