In addition to holding meetings and recruiting new members, many student organizations are now tapping a resource that previous generations of campus groups rarely utilized: alumni.
Students in many groups said they welcome the additional feedback and support that their organizations’ alumni are offering, which varies from group to group but can include monetary contributions, mentoring and the formation of personal relationships that cross generations. But although many students now assume that alumni want to get involved in undergraduate life, these recently formed connections were uncommon 30 years ago, Association of Yale Alumni Director Mark Dollhopf ’77 said.
“Before, alumni were often remote,” he said. “It’s a whole different tone now.”
The number of alumni foundations affiliated with undergraduate groups has increased in the past few decades, in part because of students’ willingness to communicate with alumni, he said.
One of the main benefits of alumni participation, students said, is that it enhances the organization’s sense of its history.
The Yale Political Union’s Tory Party, for example, holds yearly alumni banquets in which former Tories congregate in New Haven to relive traditions handed down over the years, former Tory Holland Sullivan ’01 said.
“The greatest strength of the Tory Party is that you make friends across generations,” Sullivan said. “It’s great for me that I can have friends on both sides, both older and younger.”
Respect for elders is also a cardinal Tory value: under a group tradition, whenever an alumnus is present at a debate, he or she is allowed to take the place of the current chair and preside at the debate that night, George Singer ’10 said.
In many groups, alumni contribute financial support in addition to verbal encouragement.
Alumni of the a cappella group Spizzwinks(?) sponsor the annual New Haven Charity Concert series, in which current Spizzwinks(?) sing at Elm City schools and Yale functions for a reduced fee, Rich Johnson ’81 said.
The idea for the concert series arose from alumni concerns that a cappella groups were not presenting a sufficiently positive image to the community, said Johnson, who heads up the Spizzwinks(?) alum group.
But the alumni did not want to pressure the undergraduates to forego concert fees in order to improve the group’s reputation, which is why the monetary compromise that encourages the Spizzwinks(?) to provide services to the community was developed, Johnson said.
“Our purpose is not to preach to the undergrads,” Johnson said. “They’re clearly supposed to have their own experiences.”
Such support is a sign of changing times. When Johnson was an undergraduate, he said there was no alumni involvement at all. For the group’s 65th anniversary in 1979, the undergraduates planned the party and invited the alumni, he said.
Now, Johnson said, the alumni throw the anniversary parties.
But in many undergraduate groups, students — like the staff of the Literary Magazine — still make decisions about what direction the organization should take.
Leadership of the Literary Magazine became contentious when former editor Andrei Navrozov ’78 tried to maintain control of the magazine after graduating, current co-editor Jordan Jacks ’09 said. He said Navrozov removed the magazine from the supervision of Yale undergraduates but maintained the Yale name.
The dispute between Navrozov and the University culminated in a court case and a revision of Yale’s Undergraduate Regulations, Jacks said. Ultimately, he said, the incident set a precedent of undergraduate control over all Yale-affiliated organizations.
While recent Literary Magazine alumni generally stay in touch with the current editors to provide advice and to serve as a sounding board, publisher Tess Dearing ’09 said they refrain from dictating the direction of the magazine too closely.
“We are not beholden to what the Lit has been like in the past — we change things every year,” Dearing said. “But it’s nice to communicate with them. They have a lot of experience.”
Unlike Navrozov, Joanna Zdanys ’07, the magazine’s editor-in-chief last year, said she does not want to impose herself on this year’s editors.
“The magazine is available to alumni, but at the same time it’s definitely something that stays with the people who are working on it,” she said.
Other student organizations with significant alumni involvement include Yale Students for Christ, the YPU’s Independent Party and the Yale Model United Nations team.