Why I Won’t Donate to the Senior Gift

It has been three long and hard years of dance parties, keg stands and occasional studying, and we, the Class of 2012, have finally made it to the almost mystical time we only dreamed about as first-years: our senior year. For all of our countless hardships, we are rewarded by Pomona College with an amount of food, drink and ritual merrymaking so extravagant and exorbitant it could begin to make even Dionysus jealous. But these new bonuses are not free of stipulations; as seniors, we have two main responsibilities: to graduate as soon as possible and to cultivate a healthy habit of handing over portions of our future paychecks to the school’s annual fund, starting with the senior gift. The senior gift is described as a way to give back to and thank Pomona for all the “life-shaping educational opportunities” it has given us. And while this money does go toward academic programming, scholarships and student life, it is important to remember that it takes an entire community to create the experiences we have had here and that this community includes all workers, staff, faculty and students. Because this college does not treat all members of our community, especially its most marginalized ones, equally and with respect, I am committed to refuse to donate to the senior gift and urge all of you to think critically about your decision to donate as well.

As a student who relies heavily on financial aid, I recognize that I benefit directly from the scholarships that have come from the annual fund; however, this reality does not stop me from speaking out about the discrimination and injustices that I and others must face daily at Pomona. During my time here, my experiences as a working-class person of color have been either dismissed as irrelevant and imagined or tokenized to celebrate diversity; others who have been marginalized often face these same issues, while we are told to stop being so loud, so angry or so sensitive. Fortunately, as a student, I have had access to supportive spaces such as resource centers and mentor programs.

However, we must keep in mind that Pomona has had a long history of denying resources to students of color; these resources were only achieved through ardent student struggle and this college was only made safe for me and others like me by the sacrifices of those who came before us. With that history in mind, we must also acknowledge those members of our community who still do not have the same privileged access to resources that we do as students—namely, the workers. Since as early as 1979, and probably even before then, workers have been fighting for one basic right that we as students take for granted every day: the right to an equal voice in this community. For an institution that has committed itself, in the words of Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson, to not “silencing speech,” Pomona College has been extraordinarily remiss in honoring that commitment.

While we continue to think about whether or not we want to give to the college, we must also ask ourselves, what does it mean to support an institution that cannot remain true to its core values? The college gates, the same gates we all ran through as first-year students, has a motto that states, “Let only the eager, thoughtful and reverent enter here.” As a result of the recent document checks and firing of 17 workers, the college and its board of trustees have demonstrated clear violations of these community standards by showing a lack of regard, reverence and respect for its workers and their families. 

How can we bear our “added riches in trust” for all by supporting an institution that has fired 17 of its most dedicated workers? In a recent Ethicist column of the New York Times Magazine, the Ethicist, in response to an alumnus wary about donating to an alma mater whose values have changed as a result of dubious labor practices, writes that if a “school [has] showed itself to be something other than the upstanding institution you thought it to be[,] you can send your check someplace you consider more worthy.” We must use this unique opportunity and our power as soon-to-be young alumni to send a message to the college that it will not have our financial support until the basic rights of the workers and a labor peace are met. To refuse to donate would not be a solitary decision; we would be joining hundreds of alumni who have made the same commitment, the commitment not to support a college that is unable to live by the same values it has tried to instill in us. A current article in The Student Life calls us to “Speak Up for a Cause You Believe In,” stating that even if we do not agree with the actions of loud protest movements, as students intellectually engaged in local, national and global issues, we cannot and must not remain apathetic. Instead of just imagining an ideal future for Pomona, we can have a hand in actively creating it now by refusing to donate to the senior gift. And if we so choose, we can put that money into “someplace we consider more worthy” that goes directly to helping the fired workers or their organizing efforts (look out for fliers/emails on alternative donation sites).This small action is an easy way to make a strong political statement and to join the movement for labor peace. When we look back on our four years at Pomona, rather than remembering a constructed, idealized image of what was, we can remember how we fought for the rights of everyone in our community.

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