Donating To Your Problematic Alma Mater: Do or Don’t?

According to Jezebel, some fed up alumni are refusing to give to their alma maters until those institutions prove that they are doing a better job at handling reports of sexual assault:

Sixty colleges and universities are currently being investigated by the Department of Education over their abject inability to handle rape on campus that respects both the accused and the accuser. Even more have been in the news in recent years for failing to prioritize students’ safety over their reputation (and, by extension, their ability to convince alumni to cough up donations). Unfortunately for colleges and universities’ desire to sweep this sort of thing under the rug, it’s a lot harder for them to keep students quiet in the age of social media.

Alumni of at least three schools facing an avalanche of bad press from students who say they were treated poorly after being sexually assaulted are responding by telling administrators that words aren’t enough, and until concrete evidence exists that schools are serious about keeping students safe from sexual assault, they won’t be donating money.

Protesting with your pocketbook is a failsafe way to feel like you’re doing something to make your opinions known. Maybe donate to public radio instead? But, full disclosure, my college is one of the 60 and when I was asked to use my limited Klout to help the spring fundraising drive, I said sure. Although I understand if people feel differently, to me, the issues are separate; I want to support financial aid efforts and even, yes, the school in general. I guess it’s a combination of cynicism — I don’t believe my withholding an annual donation will have an impact if national attention AND federal investigation won’t — and sentimentality, because I really like my alma mater.

Like, on Labor Day, we had classes, but my firebrand American History prof, who had hair the color of toaster coils and was technically still a card-carrying communist with an actual card and everything, refused to teach. Instead she played us the Linda Tripp tapes so we could listen to a Woman Eating Potato Chips While Secretly Recording A Sad and Vulnerable Monica Lewinsky and Plotting to Bring the Nation to a Standstill So We Could All Talk About Blowjobs. That was an education. Also I met a guy at college who I later married, and lots of very important friends who shaped me, and yadda yadda yadda. But the rape crisis is real. Do you also feel conflicted about supporting your imperfect college, or do you view this issue as clear-cut?

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

E$ (#1,636)

Yes, I am very conflicted. My school is not one of the 60 mentioned or one of the three named in the article, but it has recently gone through a very troubling sexual-assault case in which it seems like the U. did not do enough on behalf of the victim.

I normally donate (a little) every year but I haven’t yet this year. They’re in the middle of a huge fundraising drive and I keep restraining myself from bringing it up with the undergrad students who are calling me to request my donation. I don’t want to shoot the messenger, but the timing is not great.

I will probably end up donating but earmarking it toward scholarships or something specific (as my school allows). It’s tricky because, like you, I don’t think the mishandling of the case was a result of not having enough money, NOR do I think that my withholding my teeny donation will really communicate strongly to them how troubling this has all been.

wrappedupinbooks (#1,426)

i will consider donating to my alma mater when my student loans are paid off

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

I feel really conflicted about this, in theory. I also really, really loved my college, and I was shocked to read a survivor’s story from my school just in the last week. Like in all of these stories, the administration didn’t take meaningful action to protect her after the rape or even comply with her totally reasonable requests for ways to help her avoid harassment on campus. After having a great experience there myself, and really thinking the administration put an unusual focus on helping and supporting students, reading this forced me to look at my school in a new and much more negative light. I think that for schools where loyal and happy alumni are huge assets, particularly small to medium-sized private schools, alumni saying “hey, this is so messed up I’m reconsidering my commitment to the college” may truly hit harder and closer to home than negative media attention generally. (Federal investigation is not relevant in my school’s case, but yeah, that’s significant too.) But alumni who express that disappointment also have to be clear about what kind of response we’re looking for, what the schools could do to win back our trust and dollars.

That’s the theoretical side. Practically, I’m not a regular yearly donor to my alma mater because I don’t have much money and I prioritize poverty-related charities more. I mainly throw money their way when I feel like life is going well and I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, and it’s been a couple of years since I have. Presumably, it’s not very effective to withhold as a protest if you might not have bothered to donate at a given point anyway.

drydenlane (#5,919)

I’ve never given to any of my alma maters, one of which is one of the 60 being investigated. This may speak to my own issues, but I feel a little burned by all of them (prep school, college, grad school) and therefore not interested in donating. But since I never have given them money, I doubt they feel any pinch from my withholding donations as my own form of protest of various policies and practices.

