This semester, the Columbia College Class of 2012 Senior Fund has not tried to raise a single cent. While this is more than a little paradoxical for a fundraising group, we have taken this course of action because, instead, we have strived to spend this semester informing seniors.
We have done this for two reasons. First, we want the gifts that this year’s graduating seniors make, no matter how large or small, to mean something to those who give. Second, and equally important, we believe this speaks to a larger issue on campus. Students—and, for that matter, former students—can empower themselves if there is not only transparency on the part of the school, but also active effort on the part of the students to be informed and engaged.
In order to be informed, students need to know where the money that they give to Senior Fund actually goes. Last year, 55 percent of the overall College Fund donations went toward financial aid, while 31 percent went to Student Services, 13 percent went to the Core Curriculum, and 1 percent went to funding unpaid undergraduate summer internships. Those areas—and those only—are where Senior Fund donations go. Furthermore, every individual who gives to the Senior Fund gets to decide to which piece of that pecuniary pie his or her donation goes. All of which is to say that the decision to give to Senior Fund needs to be an informed, empowered one.
We as undergraduates, however, need to be better engaged, in addition to being better informed. We need to understand why it’s important to give. We need to understand, for example, that the new Center for Student Advising was built entirely with money from alumni. We need to understand that alumni giving allows us to have as much socioeconomic diversity among undergraduates as we do and that only by continuing to give can we hope to have more. We need to understand that, yes, we can talk to any Columbia College undergraduate about the books we read in Lit Hum and CC, but that inter-generational bond is made possible by those former Columbia College undergraduates. Above all, we need to understand that our responsibility as Columbians, for having received the education and experience that we have received, does not end when we leave the gates.
Therefore, this year, in attempting to better inform students, we are not focusing on getting a certain percentage of the class to donate. Obviously, we hope everyone donates. But we actively seek to ensure that every gift made is a meaningful one, that its giver appreciates that meaningful giving also means sustained giving, and that every student realizes, or starts to realize, that a senior gift is the beginning of years of giving back either money or time to Columbia College.
Students of Columbia College, whether or not they intend to give, need to understand what it means to give. Our experience, our being Columbians, complete with all its imperfections and frustrations, does not end in May when we don our caps and gowns. And the only way to define our place at Columbia more clearly is to understand where our gifts can go, decide where they do go, and fully realize our place and individual importance in that giving. That is how we will empower the next generations of Columbia. Moreover, it is how we can empower ourselves as Columbians.
Yes, we hope that as many people as possible give meaningfully. But, more importantly, we hope that they all—that we all—understand what it means to give to Columbia College.
Jacob Goren and Stephanie Foster are the chairs of Columbia College Class of 2012 Senior Fund. Shiva Datwani, Jason Han, Ashwini Kadaba, Anchit Nayar, Cindy Pan, Emily Tamkin, and Brandon Thompson are the vice-presidents of Senior Fund. Emily Tamkin is a Spectator opinion columnist and former editorial page editor.