Senior Class Gifts and Classism

Paying for college is hard. It costs an insane amount of money, and that cost increases annually. For independent students, finances are an even bigger stress factor. After four quick years, we’re abruptly thrown into the “real world”, and expected to immediately begin paying off our student loans (or, more likely, we’ll be stuck with them until we die and our credit score will cry great big tears of misery). Remember asking your parental figure to check under your bed for that scary, imaginary monster? Yeah. That monster is now made up of at least five digits and will follow you from country to country, refusing to die even if you declare bankruptcy!

…Can anyone tell I’m feeling pretty anxious about beginning loan payments post-graduation, with a microscopic art intern paycheck?

We’ve essentially exchanged our financial souls for knowledge! We’re so poetic!

But… wait… Randolph isn’t done with us. Senior Dinner/Dance tickets? Absolutely! Graduation fees? Well, I guess I don’t have choice. Caps and gowns? Curses! I was hoping Commencement would just be like a lengthy Dell Run. Fine.

Aaaannnnd a senior gift? You want a donation… for a bench or a fountain. From us. From the same people who have already pledged all our past savings on top of the student loans we’ll be struggling to pay off for decades?

With what money? Randolph, honey, you already took all my money. What are you expecting? Aren’t you supposed to wait until I’m moderately successful and wrinkly to ask for donations? You can’t even wait until I receive my diploma?

To make matters worse, when approached by more affluent peers, we are judged for being unable to contribute to a gift we didn’t consent to give. This strikes me as a remarkably classist tradition. I’m very aware that senior class gifts aren’t solely a Randolph College or RMWC tradition. It’s incredibly common. But, at a larger school, you’re protected from judgement and harassment if you cannot (or choose to not) donate. That isn’t the case here.

Yesterday, I was approached by a student helping to organize the class gift. I responded honestly that I didn’t have any money. Glaring, he snapped back, “You really don’t have any money?” No, I really don’t have any money. That wasn’t my first negative encounter with someone about not donating, and I doubt I’m the only one.

If you’re judging someone for not donating, really think about your reasoning. We have a very diverse campus, with students coming from a wide array of circumstances. Assuming that someone isn’t donating because they’re “cheap”, “lazy”, or “apathetic” isn’t reasonable.

So how do we make this better? Perhaps if donations were anonymous or only staff members had access to the names connected to donations, this problem would be solved. Have you faced classist criticism on campus? How did you handle it?

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12 thoughts on “Senior Class Gifts and Classism

  1. Did they CALL you “cheap”, “lazy”, or “apathetic?” Perhaps they had mistakenly assumed that you had money due to your appearance or mannerisms, which I would personally take as a compliment. I doubt that someone attempting to get your donation would have MEANT to come off the way they did, and I would be willing to bet it was just surprise upon the discovery of their mistaken assumption.

    Regardless, I agree that the “senior gift” tradition is bad, and I think it should die along with many of the other toxic traditions here. I could probably donate something during my senior year, but they won’t be getting a single cent more than I have already given, simply upon the principle that they do not deserve it.

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  2. I had the exact same encounter about donations! It just seems unfair to expect me to pay so soon, sometimes I just lay down and contemplate how long I am going to have to worry about paying off all these fees. Great post!

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    • Thank you for your comment!
      While I’m sorry to hear you also had a negative encounter, I’m glad to hear you agree. 🙂
      I do that all the time! I started calculating student loan interest the other day, and started feeling light-headed!

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  3. I absolutely love the tone of this piece.

    That said, I absolutely don’t love the reason it exists. If someone says they don’t have money, it should just be left at that.

    Also, the summer after my first year here, my mother got a letter in the mail asking her to make a donation to Randolph. We both feel your pain.

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  4. First- it has NOTHING to do with our class president. She was tasked with it and hated every second of it.
    Wanna bet you don’t have a dollar? I bet I saw you drunk last weekend.
    If anything, the seniors DO NOT have a senior gift. This money goes to scholarships that helps others come here.
    Yes, Bateman is inappropriate instructing us to donate.
    Did you feel victimized when you got free booze from the senior reception? I bet not.
    You are so wrong in your arguments it’s not even funny. So literally ask a question or two before you spout off like a coward hiding behind classism.

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    • Thank you for your comment.
      I don’t believe I ever mentioned our class president, but I’ll take your word for it that she was asked to talk to people. Regardless, I still find that to be unethical. A donation is supposed to be just that: a donation. Yes, every dollar counts. I completely agree with you. If I’m facing upwards of $30,000 in debt from this school, I will be putting those dollars toward that, instead. We have a definition of classism on our definitions page, if that is helpful to you. It’s a somewhat simple concept. Judging someone for the money they choose to spend or cannot spend is absolutely a form of classism. Your assumption that I have money to give only proves my point further. If I do have money, it is not a choice. In order to avoid spiraling further into debt, I must put that money toward my student loans. If I could “give back” to the institution that I have already paid over a hundred thousand dollars, I would. Perhaps, in the future, if I pay off my loans, I will. In the mean time, I have given what I can. I do not believe calling an instance of classism ‘classism’ is cowardly. I do find it telling, however, that your instinct is to insult me rather than engage in respectful discourse.

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  5. To be honest, I think that for the class gift, the amount of money raised is not as important as the act of everyone giving back something to the college. People at the Alum Office know pretty well that we are all broke college students here, so I don’t think they would expect to get a lot of money out of the class gift. I consider donating for class gift an expression of gratitude and love to our alma mater. I donated $1, simply doing my part before I kiss this place goodbye.
    Just as with any colleges in this country, in order to operate, the college relies a lot on donations from alums. Do you think you will have all the opportunities offered to you here without the donations from others who came before you? You said that it’s unreasonable for the school to ask college students, who are in debt, to donate, did you forget about that handsome scholarship package that you got? Do you take it for granted? I think giving back to the school is reasonable, and you can determine how much you’d like to give (has anyone really judged you for donating just $1 for class gift? I wasn’t judged, for sure). If you can spend the same amount of money on take-out, booze, cosmetics, or any source of entertainment, then why can’t you just give a portion of that to the school? If you don’t want to donate, I think you can give back by doing something else too. I hate to disagree with you on this, but I don’t think class gift is an example of classism, since you can choose to donate $1 just to show your support.

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    • Thank you for your comment.
      I am more than happy to give back with my time, energy, and art. However, as I stated in an above comment, if I have a dollar, I will use that dollar to pay off the substantial loans I have accrued attempting to my tuition for this institution. I’m glad to hear that you haven’t faced discrimination, insults, or judgment in regards to your donation. Others have, and that’s what I find to be unethical and unkind. I absolutely don’t take my scholarships for granted, but I would also be surprised if that’s what this money was actually going toward. If it is, that’s wonderful. I still cannot afford to donate (as I have stated tirelessly). The fact that so few are taking me by my word only proves my point.

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      • I have been thinking about this and come to the conclusion that whether or not a person would like to donate is totally their personal choice (my argument earlier should only apply to me). Judging a person by the choices that they make TO THEIR LIFE that don’t really affect you is seriously not okay. I wasn’t judged so I only spoke of my experience, but it is frustrating to hear that others have been insulted for not donating. In that case, I agree with you that it is unethical to oblige or coerce students into giving “donation,” even more so by using their own fellow students for that purpose.

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