Opinion

Asking my mother for money: Discussing donation practices

My time at Macalester has been a roller coaster of self-discovery and finding my voice, and in all honesty I am ready to leave. I’ve learned so much, but I also learned that my voice is needed and is valued more elsewhere. As a senior I have been e-mailed constantly about donating money and incentivized with a beer tour and party bus, as well as in other ways. Currently, my bank account isn’t fit enough to pay May’s rent, let alone Macalester College. I also find a problem in the fact that I am unable to specify where my money will go. I have accepted this; however, I am by all means pissed at the fact that my family is being asked to donate to Macalester right now.

I am from a working-class family/community in New Orleans, LA. I was fortunate enough to be granted a scholarship to attend a well performing, albeit very White and elitist, private school in New Orleans, in conjunction with my mother working two jobs to make up for the rest of the costs. Although after all is said and done, her hard work got her daughter into college.

Attending a school surrounded by students from more privileged classes than myself, I became accustomed to not having what many of my peers had, while recognizing that I still held a lot of educational privilege within my own community. This has not changed since I arrived at Macalester, and neither has my mother’s concern that in order for my worth to be validated she has to pay for activities and honors that we cannot afford. Still, she spent money always in an effort to show others that her child, too, is deserving, smart and worth acknowledging.

Last week, my mother called me to tell me that she just realized she missed the deadline for honoring graduating seniors publicly in The Mac Weekly and the Commencement schedule. I tell her that it isn’t important, but when she insists, I tell her that I will find out if we can get around it and that I will send in $5.

The “recommended” donation for students is $20.13, but for parents it is $100.

When I discovered this, I instantly became angry. Why is my mother being sent the message that in order to acknowledge my accomplishments, she has to pay $100? You may ask, “Why does it bother you so much?” It bothers me for a few reasons.

On a macro level, it carries the assumption that our parents are in better financial situations than we are. It ignores the fact that some of us may receive little to no financial support from our families, as well as an assumption of who is able to send their children to this school.

Moreover, I am upset with the underlying message. I am upset that my mother is being told that in order for me to be recognized by this community, in this way, she has to spend money she does not have. We are being forcefully fed a reminder that certain accomplishments and people are only worth acknowledging if there is money behind them, if that money can serve a greater institution. I have spent four years at this school, and I have had some great experiences, some that I will put into the “Life Lessons” box; however, two publications will not even recognize my presence here.

This solicitation is also a reminder that although we are all more or less graduating with the same degree, our degrees apparently do not all mean the same thing. Despite the fact that I arrived at Macalester thinking that it was “above” practicing certain injustices, this is another reminder that I arrived young, naïve and that even this institution perpetuates messages of elitism and systemic inequalities.

I am not arguing against soliciting for donations and providing an “incentive.” I understand what an important role giving is for the college’s sustainability. This is more about methodology. I am simply hoping to open a discussion about what the costs are, and whose accomplishments we inevitably make invisible when capital is requested in return for acknowledgment.

In support of having a broader discussion about the donation practices at Macalester College, I sign in solidarity with the author:

Eric Goldfischer ‘13, Isela Xitlali Gomez ‘13. Andrea Jackson ‘13. Emily Vollbrecht ‘13

May 3, 2013

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