“I pay tuition — Yale doesn’t need any of my money.” Or: “My small donation doesn’t mean anything.” Or: “I don’t even like Yale.”
These are some examples of responses I got when asking for donations to this year’s Senior Class Gift as one of Jonathan Edwards College’s co-chairs. The Senior Class Gift is a three-week campaign organized to get seniors to donate to Yale. Their donations can go to one of six different places: unrestricted funds, financial aid, facilities, library services, faculty resources or student life. This year, the numbers were the lowest on record: Only 65.6 percent of the senior class participated. The question is, of course: “why?”
Others have already touched on some student frustrations related to giving back to Yale. However, members of the classes of 2015 and 2016, who experienced many of the same frustrations during their undergraduate tenures, still gave at a rate of 96.6 percent and 78.1 percent respectively. Therefore, I’m hesitant to conclude that student grievances are the sole determining factor in our comparatively low participation. Perhaps the blame, so to speak, rests on those in charge of fundraising for each college, for not reaching out in more engaging ways. Could we have found better ways to publicize the various events held throughout the campaign? Could we have done a better job of following up with people, of creating and continuing conversations about what Yale represents and why even a $5 donation matters? Perhaps. If that’s the case, this year’s low numbers are on us, the volunteers.
And yet, and yet! I can’t help but come back again and again to that resounding complaint: “I don’t even like Yale.” Hearing that saddens me in ways I find difficult to express.Yale, for me, has been nothing but opportunity — to create art, to take amazing classes, to forge friendships, to travel abroad and to conduct research at Yale’s expense. Yale remains a place of opportunity for all students, an opportunity we will all capitalize on when we leave — its very name as an institution will open doors for the rest of our lives.
A confession: I come from a Yale family. Both my parents graduated from Yale — thanks to Yale’s generous, alumni-funded financial aid — and I grew up watching them give back to this place in myriad ways. And as much as they gave to Yale, Yale continued to give back to them in lifelong friendships, cross-cultural connections and even more opportunities to learn and travel. Donating to the Alumni Fund through the Senior Class Gift, for me, was never about the amount of money. It was always about the recognition that undergraduate life is only a fraction of the time we spend as part of the Yale community. The rest is yet to come.
With few exceptions, Yale will always have done more for us than we can ever do for it. To me, that necessitates our giving back however we can. In truth, that often means giving money so that others have access to the same opportunities. I often find it hard to reconcile the generous privileges Yale provides with discontent I hear expressed throughout campus. Did Yale really so completely fail to meet our expectations? Is it reasonable to think that our demands as undergraduates matter more to the administration than those of faculty, staff and alumni?
The institution of Yale, here, is in a bit of a bind. It must constantly balance the desires of its far-reaching alumni base, faculty, staff and students when making its decisions, all while preserving its academic — and athletic! — standards. Even with its endowment — of which less can be spent per annum than one assumes — Yale is dependent on alumni donations and on our transition from beneficiaries to benefactors.
The Senior Class Gift provides so many good things: flexible money for Yale to use immediately, a sign to future students that upperclassmen care about their education and the creation of an alumni base founded on generous giving. I would hate to see the gift die off. Yale, as an institution with global reach and influence, certainly needs to perpetually improve. Donations, like the Senior Class Gift, help it do just that.
Claire Williamson is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College and a co-chair of its Senior Class Gift volunteer group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .