Fight for Change by Withholding Your Donation to Your Alma Mater

Fight for Change by Withholding Your Donation to Your Alma Mater

It’s the giving season. But what if not giving can have a bigger impact than giving? 

In 2015, donations to colleges and universities exceeded 40 billion dollars. Alumni concerned about the epidemic of campus sexual assault may want to think twice before donating to their alma mater. 

When Donors Withhold 

Since campus rape has come into the spotlight over the past several years, some big donors have pulled their contributions in response to how sexual assaults were handled at their alma maters. For a well-publicized example, social entrepreneur Elizabeth Amini withheld a 7-figure donation from her alma mater, Occidental College, following sexual assault complaints there. She then went even further by organizing other top donors to withhold donations and collected signatures on a petition demanding change. This alumni response is happening elsewhere, too. 

At the beginning of the 2016 school year, a group of alumni from the University of Richmond created a petition pulling their financial support from the school in the wake of claims from two students that the university mishandled their sexual assault claims. Within 24 hours, more than 200 people had signed on and joined the effort for change by withholding donations to the school. Demands from alumni included a zero-tolerance policy for campus sexual assault, creation of a detailed plan of action to end rape culture on campus, and a sexual assault response and prevention center. 

Some alumni are not as organized, but as individuals are returning their donor cards marked zero with a note such as this one included on a Columbia University card: “Please tell the University President that I look forward to donating once Columbia has taken action (not words) to protect student victims of sexual assault. Thank you.” 

A Powerful Statement 

Colleges and universities rely on donations from alumni. Many schools even cultivate these donors while they are still students, encouraging them to contribute to senior gift funds. 

Just as donations are a statement of support for a cause, withholding a donation makes a powerful statement for change. When alumni put a stop on donations until their alma mater enacts effective rape prevention programs and handles sexual assault complaints appropriately, it will increase the motivation for administrators to act to stop sexual violence on campus. 

Of course, you must make it clear to the school administration why you’re withholding your gift. Use the note quoted above, or write something similar in your own words expressing your concerns. 

In the meantime, donations could have a positive impact when diverted to groups and organizations that are actively engaged in stopping campus sexual assault. 

Questions for Your Alma Mater

Before making a donation, these three questions help ascertain whether your alma mater is taking proactive steps to prevent campus sexual assault and how constructive it is in handling complaints and working with victims:

  • What are you doing to prevent campus sexual assault? 

A good response includes mandatory training delivered in at least two ways. A prevention program should include bystander intervention training and affirmative consent education. It should be offered when a student enters school and be ongoing throughout subsequent years. 

  • What services are available for student survivors of sexual violence? 

A good response includes counseling, academic support, no-contact orders, medical care, and an option to change dorms. 

  • How does the school hold perpetrators accountable? 

A good response includes policies to suspend or expel students who have been found to have committed sexual assault, stalking or date violence. The school should have available a list of sanctions taken against unnamed perpetrators.


Sheri Heitker Dixon is the founder of Keep Her Safe, a non-profit organization committed to making college campuses safe from sexual assault.

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