The Senior Class Gift season is about to wrap up. As it stands, my class, the class of 2016, will have the worst class-participation rate in over a decade. Upon reflection, the recent bouts of student protests are likely to blame.
Last year, the senior class gift was held hostage. Students decided that Yale was not bigger than their problem with Yale and said “no more.” They refused to give until they got what they wanted, which couldn’t possibly happen within the narrow time frame they specified. The result: both the lowest class gift participation rate since 2008, and what would have been the lowest overall size of the gift since 2008, were it not for a single donation of $10,000 which made up roughly 1/3 of the overall donation.
This fall, students similarly erupted. The argument was that Yale hadn’t been doing enough to protect her students. Minorities felt discriminated against, that the institutions Yale had built for them were underfunded and neglected. There were teach-ins, tears and chalkings. There was a midnight march on Salovey’s house. What came of it all?
This year, the SCG is allowing students to earmark their senior donations to three of the cornerstones of the student protests: The Undergraduate Life designation gives money exclusively to the cultural houses; the Faculty Support designation goes to supporting faculty, which can then be used to fund efforts for improving faculty diversity; the Financial Aid designation means 100% of your money goes directly to financial aid.
But that hasn’t been enough to overcome the reticence that seems to have settled over the senior class.
Some might question whether to blame student activism for low giving rates. They might ascribe this failure to poor planning, bad weather or organizational breakdown. Perhaps people have not donated because there has not been a similar push as in years past. If this is the case, we have to ask why, at nearly every level of the system, there was failure — there are multiple Yale College chairs, residential college chairs and residential college agents, all of who could have spurred donations.
My answer is simple: After the last two years of divisive student activism, students feel less comfortable saying they love Yale and are less willing to advocate on her behalf.
That attitude is incredibly unfortunate and counterproductive for campus activists given that this is a special opportunity to be able to donate to the causes that have motivated so many of their debates and rallying during our time on campus. You cannot donate directly to your sports team, residential college or your religious institution (donations to Slifka or St. Thomas More, for example, will not count toward your donation to the senior class gift), but you can to La Casa and the Af-Am house. This reflects the fact that Yale has indeed answered the protests and the marches, beginning to implement the changes that many students fought for. Calhoun’s portrait has been removed from Calhoun College, and President Peter Salovey has set into action the plans he laid out last semester to create a “better Yale.”
We need to do better.
We are about to leave this place of prolonged adolescence. For those who disagree with the protests and what they wrought (and, given the recent lows of alumni giving rates, many do), we need to recognize that the tradition of giving to Yale is bigger than all of us and the petty problems of today. Boycotting Yale because we disagree with particular administrative decisions isn’t fair.
For those that felt the need to protest, it’s time to put down your signs, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Some may argue that the work is not yet done, that victory hasn’t yet been achieved. But Yale is moving as quickly as any three-hundred-year-old institution can (much to the chagrin of many). Outside of Yale, adults compromise, and the good ones are magnanimous in victory — and in defeat.
One of the most common criticisms of the protests last semester was that they were geared toward tearing down Yale. These protests, many alleged, aren’t about righting wrongs and making Yale better, but about venting feelings and destroying an institution. These ‘crazy kids’ believe institutions are inherently hierarchical, that the past is almost always bad.
Prove us wrong. Show that you love Yale, that you really want this place to be better.
So skip class to canvas for the senior class gift. Go knock on doors for the cultural centers. Go knock on doors for financial aid. But most importantly, knock on doors for Yale. It’s only $5 and it ends Wednesday evening at the Graduate Club. Our class is about to join the closest thing to the American aristocracy in the 21st century: Ivy League graduates. Let’s leave this place better than we found it. It’s time to grow up.
Sam Sussman is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .