Participation in this year’s Senior Class Gift was the lowest on record, according to data available online, even after the rate plummeted last year due to an active student boycott over the University’s mental health resources.
This year, 72.6 percent of seniors donated to the Senior Class Gift, an annual three-week fundraising campaign organized through the Office of Development that concluded on Feb. 24. Seniors are invited to contribute cash gifts to the Alumni Fund, which consists of resources independent of the endowment that are unrestricted and can be spent on the University’s most immediate priorities. Last year, the participation rate was 78.1 percent after an online petition calling for a boycott of the Senior Class Gift due to inadequate mental health care on campus amassed nearly 100 signatures. That was the first time the rate dipped below 90 percent since 2009. Although there was no formal boycott this year, some seniors interviewed pointed to the tumultuous fall semester as a possible reason for the decline.
The total amount of money raised during the campaign was also well-below what has been collected in recent years. Members of the class of 2016 donated $18,910.38; the value has traditionally hovered around $30,000, peaking at $40,808 in 2011.
Although participation rates among the graduating classes from 2003 to 2008 hovered between 70 and 80 percent, participation has climbed in recent years, with over 90 percent of seniors giving between 2010 and 2014. Participation peaked in 2012, at 97.5 percent.
Despite this year’s comparatively low turnout, AmandaLee Aponte, assistant director of the Alumni Fund, said she was pleased with this year’s participation rate. She also noted that participation varied widely by residential college. Of the 12 residential colleges, Pierson had the lowest participation rate with 55.2 percent, while Calhoun topped the list with 90.2 percent. The average across all residential colleges was 73.1 percent.
Because of these fluctuations among colleges, Aponte added, it is hard to draw conclusions about whether the low participation rate reflects a sense of dissatisfaction among the class as a whole. But James Woodall ’16 said the numbers may be indicative of dampened enthusiasm for the University, given last November’s student protests over the racial climate on campus.
“You can’t ignore [the protests] as part of a great sense of frustration and loss of idealistic representation of what Yale represents,” Woodall said.
Woodall said students might also be put off from donating due to the University’s colossal endowment, though he said the Senior Class Gift is more a symbol of students’ love for Yale than a significant financial contribution.
Mitch Barrows ’16 also suggested that lingering resentment from the protests of last fall could have driven the drop in participation. He said students may not feel a sense of ownership over their time at Yale, as their views may not be reflected in University policy.
“I think our generation is questioning Yale the institution in a way that hasn’t been done in a while,” Barrows said. “We’re disenchanted with a lot of Yale traditions, as well as a lack of change and adaptation on the part of the University bureaucracy.”
Aponte said that in response to the demonstrations, the Senior Class Gift organizers worked with University President Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and the Office of Development to offer students an option to support diversity and inclusion initiatives at the four cultural centers. Though some funds were unrestricted, students were given the choice to designate their gift toward a specific area. Aponte said students who wished to support those initiatives could do so by giving to the undergraduate life area of the class gift. Other areas included financial aid, facilities, library resources and faculty support and curriculum development.
Mitchell Jones ’16, Simone Policano ’16, Blake Smith ’16 and Maddy Landon ’16, the student representatives for the Senior Class Gift campaign, said in a joint statement that they were grateful to the class of 2016 for its support, adding that they did not think the decrease could be traced back to any single factor.
“This campaign was about promoting important aspects of campus life — such as the cultural centers and financial aid — that enhance our collective experience here, and no value or bar can be placed on individual donations or the combination of them,” the statement read. “There is a multitude of factors that go into the final numbers each year, and we do not believe in the isolation of any certain event or sentiment as the causal factor.”
In the weeks following the student demonstrations last fall, the Office of Alumni Development canceled its annual Harvard–Yale Participation Challenge for The Game, citing intense national scrutiny of campus events. The move led some to speculate that the cancelation was a face-saving maneuver by the University in anticipation of a low participation rate.
The Senior Class Gift was established in 1997.