Spare some change?

I just got a call from a Cal student volunteer who was cold-calling alumni to try and get them to donate. I hate that I’m a grad student and yet they’re trying to hit me up for cash, but I hate even more that a fine public university system is so strapped for money that it has to ask its own students to make these kinds of calls. The guy had his little spiel about how the money I donate would go to help students like himself; really, it’s the university-level equivalent of going around door to door selling wrapping paper and peanut brittle. The poor guy was a freshman and I just felt sorry for him. They must have told them to try and make conversation, so he asked me how I liked grad school and how I’d liked Berkeley, and told me he was thinking of majoring in EECS and asked if I had any advice. Good Lord, how to sum up Erik’s and all my Leland friends’ experience in thirty seconds? All I could say was EECS is hard and he’s got plenty of time to explore other options. He sounded pretty ambivalent about it, after all. And then he asked me to donate. I know from speaking to other volunteers that they instruct you to start out by asking for the largest possible sum. So here he was, this first-year kid, asking, “So I know you’re a grad student and you probably don’t have tons of money, but would you consider making a donation of one thousand dollars?” DUDE! Think about what you are asking, man! So I told him I really had no extra money at present, and he recited to me all the stats about how Berkeley is top in the nation and all that, and asked if I would think about two hundred fifty dollars. At this point I wanted to tell him, “Do you know I didn’t go grocery shopping last week because my bank account was almost empty?”

He really wasn’t such a bad caller; he was doing the best he knew how. When he said his “Thank you and have a good day,” I could hear the bitterness and defeat in his voice. I hung up the phone and my first thought was, “They’ve got freshmen doing this?!” I’m entertained by the idea, but there’s a sting in my amusement as well. I went through four years at Berkeley watching the financial situation get progressively worse, and now I’m at UCLA where I was offered no funding and am having to compete with my fellow grad students for what little money there is. I look back on Berkeley with fondness, but to have these phone calls and letters (there have been a few) coming in reminding me just how desperate my alma mater is, heck, how desperate the whole UC system is… it’s not amusement I’m feeling most strongly at this moment.

PS. The cynic in me says the real reason they ask freshmen to do this is that once you’ve gone through a year of schooling you’re already too jaded to make these calls with any kind of sincerity in your conversation.

PPS. Don’t worry about my financial situation. I’m not at starvation’s door, I just haven’t been managing my money well lately. My problem is I’ve started exercising again. No, I’m serious: when I see how much better I look I just want to go shopping. My second semester of dance at Berkeley, I was down at Crossroads once a week at least. Call it the consequence of years of feeling like a fat girl. Thank God for my pocketbook that at least I prefer to buy my clothes used.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]