This year’s tremendously successful Senior Class Gift project may be over, but the discussion it sparked remains relevant. Now is the time to change how we conceive of donating to Yale.
No longer the restricted purview of alumni, departing seniors and parents desperate for their child’s admission, contributing to Yale should be, if not an obligation, at least a core principle for every Yale undergraduate who enjoys and values the experiences that the College provides us with.
Indeed, even beyond the gloomy economic forecast, giving to Yale is simply the right thing to do. Even at the $5 level, donating is a meaningful act of appreciation and respect.
I know what you’re thinking: Yale may have taken a hit, but it’s still the second-richest academic institution in the country. Yale’s endowment comprises an imposing and aloof hedge fund whose financial mechanisms few of us understand and which won’t be affected by a small donation. These are tougher times for the rest of us than they are for Yale (and for its wealthy, older donors), made tougher by our hefty tuition costs. As a good friend told me, “For a lot of people, Yale seems the most financially stable thing in their lives.” Good point.
But giving to Yale is a virtue that extends beyond the necessity of the dollars themselves. It may be true that Yale doesn’t “need” my $5 donation to continue doing what it does best, but gifts help: What we pay in tuition only covers half the cost of a student’s Yale education. But instrumental value aside, a gift to Yale is symbolically important in other meaningful ways.
Fundamentally, it’s all about membership. Even the smallest of donations makes you a trustee and a stakeholder. A student who donates becomes more than a consumer; he or she becomes an active member, with a vested interest in the success or failure of the school. Donating shows our common resolve as students who care about Yale, and as a community that supports itself from within as well as from without.
How much Yale directly benefits from a student’s donation is less important than the respect and unity of purpose that it entails. In other words, what matters shouldn’t be how much we give, but that we give at all.
Suppose you don’t agree with certain funding decisions the University is making. Many students use objections like these as an excuse not to donate. In my opinion, this logic is backwards. Although it’s true that by virtue of our exorbitant tuition we gain the right to criticize the school when we find its services inadequate, the extra act of giving implies an even greater stake in Yale’s decision-making process. Taking the time and energy to donate puts the critic’s money where his or her mouth is.
Some have also argued that since Yale can divide the endowment into different areas however it wishes, all gifts to the University are fungible; that is, even if a student stipulates that his or her donation go toward, say, financial aid, in the long run, wily financial maneuvering can always redirect these funds. Again, I think the concern is misguided. We should be focusing on the end product, as it relates to us. Rather than obsessing over individual funding decisions, we should be considering how they fit together into the greater whole, and the quality of the experiences that this whole, the University, provides us with.
I’m not one to foam blue at the mouth in Yale pride, but I recognize that whatever the Yale Corporation and the Investments Office are doing up in their ivory towers of asset management, it’s working for me. Far be it from me to judge what Yale does with my money if, in the end, it improves my life here. I like the end product, so I’m going to support the process. I would not presume to know more about how to manage this place than the Yale Corporation, or how better to fund it than the Investments Office; the quality of Yale, and of my time here, provides all the validation I need.
In short, giving to Yale may be more emotional than intellectual. No, it is not a wholehearted stamp of approval, nor is it an act that will fundamentally change the school. But at its most basic level, it’s a sign of respect.
There are myriad meaningful ways to give back to and show love for Yale. Donating should be one of them, and an important one at that. The amount of your gift to Yale is less important than the recognition and gratitude it implies. Giving to Yale is like leaving a tip, or sending a thank-you note.
If you don’t like it here, then, well, don’t give. But if you value and enjoy the life this school gives you, and if you appreciate Yale, flaws and all, then forego one cart burrito, and sometime this summer click online and make your appreciation of Yale count. It doesn’t take much to say thank you, but it means a great deal.
Let’s be a community of appreciative givers — of participants and members, actively investing in the school’s future — not just takers.
Alex Klein is a freshman in Davenport College.