According to the website for the 2017 Senior Class Gift campaign, “The goal of Senior Class Gift is to educate soon-to-be alumni about the importance of giving, while establishing a pattern of giving before leaving Yale.”
To some students, giving back to Yale might feel like a natural extension of this principle. Some may come from privileged backgrounds and want the University to continue to provide for those that arrive at Yale in need of financial assistance. Others may feel compelled to show pride for their residential colleges or express thanks to Yale for the experiences that it enabled them to have. Still, others may donate for the purely nonideological reason of wanting to stop receiving messages about donating.
There are also many valid reasons students may feel uncomfortable donating to the Senior Class Gift. In the past few years, Yale has proven itself to be slow to respond to student feedback on mental health services, the naming of its colleges and financial aid. In some cases, Yale’s reluctance to act on this feedback appears to have partially stemmed from a desire to appease its donors (as was the case with the naming of Benjamin Franklin College). With this in mind, it seems reasonable — if not appropriate — that some current students would choose to push back against the University’s decisions by exerting their own form of financial pressure. Some students may also prefer to donate to the groups to whom they feel most indebted, whether it’s their a cappella group, sports team or cultural house.
Despite critics’ charges of apathy or ingratitude, it is evident that many students who abstained from the Senior Class Gift care deeply about the Yale community as well as the world around them. That is why my classmates — Dane Underwood ’17, Sarah Rose ’17 and Naomi Roselaar ’17 — and I are working to organize an Alternative Senior Class Gift campaign. All proceeds from the campaign will go to charitable organizations outside Yale. We are currently working with a mix of local and national organizations: New Haven’s Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, Haven Free Clinic, New Haven Planned Parenthood, JUNTA for Progressive Action, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, that have all voiced their enthusiastic support of our efforts. We have already set up a Venmo account, @AltClassGift2017, to which people can donate.
Part of our reason for organizing this campaign is to create a classwide effort of charitable giving divorced from any kind of proxy approval rating for the University. We hope the parallels between the original class gift campaign and this one — which will last for a similar amount of time and will request the same $5 minimum donation — will present a valuable opportunity for comparison, particularly when it comes to the rate of senior class participation.
That said, our aim is not to stand in direct opposition to the Senior Class Gift. We believe that there is a compelling reason to donate even if one has already given to Yale. Those who buy into the idea of a “culture of giving” should consider how this culture should extend beyond the walls of this University. All Yale students — regardless of their backgrounds — will graduate with the privilege of a Yale degree and access to the social networks and job opportunities that come along with it. This is a privilege that ought to be leveraged not just for personal gain, but for the benefit of society as a whole. Whether you believe this imperative includes Yale is ultimately inconsequential to our aims. This is about something bigger than Yale and far bigger than ourselves.
Our beneficiaries play an essential role in serving that broader community, particularly its most vulnerable members. To local organizations, even small contributions can make a life-altering and perhaps even life-saving difference. Meanwhile, national organizations have the power to reach beyond New Haven to people who may not have access to the same breadth of social services available in this city. We are aware that these are not the only worthy charities and remain open to suggestions.
The Alternative Senior Class Gift campaign will run from now until Mar. 11. Juniors and underclassmen are welcome to contribute, although we will keep track of senior participation separately. More information is available on our Facebook page.
As many have observed over the past few months, we live in an era that does not merely invite civic engagement but also one that demands it. With this gift, we hope to unify the Class of 2017 and the Yale community in an effort to respond to that demand. Together we can help to “ensure a bright future,” not just for the next generation of Yalies but also for current and future members of our local and national community.
Emily Patton is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .