Poets asked to give more than they’ve got

Poets asked to give more than they’ve got

Kristi Weyand


I returned to my hometown for Spring Break fully intending on trying to relax, but, unfortunately, I was greeted by a postcard from the College asking me to donate to the Big Poet Give. Even though it is only my first year at Whittier College, my mother and I have received multiple pamphlets and emails from the College asking for donations. This one, however, hit harder. I am expected to donate to a college that I am already having difficulty financing? Thanks for the reminder of my, and many other student’s, rather bleak finances.

The Big Poet Give advertises a fundraiser for scholarships and other areas of need. It focuses on the number of donations — 1,000 needed to unlock $100,000 from trustees — rather than the amount of donations. However, including current students in their outreach for donations makes it seem like these students are obligated to contribute to the funding of tuition more than they already are. 

Now, most students will agree that every penny spent on their education, even in loans, is worth it, but I simply cannot afford to donate back to the College for which I am currently going into debt. As a first-generation student, the hard-to-navigate process of receiving education funding is already seemingly impossible, and the prospect of having to pay back a hefty amount of loans is downright terrifying — so forgive me for attempting to forget this impending doom for even a brief while. 

The College asking current students and recent graduates for donations is downright rude, and I am not alone in believing this. “Being asked for donations from the school I’m begging for more financial aid from feels a bit ironic. I would definitely say that it feels like the school is ignoring the financial burden it forces students to bear by asking for donations,” said first-year Harmony Albarran. “So, the idea of offering even more money to this institution feels as if I am needed to invalidate my own financial insecurities in order to be a team player.” 

Burying ourselves in student loans has almost become part of the culture of college students in America. According to Student Loan Hero, the average debt of the 75 percent of private college students that took on loans is $32,300, throughout their college career. This does not include the 14 percent of parents of both private and public colleges that have federal Parent PLUS loans averaging $35,600. This makes financing college, especially private college, seem like a battle that’s impossible to win.

Excessive student loans have almost become normalized, to the point where I’ve heard many people accept their debt as a life sentence. Most recently, Professor of Philosophy Dr. Albert Rodriguez bluntly told my class that he will probably be paying the minimum monthly payment on his loans for the majority of his life, but he made sure to note this is worth it. For many of us, this seems like the only choice, so it has to be worth it. Yet, when we are asked for donations it begins to feel like the school is complicit in this normalization. The monatary value of the donations requested may not be important, but requesting donations from the student body has emphasized the role it plays in student’s perception of the way the school views student’s finances.

Alumni and Whittier staff helped reach our Big Give goal.  COURTESY OF  KERI YOKOYAMA

Alumni and Whittier staff helped reach our Big Give goal. COURTESY OF KERI YOKOYAMA

Clearly, most college students are taking on a financial burden that will haunt them for a large portion of their life. Worth it or not,  asking current students and recent alumni for donations seems even more impolite. We are probably feeling the hardest impact of paying for college, yet the school wants us to donate more? It felt like the school was saying donations were something they expect, on top of the ever-growing tuition — which has increased three percent for the 2019 – 20 school year.

The same email that shared this tuition increase also stated: “While we work to keep any tuition increase as low as possible, we also strive to increase donations for scholarship support from individuals and foundations and preserve our existing financial aid resources.” This seems a little counterproductive if the school is including current students in their outreach for donations. In addition, the Big Poet Give Quad Party advertised an AirPods giveaway, which seems to be a staple for school events. I am all for giving back to the students, but I can’t afford these luxuries for myself. Why would I donate if I know the College has a habit of using the money for frequent giveaways, even for events used to spur donations? Again, these giveaways are appreciated and probably increase campus morale, but guess what else would increase campus morale? Easing the financial burden placed on students! That is the purpose of the Big Poet Give, right?

I appreciate all the school has offered me financially, socially, and educationally. However, being asked to donate more, even a miniscule amount, on top of what I, and other students, am currently building in debt feels like a slap in the face. I understand that the Big Poet Give raises money for scholarships that would ease the burden of private school tuition for future generations of students, but — I am sorry — I cannot contribute to someone else’s education funds when I hardly have control over my own. We should not be made to feel selfish for this or feel like donating is an expectation.

According to Whittier College’s Instagram, the 2019 Big Poet Give drew in a record number of over 1,500 donors. For a recap of the Big Poet Give, see page 1.

This is a cause for Poet Pride, of course! But please, could donation requests be focused on alumni from at least ten years past? Not the students and recent graduates, who are even less likely to have it together financially?