June 2, 2009

Season of misgiving

As a graduating fourth-year, I did not anticipate the extent to which I would be pestered to give to the Senior Class Gift. Any senior event I attend is dotted with Senior Class Gift Committee members asking, “Have you given yet?” I should not have been that surprised, since many of these events are organized by the Senior Class Gift Committee (using what funds?). However, this has become problematic for me, because I have decided not to give to the Gift. For this unpopular decision I was willing to put up with a fair amount of ribbing, and the need to repeatedly explain my choice. Things have gotten out of control, though, and attending senior events has become a constant game of hide-and-seek as I attempt to avoid members of the Committee. At this point in the year, giving to the Gift is not really a sign of gratitude, but a betrayal of an inability to resist massive peer pressure.

I have reasons for not giving. The first is that I have recently given the University around $200,000, in the form of tuition, room and board, and various fees. That’s a lot of money, and the U of C can surely do a great deal with that much. I have heard the arguments that, in fact, that does not come close to covering the costs of educating me, but they are frankly a little hard to believe, and at best make the University sound wasteful and inefficient.

My second reason is that the Gift is going into the College Fund. I’m not sure what precisely this fund supports, but members of the Senior Class Gift Committee have informed me that it goes toward student activities and study abroad programs, among other things. I’m not a huge fan of the study abroad program here (the way it is set up made it really difficult for me to study abroad through an outside program), so funding it is not one of my biggest priorities. We also pay fees as part of that $200,000 that go toward student activities, and we buy tickets to many events on campus and do a lot of fundraising for our RSOs as well. Could this other student fund somehow replace the need to run around trying to peddle Chinese buns?

My third reason is that I do not believe that giving a dollar—just so that I count—is an appropriate way to thank the University for what it has done for me. I am very grateful for the chances I have had to learn from amazing professors, the friends I have met, the experiences I have had, and the ways I have grown here. Giving a dollar so that the U of C will supposedly rise a few points in the college rankings is not how I want to acknowledge these things. Why doesn’t the senior class do something more constructive to give back? For example, by our fourth year we have acquired a great deal of knowledge and study skills. Why not start a tutoring program, operated by seniors to supplement the Harper tutoring program? Why not send seniors out on periodic neighborhood cleanups? Why not have seniors develop a student guide for incoming first-years, giving insider advice and tips on how to thrive at the U of C?

So there are my reasons. I respect other people’s decisions to give at whatever amount; I’m sure they have their reasons just as I have mine. But I should be respected in my decision not to give as well. Please, stop bothering me.

Katie Waddle is a fourth-year in the College majoring in mathematics.