In the past month, I have received the typical bombardment of emails from various Emory offices and departments. Usually, I delete the bureaucratic spam without reading it and move on with my day. However, the preview line “Show your love for Emory” with a heart emoji caught my eye. Despite the incessant emails, I love my school and I was intrigued by the prospect of demonstrating my spirit. But when I opened the email, I was surprised to find calls for me to donate: is that really the best way I can demonstrate my love? Also, didn’t the Emory University Telefund just call my parents for donations, as though my tuition isn’t enough? Although the University should attempt to raise funds, I found the description of the competition and the language used to solicit student donations to be pushy at best and elitist at worst; the Annual Student Giving Challenge’s false equivalence of expressing school pride with charitable giving necessarily excludes those who can’t afford to give.
The email opened with the catchy line informing me that “There’s still time left to show your Emory pride and your competitive side!” and went on to say that “The class with the most online gifts through Nov. 2 will earn bragging rights as the winner of the Student Giving Challenge” followed by a link reporting the current donation amounts by class and individual. Except the “bragging rights” the competition encourages seems to imply a superiority achieved based on contribution amount. The second of two emails I received on the subject concluded with the reminder that “This is your legacy — show your love for Emory by giving back to what gives to you,” invoking a sense of obligation on my part to donate. Not only did the underlining read as a bit excessive, but it implied that I don’t truly love or appreciate my university if I don’t donate. This inherently characterizes those able to donate as more grateful than those who simply cannot afford to do so.
Furthermore, the first email I received had a similarly alarming conclusion, questioning if I knew “that students who make a gift — of any amount — during their graduating year at Emory earn a commemorative Blue Tassel?” This tassel creates a clear class marker, allowing graduating students to delineate between those who were able to donate and those who were not. On a day that is supposed to be about celebrating academic accomplishments, rewarding some for their ability to contribute financially comes off as Emory prioritizing them over their peers who were unable to donate or uninterested in doing so.
To clarify, the intention of this challenge is good; asking for donations from students is not an inherently bad practice. Additionally, allowing students to choose where the donation goes and if they prefer it to be made anonymously bolsters this practice. However, Emory’s Annual Giving Challenge goes about soliciting donations in the wrong way.
I do not seek to discredit all that Emory does for its students and how donations enable this university to do more. But those donations should come from a desire prompted by students themselves, not from some external motivator or sense of obligation manifested from even the most well-intentioned competition. It is important to address the problematic rhetoric surrounding the request for donations in an effort to also address the financial disparities already present at Emory and across higher education.
Madison Stephens (21C) is from Little Rock, Ark.