FRITZBERG: A class gift beyond Yale

In 1718, Elihu Yale gave this institution some textiles, a collection of books and a portrait of King George I. We all know what he got in exchange. This time, all Yale wants is 20 bucks — but instead of naming rights, they’re offering us the chance to think critically about our responsibility to this institution and the world around us.

The Senior Class Gift, a three-week fundraising drive that began last Wednesday, assures members of the class of 2014 that “our relationship to Yale doesn’t have to end when we graduate.” By opening our pockets, seniors are invited to become part of the charitable tradition that has sustained scholarships, study breaks and academic research at Yale for the past 300-odd years.

I’m not here to dispute the value of the class gift — I’ve enjoyed my time at Yale as much as the next student. I’ll give my $20.14, because I can afford it, and because I’m grateful to those who gave far more generously so that I could come here in the first place. But I have a challenge for the class of 2014: Give beyond Yale.

We’ve spent four years under these gothic arches, and we’ve learned more than just how to be thankful for Master’s Teas and study-abroad funding. Yale teaches us — inside the classroom and out — that we have a responsibility not simply to this institution, but to fellow people from all walks of life. We should be grateful for our education here. It’s heavily subsidized for all of us, regardless of financial aid, and has yielded insights, experiences and connections that will continue to pay dividends long after we leave. But the critical thinking skills that are part of our liberal arts education should make it clear that adding to Yale’s $20 billion endowment doesn’t have quite the same impact as giving to individuals and institutions with greater need.

Match your gift to Yale, if you’re planning on making one, with a donation to an organization or cause that needs the money far more — even (and especially) those without polished publicity campaigns or a vast development network. We have a relationship to Yale, but let’s consider our relationship to New Haven, too. The city’s food pantries and soup kitchens are struggling to support individuals and families in the wake of food stamp cuts. A $5 donation to the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen could provide dinner for a family who would otherwise have to go without. Consider how grateful you are for the radiator in your dorm room on these frigid nights, and give to a local homeless shelter, like Columbus House. If you’re passionate about kids, make a contribution to All Our Kin and support community-based childcare.

Yale has asked us to invest in the future of our University — but don’t we also have a responsibility to invest in a fairer and more humane future for those beyond these walls?

Our first few years out of college are a time to set habits. The Yale Office of Development knows this: If we give now, we’re much more likely to give in the future, when the needs of our University — and the sizes of our salaries — have grown. So let’s take this opportunity to get in the habit of supporting those who need it the most. Yale tugs on our heartstrings, but giving to this institution isn’t a social justice strategy. Few of us are under the delusion that supporting a meal in Yale’s wood-paneled dining halls is more important than funding food relief for the hungry of the world. And as the recent Alumni Magazine gaffe showed, Yale is still struggling to effectively recruit low-income students — so those who think donations to Yale enable social mobility might want to seek out more impactful alternatives.

Any graduating senior knows it’s not easy leaving Yale’s walls, but let’s turn outward. My challenge, to myself and to our class, is to match what we give to our alma mater — whether its $5, $20 or $200 — with an equal contribution that meets immediate human needs beyond the Ivory Tower.

Suzanna Fritzberg is a senior in Calhoun College. Contact her at suzanna.fritzberg@yale.edu.

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