By Heather Burke

Over the past few weeks, brightly-colored fliers have appeared in the mail, reminding seniors to donate to the Senior Class Gift. On Thursday night, the campaign kicked off at Lulu’s. Promising drink specials, members of the Gift Committee greeted members of the Class of 2000 with clipboards of gift forms and signs reminding seniors to “make their gift.”

I gave over the amount needed to get a T-shirt ($20). But then I heard one friend cynically remark, “Was the purpose of this event to get seniors drunk and then take their money?” Then I saw an acquaintance filling out gift forms with names of friends and putting in $5 of her own money for each, the minimum amount needed for the gift to count. These friends refused to give on their own, even $5, because, in the words of one, “There is no way I am giving any more money to this school.” Another of my friends asked, “What has Georgetown given back to me?” While I decided to give to the Senior Class Gift, I agree with this hesitancy to donate money to Georgetown.

In theory, the purpose of the Senior Class Gift is honorable: trying to leave a memory of a class, building class spirit and instilling almost-alumni with a legacy of giving back to the university. “Giving back” are the words that trouble me with regards to Georgetown.

When I walk down the aisle at graduation in two months, I’ll be receiving a bachelor’s degree from a top-name school. The “Georgetown” on my diploma will open doors that I might not have had if I went to community college back home. I know that my parents have sacrificed money for this name and for a quality liberal arts education that has taught me to think, question and write.

But the cynical words of one parent at the Senior Auction come back to haunt me: “I’ve already given [the university] over $100,000. Now they want to suck even more money from me through overpriced auction items.” My father hates parent weekends because he feels they are designed to press parents for cash.

Soon, as an alumnus, I will be asked to “give back.” But how do I know my donation will go back to students directly? Over my four years, I have met enlightening professors and administrators deeply concerned about the student body. But I have also seen an administration often distanced from and unresponsive to student needs and wishes. A university president who, though he has raised needed money for Georgetown, rarely seems to be there in the midst of campus crises. A bureaucracy that spends several thousand dollars on flashing message boards that no one reads instead of divesting the funds to student clubs that need the money, a bureaucracy that could use a severe audit. A university that often takes the community’s side in the endless student/resident battle over housing, noise and parties. Then when it tries to alleviate the housing crunch by building a new dorm, proposes to add 500 new students, not considering the extra burden this will add to already overcrowded classes and facilities.

Time and time again student needs and wishes have been shoved aside or been met with half-responses. While the university has admirably committed more money to student clubs in recent years, they put up little obstacles, such as charging clubs to rent spaces. If clubs try to raise money on their own, their SAC allocation diminishes. Countless times, clubs are either denied things by the university or can’t afford them. Spirit-generating events such as Homecoming and the Block Party are either essentially scrapped, watered down or flat-out not supported by the university. When student bar nights at Hoya’s became popular, drawing students to Leavey to socialize, the university forbade underage students from entering and redecorated it so no one now goes there. Problems of alcohol and hate crimes are responded to with reactionary, punitive measures or task forces instead of thoughtful, meaningful action. Despite student protests, popular campus ministers are fired and sweatshop licensing recommendations not met. The university almost fired popular and capable Law Center Dean Judith Areen, whose position was only reinstated after student protests and threats of donors withholding funds to the university.

The result of all these problems? Once bright-eyed and enthusiastic freshmen who have come to feel a sense of alienation from this university, a lack of school spirit, tradition and connection. They don’t want to give back to Georgetown because they feel Georgetown has not given to them. The problem of a lack of community and connection on campus is a complicated one, debated endlessly in task forces, town meetings and campus publications. There is no easy answer. There are examples of the university’s commitment and dedication to students, such as locating the spaces in the Virginian Suites for additional student housing, and they should receive credit for these examples. Respond to student concerns with concrete solutions in a definite timeline, not just vacuous, future promises and endless task forces. Implement the solutions in the Task Force on Campus Culture’s report to improve community at the university. Remember: happy graduating students who feel that the school has responded to them has given them something more than their diploma equal alumni who are more willing to give. In the end, everyone can benefit.

Seniors, swallow any cynicism and give the $5 minimum. It’s for a good cause and you can meet Fr. Leo at a reception. Five dollars isn’t much – the price of a Wisey’s Chicken Madness.

If I ever become rich enough to donate large sums of money, and individual Georgetown organizations need funds or equipment, I’ll be the first to give if I can, knowing that this money will benefit student education. But until I know that my money is going directly to help students instead of to some inflated bureaucracy, big checks made out to Georgetown will be slow to spring from my bank account.

Heather Burke is a senior in the College.

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