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In GIFs, Students Debate Donating to Senior Gift

By Melissa C. Rodman, Crimson Staff Writer

College seniors debated the value of donating to Senior Gift late last week as the Undergraduate Council’s former president critiqued the annual fundraising drive and his peers sparred over the initiative by sending GIFs over a class email thread.

The Harvard College Alumni website touts the Senior Gift, an effort by members of the College’s graduating class to solicit donations from their peers, as an “opportunity to educate Harvard students about the importance and impact of alumni giving, and to encourage classmates to make their first gift to the College.”

Over the years, however, questions about students’  financial status, inclinations to contribute, and where their money will be used have prompted student skepticism about the fundraising drive and a wide range of debate.

This year, that debate took on new life when some students flippantly replied to an email from Gift organizers urging their peers to donate in the drive’s final hours. Responses over the email thread, to which seniors replied last Thursday, included GIFs mocking the Senior Gift and single lines of commentary including “My Senior Swift: One teardrop-stained guitar” and “Guess I'm the only one participating in Senior Twitch.”

According to Sietse K. Goffard ’15, the class’s first marshal and the former vice president of the UC, the thread ultimately spanned more than 150 email messages.

“[T]his thread definitely crashed my phone's gmail app,” Samuel T. Kim ’15 wrote on the thread.

Beyond GIFs and one-liners, though, the thread included heated debate about the value of donating to Senior Gift. Former UC President Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15 sent a lengthy message over the thread explaining why he had chosen not to give to Senior Gift, citing his desire to make a statement to alumni about College administrators and how they engage with students.

“I’m tired of everyone pretending that everything is great here, or that even if we don’t think it is, we’re willing to smile for the alumni - and that is the message that [I] *personally* feel I would be sending to the alumni association by giving to the senior gift,” Mayopoulos wrote.

Following the email debate, the gift’s deadline was extended to midnight on Sunday.

Reflecting on the debate surrounding the gift this year, Goffard said some of his peers are questioning the impact their donations may have, particularly in light of the University’s ongoing $6.5 billion capital campaign.

“The backdrop of the whole Harvard Campaign and the large donations in the past years have made people have second thoughts or questions about the impact of the donations,” he said.

In an interview, Mayopoulos said he thinks members of his class are recognizing that the administration has not “dealt openly with them all the time,” citing the surveillance cameras placed in classrooms without undergraduates’ consent and plans to close overnight infirmary hours at Harvard University Health Services, among other administrative decisions.

“I think that students are better informed about these issues than they have been in a long time,” he said.

Mayopoulos also said many people have been “turned off” by the idea of donating in part because of what he described as the Senior Gift Committee’s aggressive approach to courting donations. Mayopoulos said he originally had not intended to comment on the email thread but ultimately wanted to articulate from the perspective of “someone who spent time trying to make Harvard [a better place]” that there are a number of ways to give back.

In response to last Thursday’s  email thread, Senior Gift Co-Chair Tianhao He ’15 acknowledged seniors’ concerns “about the email etiquette of the Senior Gift Team” in an email on Friday co-signed by the other chairs. He’s email acknowledged that the Committee had failed to bcc recipients of the email that sparked the debate.

“Spoiler alert: we are human and we slip up sometimes,” He’s email said.

He’s email also contained a link to a form for seniors to give feedback to the Senior Gift Committee.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

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