Pomona Seniors Debate: To Give or Not To Give?

Due to their frustration with the controversial firing of 17 dining hall employees in December, some Pomona College seniors are choosing not to donate to the Senior Class Gift to the Annual Fund. Students have created a “Let’s Not Give to the Senior Gift!!” Facebook group, created an online petition and started an alternative fund for fired Pomona dining hall workers.    

The Annual Fund, which includes senior donations, contributes to the yearly operating budget, with 60 percent of the fund directed toward financial aid, 30 percent toward academic programs and 10 percent toward student life. Seniors donating to the Senior Class Gift have the option to allocate their donation to any one of these three designations as well as donate their gift in honor or memory of an individual.    

“Where you put your money is a political statement, always,” said Will Mullaney PO ’12, the creator of the “Let’s Not Give to the Senior Gift!!” Facebook group. “There are many, many good places where we can put our money.”    

Mullaney said that one of these places is a recently established fund with the Center for the Working Poor, a registered 501(c)(3) organization “committed to strategic non-violent social change.” Donations to the fund would contribute to an effort to deliver food directly to the fired dining hall workers.    

The “Let’s Not Give to the Senior Gift!!” Facebook group includes a link to an online petition whose goal is to discourage students to donate. The petition states, “We must use this unique opportunity and our power as soon-to-be young alumni to send a message to the college that they will not have our financial support until the basic rights of the workers and labor peace are met.”       

“I think that every student has a right and an obligation to make his or her own choice,” said Pomona Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum. “There are different ways to make a stance: you can exit the whole conversation, you can have voice in different ways and in one way or another you can contribute, which is what I encourage. If it turns out that for you that may not be financial, that’s your decision. But you do impact people and departments and future students concretely.”    

Feldblum said that a decrease in contributions to the Annual Fund would result in additional funds being taken directly from Pomona’s endowment.  

“You have the ability to help future students in the ways that you want to, instead of failing to give them any support at all,” Senior Class President Carrie Henderson said. “You can support programming and financial aid without supporting the Board of Trustees and the rest of the College administration.”    

According to the Senior Class Gift Records, 79 percent of the Pomona Senior Class contributed to the Senior Gift last year, the highest percentage since the beginning of the donating tradition in 1983.    

This year, Feldblum has promised to dye her hair blue if 90 percent of the senior class chooses to donate. The impetus for her decision came from observing the relatively low percentage of Pomona seniors’ participation in gift giving compared to the other Claremont Colleges in the past.    

For example, in 2010, 99.6 percent of Pitzer’s, 99 percent of Claremont McKenna’s and 95.2 percent of Scripps’s senior class donated to the Senior Gift, whereas only 52 percent of Pomona’s senior class donated.    

“I think that people can contribute to the community in many different ways, and it’s for students to make their own choices,”  Feldblum said. “I respect anyone’s choices. If someone says, ‘Here’s why I’m not contributing, and here’s how I’m contributing in another way,’ I think that’s all good. I think that we should all be reflecting on the question: how are we contributing?”

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