The Collegian
Monday, October 02, 2023

OPINION: UR's donor relations tokenize students on need-based financial aid

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

I chose to attend the University of Richmond after spending the night with several multicultural students as part of the admission department’s A Night to See, Witness, and Experience Richmond program, more commonly known as ANSWER.

That night, I connected with people who looked like me, sounded like me and shared similar backgrounds as me. That night, I felt at home. But after my first year as a Spider, I’m disgusted with the lack of cultural competency exhibited by this university, particularly the donor relations division.

Through the first few weeks of the spring semester, other financial aid recipients and I were bombarded with a set of emails requiring us to comply with a ridiculous process of submitting photos of ourselves alongside half-hearted responses about why we chose UR and the things that we were involved in.

Intimidated into filling out the form, I was taken aback when I read some of the questions I was expected to answer. Asking me to thank those whose funds I have received through grant aid is one thing, but painting the “this is what your money enables these poor and/or minority students to do” narrative is disheartening.

The form prompted me to write about my social and academic successes. It further prompted me to give my personal, heartfelt thanks to these donors in a way that made me feel how I imagine some other scholarship-receiving students may feel about writing letters to rich, old, white men: singled out.

Because donor relations made me feel guilty about receiving grant aid, I committed myself to filling out the form. It felt like bowing down before the donors and this university. I felt forced to do something I did not want to do because the university and I both know that I would not be here without the aid I receive.

I feel used and mistreated because it feels as if I am expected to pay back my gratitude in ways that go well beyond thanking a donor. Because I receive grant aid, it feels as if UR has given me the job of securing more grant funds. I become a member of the “broke and needy” class that UR needs me to be to elicit money from the donors.

The online form was an issue, but the real problem is rooted in the annual scholarship donor event that “all scholarship recipients are expected to attend.” Donor relations sees students as the forefront of collecting funds for the university so much so that they do not care about the classes that we are missing to entertain these donors. Scholarship students are instructed to “let [their] professors know in advance” and were offered excused absences for the purpose of securing funds.

According to U.S. News & World Report, 41% of students at UR, or approximately 1,245, receive need-based aid. This means that, for whatever reason, these students’ families are unable to pay the full $63,000 billed by the university. These need-based aid recipients create a “new minority” on a campus full of people who can afford to pay the yearly amount, and these students are expected to skip class and become the face of the university, further propagating the implicit “this is what you enable us to do” narrative while singling out the most vulnerable students on campus.

Requiring scholarship recipient students to attend forces them to become tokens that the university uses as pawns for its own gain. This is particularly dangerous because it completely changes the narrative of why these students are here. They are invited and accepted to campus to be equipped to make a difference, but instead of that difference being educational or social, it becomes financial because donors love a good “savior” story, and the university loves its precious endowment.

The university cares more about collecting money and less about the well-being of its minority of students on need-based aid. I call bullshit on the diversity and inclusivity efforts that the university prides itself on. I, and many other scholarship recipients, do not want to be a part of an elaborate scheme to collect funds that singles me out from the rest of this student body.

With such a large population of students receiving some form of need-based aid, students in attendance at the annual donor event become aware of other students’ financial aid status, and that is something that should not be made known to any other student on this campus. No student should be “put on the spot” or expected to solicit funds because of his or her family’s lack of ability to pay tuition and fees at the University of Richmond.

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UR spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants from everything to admissions tours to administrative decisions. It should use those same consultants to devise a way to raise money that does not force scholarship recipients into feeling guilty for receiving funds.

Contact contributor Will Walker at

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