Secret plan to raise more alumni dollars will backfire

By Tim Lee
Class of 2012

As a long-time Signal photographer, my favorite event to shoot was Homecoming. Every year it was my job to capture the day’s activities. Students enjoying the thrill of a tailgate only experienced at D1 schools. Young alumni returning to their former classmates as married couples. Retiree-aged brothers of a fraternity that had been kicked off campus decades ago still partying like sophomores. It’s a day of reunion, school spirit and celebration of the College.

A game of cornhole during Homecoming 2009. (Tim Lee / Photo Emeritus)

But by now, you’ve probably heard about the sweeping changes to Homecoming. Student or alum, Greek or independent, you should be upset with these decisions. This affects all of you. These decisions were made solely by the Alumni Association and I have a message for them.

You’ve killed Homecoming.

What kind of tailgate doesn’t have cars? Cars are crucial to creating a separated area for one’s group. Groups of friends and student organizations are used to creating their own little area to spend together.

On assignment, I would walk up and down the parking lot, capturing pictures of every area. Everyone had their own space. The chemistry department. The ice hockey team. My fraternity. People want to enjoy Homecoming in their own personal area with their friends, not fenced in like cattle with half the school.

Further reducing the ability to control a personal space, guests aren’t allowed to bring substantial-sized speakers. Instead, a cover band and DJ will be performing and only before and after the football game. Let’s be real. Most people don’t want to listen to the cover band, and no one wants to dance to silence.

And the hours of the “tailgate,” if you can still call it that, have been reduced by a third. No fun.

These changes took students completely off guard. Student Government is not to blame, as these decisions were made without any input from students. Normally, decisions about the College, especially ones that affect students, have some form of student input and feedback. This is something for which SG members rightfully praise the administration.

As this, however, is an Alumni Association event, these decisions didn’t have to go through governance. And so, they were made without student input. When asked why they didn’t solicit input from students, a representative stated that they “just never thought to.”

Alumni gather each year for Homecoming. (Tim Lee / Photo Emeritus)

As a concession, student input will be solicited at this year’s debrief and for next year’s planning. There is still time to make changes to this year’s Homecoming, but Alumni Affairs seems to have taken the attitude that they like what they’re doing and they’ll debrief after.

Publicly, these decisions were made in the name of safety. But you can’t stop kids from drinking during Homecoming. If anything, these restrictions will cause students to pregame even harder before arriving at the tailgate.

But I don’t think this is solely about safety. I have a different theory. One of the main goals of the Alumni Association is soliciting donations from alumni to support the College. They are catering too hard to a certain type of alumni: the heavy donators. They’ve listened to their feedback and are acting on it, stripping the soul out of the tailgate to destroy the “rave type of atmosphere.”

Alumni feedback suggests that some would like to avoid the raves and just have quiet conversations with their former classmates. I have nothing against that, but instead of ruining Homecoming for everyone else, can’t we provide a calm atmosphere inside the Student Center or at other areas around campus?

If the goal of these changes is to increase donations, I would argue that there’s the potential for a decrease in donations caused by these changes.

For many alumni, Homecoming is their last link to the College and the one event that shapes their perception of the College for the entire year. Many are going to be pissed about Homecoming. When Phonathon members call them soliciting donations, their perception of the College and the Alumni Association may be shot and they’ll be less inclined to donate. “Well, Homecoming sucked, and it’s your fault it sucked.”

The Alumni Association seems to have taken the mentality that Homecoming isn’t an event for students — it’s an event for alumni. But even then, many alumni are unhappy with this and it will hurt donations. And don’t forget, today’s students are tomorrow’s alumni. Data from the Phonathon suggests that turning students/alumni into givers soon after graduating provides a substantial boost in how much they donate throughout their lifetimes. Better keep them happy.

Changes, implemented by the Alumni Association, will change the scenery of the Homecoming tailgate. (Tim Lee / Photo Emeritus)

Remember, everyone: When the Alumni Association calls you asking for donations, realize that they are the sole reason Homecoming is ruined.

I love the College, and the last thing I want to do is discourage people from supporting my alma mater financially. But if this is about money, then this is about money.

Homecoming is the one day a year for students to cut loose and pretend they go to a fun school. They shouldn’t be villainized for this. Homecoming is the one tradition for alumni to look forward to, and they already know it won’t be the same. For an institution constantly going through transition, we need to hang onto our traditions.

As students we accepted that we didn’t attend a party school or a sports school. But Homecoming is our day. Don’t take it away from us.

Give us Homecoming back.

Read more about Homecoming:

Policy changes will ruin Homecoming for all

Homecoming 2013, regulations implemented for the safety of students