If the Yale Office of Development hopes that alumni donations end grandly — think Harkness Tower or the new residential colleges — then they appear to start humbly, that is, at Shake Shack.
The three-week long Senior Class Gift fundraising campaign officially began on Wednesday night with a class-wide event held at Shake Shack, where attendees had the option of donating to the gift. The Senior Class Gift, which is a part of the Yale Alumni Fund, provides the University with immediate funds that are independent of the endowment. While a group of seniors have initiated a boycott of the campaign in protest of the University’s mental health policies, most seniors interviewed remain enthusiastic about contributing to the gift.
“This campaign aims to educate us about how Yale is impacting its students and to get seniors thinking about giving back to the school,” said Denzil Bernard ’15, co-chair of the campaign. “We want to give back by refueling for the next batch of incoming students and to help them have the same experience we enjoyed.”
The Senior Class Gift has reached over 95 percent participation rate every one of the last four years and raised roughly $30,000 in each of the last three years. The campaign is led by four co-chairs, who were elected by their peers in the senior class. In addition, the campaign has roughly 150 fundraising volunteers from across the 12 residential colleges. The campaign will feature individual college events, including Morse’s “Sangria and Chocolate” and Trumbull’s mixology class, as well as an inter-college competition in three categories: highest participation rate, most dollars raised per participant and most overall dollars raised. $10,000 scholarships for incoming Yale undergraduates will be named after any residential college that reaches 95 percent participation as well as to the residential colleges that come in first place in the other two categories.
In addition, Chad Hoitink ’96, who has made donations to the University, has agreed to match the senior class’s overall donation amount dollar for dollar. Seniors in Jonathan Edwards College will also have their donations matched dollar for dollar by various JE alumni if their participation rate exceeds 97 percent. Despite the various competitions and financial incentives to donate, the co-chairs said that the campaign’s mission is not to coerce seniors into participating, but rather to cultivate a culture of giving back.
“Although there are competitions and outside incentives, we are not trying to make this feel like a competition,” co-chair Schuyler Arakawa ’15 said. “We want them to feel like they are giving back to Yale’s future.”
The Class of 2014 raised $33,387 for its Class Gift and saw 96.6 percent student participation.
Seniors who donate to the gift will be given the choice of directing their donations to one of six categories within the Yale Alumni Fund: financial aid, facilities, faculty support, library resources, undergraduate life and “unrestricted,” which indicates that the University can choose where to spend the student’s contribution. According to Lynn Andrewsen, managing director of the Yale Alumni Fund, the financial aid and unrestricted categories are typically the most popular among seniors, making up around 70 percent of all donations.
Lincoln Mitchell ’15 said he chose to give to the financial aid category because he himself is a financial aid recipient and wanted to give back to the University in a similar way. While Liz Rodriguez-Florido ’15 expressed interest in financial aid, she ultimately decided to give to the unrestricted category as she believed a concentration of donations for financial aid may leave other aspects of the university neglected.
But this year, seven seniors have co-authored a pledge to boycott the fundraising campaign in hopes of pressuring the University to make decisive changes to its mental health policies. The boycott comes as a direct response to the suicide of Luchang Wang ’17 late last month. The boycott was conceived by one of her friends, Geoffrey Smith ‘15.
Smith said that because the Senior Class Gift is a campaign that the Yale administration takes seriously, the boycott is a major opportunity for students to communicate to administrators and alumni that there are problems at the University that are in need of attention. He added that he thinks the gift represents a symbolic endorsement of the University from the senior class — a feeling that he does not share in as a result of his displeasure with Yale’s mental health policy.
Roughly 50 seniors have joined the pledge. All six seniors interviewed at the event expressed awareness of the boycott, but several of them noted that contributions to the gift are aimed at supporting the student body, not the administration.
“I think what is important to understand is that you are not necessarily giving back to the Yale administration, you are giving back to students who are coming behind you, if you so choose to give,” Mitchell said.
Andrewsen said the Alumni Fund is aware of the boycott but noted that it is not the fund’s role to advise students on how to express their concerns. The co-chairs of the campaign declined to comment on the subject.
Seniors can donate to the Senior Class Gift online or through a contribution card.