Every Yale senior faces an important decision in the upcoming weeks. No, I’m not talking about that overwhelming “future” one — I’m talking about whether or not to donate to the Senior Class Gift.
The SCG is an annual campaign in which members of the senior class are asked to give small donations to Yale. There are four SCG co-chairs directing the whole operation; beneath them are the residential college co-chairs (about thirty of those), and beneath them are about eight to 12 “agents” per college, each of whom is assigned about eight to 12 students to convince to give to the SCG. Donations go to the Yale Alumni Fund, and students can direct their donation (any amount, minimum $5) to go to financial aid, facilities, library resources or several other options.
This year, perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, the SCG is controversial. Following several revelations about the treatment of mental health at Yale and the death of a student, a number of undergraduates have created a petition, refusing to donate until the University reforms its mental health policies.
I stand with these students in their calls for reform, but I am reluctant to give to the SCG for other reasons. I’m still deciding whether or not to give. What follows is my thought process.
First, as the petitioners have noted, the historically sky-high participation rate of the SCG could potentially be used to whitewash student dissent. The SCG website repeatedly says that participation “shows your support for the University” and “signals your endorsement of Yale and its future.” While we may love many facets of Yale, I think few of us would want to endorse Yale with this totalizing language.
Yet one of the SCG co-chairs, Evi Steyer ’15, told me that the SCG “is not necessarily an endorsement of the administration or the University, but our class.” Fellow co-chair Jake Dawe ’15 agreed. Further, he said he stood with the petitioners in their calls to reform Yale’s mental health policies and did not see his donation as an endorsement of everything about Yale.
So the question becomes: How much of an endorsement of the University is the SCG? How much of it is just money to help support things that we care about, and how much of it is a political statement?
But perhaps the endorsement question isn’t the important one. After all, as the SCG website puts it, “The primary goal of the campaign is to educate students about the importance of unrestricted gifts to the university and establish a pattern of giving post-graduation.”
Yet when I asked Steyer and Dawe about the primary goal of the SCG, they stressed other things. Dawe mentioned financially supporting particular facets of Yale; Steyer mentioned the “chance to do something together” and the sense of community the SCG engenders. Neither felt that creating new donors should be the “primary goal” of the SCG, as stated on the website, but Steyer noted that those at the Alumni Fund might have “more of a long-term perspective.”
Once again, in order to figure out whether to donate, we must decide what we consider the primary goal to be. Personally, I’m not sure we should be pushing people to give to Yale. This University is already fabulously wealthy. Perhaps other groups or institutions need our money more.
An interesting case to consider is the Harvard Alumni for Social Action, a group of Harvard alums who decided to stop giving to their massively rich school, and instead to support “destitute universities” in the developing world. In just a few years, they raised half a million dollars for the University of Dar Es Salaam — an immense sum for that school, but hardly a drop in the bucket for Harvard.
Yale cares so, so much about creating rich alums and ensuring that they donate. That’s the only reason “legacy” status exists in the first place. One could even argue that this is why Yale pushes its students into careers like finance and consulting — the more money these grads make, the more they might give back to Mother Yale. I think we’d all agree that other charities need support more than Yale does. There is war, injustice and hunger out there. And then there’s Yale’s facilities.
And there are still other potential problems. One must wonder how much the money actually helps. A popular option is to donate to support financial aid, but since Yale promises to meet 100 percent of demonstrated aid, giving to financial aid allows the University to shunt funds that would have gone to financial aid elsewhere, instead.
In the end, I think that students must decide for themselves what the SCG is, what it represents and then, whether or not they will donate. This is an individual choice, and I don’t think students should take it lightly. This is a dilemma, and no one should act like it’s not.
I’m still not sure whether I’m donating. As any casual reader of this column might suspect, I have some serious problems with the Yale administration and the direction administrators are taking this University. Yet I do love Yale — just not unconditionally. I’ve loved my time here — not all of it, but most of it. If 94 percent of my college has given, do I really want to be the one to stop Branford from creating a $10,000 scholarship (which kicks in with 95 percent participation)? On the other hand, I have enormous sympathy for those who have signed the petition and for those choosing not to give out of disgust or disappointment.
And yet, it’s just $5. It’s basically nothing.
And yet, it’s still something.
Scott Stern is a senior in Branford College. His column runs on Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.