Amay Tewari

Yale and Harvard have fought it out everywhere imaginable — from the football field to the basketball court — but this week, the rivalry is getting particularly bloody.

The annual Yale-Harvard blood drive challenge is taking place this week from Monday to Friday across campus: at Harkness Memorial Hall, the Slifka Center and Berkeley College, depending on the day. American Red Cross at Yale, an undergraduate organization dedicated to bringing the nonprofit’s projects to campus, aims to maintain Yale’s six-year winning streak against the Crimson. Currently, 285 University and New Haven community members have signed up to donate.

Ben Grobman ’21, the organization’s president, hopes that the incentive to beat Harvard will inspire more than 300 donations, doubling the 150 donor average from the three other standard drives the group holds throughout the year.

“If there’s one thing that Yale students like more than saving lives, it’s beating Harvard,” said Grobman. “By adding that little element of friendly competition, we’re able to make this not only a really important experience but also something fun.”

Victor Ayeni ’20, last year’s president of the American Red Cross at Yale, explained that the Harvard-Yale Blood Drive has consistently been the student group’s most successful drive.

Ayeni said a number of factors could contribute to the popularity of this particular drive.

“I’m not sure if it’s because of the competition, or because it’s before midterms start, or if people who have heard about drives all year suddenly want to participate,” Ayeni wrote. “But I certainly don’t think the aspect of competition hurts. What Yalie would pass on the chance to save lives and remind Harvard that they suck?”

Ayeni will be donating again this year and said that he does so whenever he can because it is a simple yet powerful way to save lives.

He concedes that the “initial prick of the needle” hurts briefly, but it is well worth the end result.

“If a second of pain can help a cancer patient or trauma victim suffering daily in a hospital, I think it’s worthwhile,” said Ayeni.

According to Grobman, volunteers have stepped up their recruiting efforts this year, picking up extra shifts at residential colleges, libraries and dining halls to ask people to donate.

The group’s efforts to encourage donations may prove especially important this year, as some students have cited fears of the coronavirus outbreak in China as a potential reason for not donating.

“I didn’t want to donate blood today because I’m worried about my immunity being weakened with all of the illnesses going around, particularly after the coronavirus scare with YMUN,” said Ben Wiegand ’23, who is a member of the heavyweight crew team. “I have some people on my athletic team who are going through some viral infections right now and I don’t want to take that risk.”

Grobman explained that the American Red Cross at Yale anticipates the possibility of a lower donor count this year, as there is often some form of illness that causes concern for some potential donors.

Although Joy Chiu ’19 didn’t know that the Harvard-Yale competition was going on until she showed up to donate, she thinks that the competition is a good idea to raise awareness. As a regular donor, she recommends that people eat iron-rich foods and drink plenty of water for three or four days before giving.

“The first time I [donated blood] I had a lot of trouble,” said Chiu. “I didn’t drink enough water; I think my iron was pretty low at the time so I wasn’t really prepared. The second time I did it I was very nervous because the first time had gone so poorly but I know now how much to prepare in advance.”

Chiu has now donated blood more than four times and says she has no more concerns. She tends to donate at the beginning of a semester so that the weariness that follows donating doesn’t hamper her academic pursuits.

“Donate if you can,” said Chiu. “It’s an easy way to give back to people who need it much more than we do.”

The other blood drives this week will take place from Tuesday to Thursday at the Slifka Center and will finish at Berkeley College on Friday. Though appointments, available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, can be made beforehand, the drive also welcomes walk-ins.

“There is a constant need for blood, and this is really important because it is legitimately saving the lives of people in our local community,” said Grobman. “Yes, beating Harvard is a goal but the true goal is making the largest positive impact possible.”

Details about locations and the link for appointments can be found on the Yale-Harvard Blood Drive Challenge Facebook page.

Natalie Kainz | natalie.kainz@yale.edu