“Also I met a guy at college who I later married…” Ah, the Quaker Matchbox strikes again! And for this reason, I will be avoiding all reunions like the plague.

I feel like once I get my life more in order (hey student loans), I will be donating to my alma mater; and I’ll be approaching it in much the same way that I pay my taxes. I know that not all of the money (especially the pitifully small amount I’ll be able to pony up) will go to issues I support, but there has to be some support there for anything to happen.

Plus, overall, I had a great experience at my school. Yes, there were (and still are, obviously) problems with the administration – but the student body was always really active and engaged and I want that to keep happening.

avidbiologist (#3,545)

While my alma mater is not in the list and probably will not get investigated, it still does things that I don’t agree with (some to a higher degree of vehemence than others). However, I am conflicted because I do love my alma mater dearly and deeply and support its mission with a fierce and somewhat disturbing passion.
That said, I also work for the fundraising department here which gives me a very different perspetive from many young alum friends and also students. We had a mini “scandal” earlier in the year and while it definitely sounded like a lot of alums were shouting that they were not going to give money, we still had a pretty good year for fundraising, mostly because the people who were upset were mostly young alums or people who did not give a lot of money anyway. The heavy hitters seemed unperturbed (for the most part).
So I’m skeptical how much withholding a gift affects the college, seeing how most of our department didn’t seem worried by it. A more interesting proposition I heard was to make your gift to the college and designate it specifically to something you want, whether that’s financial aid or “An internal investigative committee for the mishandling of rape cases”, since the unfortunate truth is that your college is much more likely to listen to people who are handing it money than the other way around.
Despite my conflicts, I give to my college because I believe in our mission and our financial aid package and providing those same opportunities to other students, and also because I selfishly want our participation to go up which affects our rankings.

“A more interesting proposition I heard was to make your gift to the college and designate it specifically to something you want, whether that’s financial aid or “An internal investigative committee for the mishandling of rape cases”, since the unfortunate truth is that your college is much more likely to listen to people who are handing it money than the other way around.” This is a great insight and probably very true.

Nibbler (#5,331)

I don’t give money to my college because 1) I had a kind of meh experience there and 2) it is a really big name school with loads of money, so I think my limited giving dollars can be put to better use elsewhere.

peutetre (#2,641)

My college is one of the major names being investigated and I pledged to withhold financial and other support (e.g., being an active alumni association member, attending events, whatever) until they actually addressed – not just committed to addressing, because that solves nothing – the problems with sexual assault and university’s handling of it, which were very real when I attended the school and continue to be a black mark on its name.

For me, it was more about making a public statement to the university and to the current students that I take the issues seriously than it was about cutting off a needed source of revenue (given the probably negligible amount I donate per year). I can’t tell if it’s coincidence that mailings to alumni and events seem to be increasing since the issues became public and the petition went up.

sarahsayssoo (#4,237)

My uni isn’t on the list but I don’t give to the major fundraising drives anyway. I have given to a couple of groups that I was active in on campus. I prefer to control where my money goes more closely because I disagree with some of my school’s fundraising goals (specifically major sports-related building projects)

honey cowl (#1,510)

This is hard. I have donated (very very small amounts) to my alma mater since I graduated a small number of years ago. And I don’t know if my alma mater is on the list (I don’t want to know, honestly). On one hand, there is a huge sexual assault problem there. On the other, I didn’t report my own assault… so I’m part of the problem right? They couldn’t have dealt with it (well or poorly) because I told no one in a position of authority. I don’t know, the only reason I was able to go to said alma mater was scholarships partially funded by alumni donations, so I keep giving (very very small amounts).

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

@honey cowl I don’t think doing what you felt you needed to do at the time makes you “part of the problem” at all.

grog (#2,222)

How’s this for warped logic? One of the main reasons I choose not to donate to my alma mater is because tuition is too high. My thinking is that if I give money, then that enables them to keep raising tuition because they’ll have more money for scholarships or new buildings. So if I don’t give money, they’ll have less for scholarships or buildings so they won’t raise tuition as much.

My wife (who graduated from the same school) thinks this is pretty asinine reasoning. She chooses not to give for other reasons.

Of course, since I’m only talking about a couple hundred dollars a year max, I know it doesn’t affect anything either way. But it’s the principle.

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