No thanks to ThankQ

By asking students to self-identify as requiring financial assistance, the program is normalizing well-off students

Laura Stairs, ArtSci ’12
Laura Stairs, ArtSci ’12

Laura Stairs, ArtSci ’12

I received an email last Friday about the ThankQ program: a program that invites scholarship and bursary recipients to wear a “ThankQ” tag on their backpacks.

While I understand that the intent of the program is to show appreciation to alumni for their financial contributions to the education of Queen’s students, I have several concerns with the program.

First, students are asked to identify themselves to their peers as individuals who need financial assistance and whose education is therefore largely funded by the University.

This has the effect of creating a divide between students who receive financial aid and those who don’t under the premise of celebrating alumni for their contributions.

What this does is further stigmatize student poverty. There are students at Queen’s who feel embarrassed to acknowledge that they need financial assistance.

By requesting that students wear tags on their backpacks, the ThankQ program asks them to acknowledge to their peers that they’re here thanks to the generosity of alumni.

Students who don’t receive financial assistance, however, are not encouraged to identify their thankfulness.

This normalizes their financial circumstances as they do not need to be explicitly identified as a variant, nor do they need to be highlighted (through the donning of ThankQ tags). This whole process leads to a further stigmatization of student poverty at Queen’s.

Second, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing appreciation for alumni contributions towards the University, monetary or otherwise, why does this need to be a public affair?

The public display of appreciation expected by the ThankQ committee is ineffective at expressing that appreciation. Alumni are not always on campus; in fact, most are rarely on campus, making this method of appreciation only effective in asking students to self-identify to their peers.

Though it was stated in the email that this is a voluntary process, this is the only highly advertised opportunity students are given to show their appreciation for alumni support (and this opportunity does not extend to all students but to students receiving financial aid only).

Students who choose not to participate are then understood to be ungrateful or to feel entitled to the financial assistance they have received, which is unfair to them given the already stigmatized view of poverty on campus.

It’s clear that not all students understand the implications of taking and wearing a ThankQ tag but that does not excuse the continuation of this program in its current form.

Third, during my time at Queens I have seen these same tags on buildings, technology and other objects donated by alumni over the years. These tags signify a type of ownership that the alumni have over these objects.

By asking students to don these same tags, the process effectively objectifies students and marks them as donations, just like any other building or object.

Identifying students as alumni donations only reinforces the belief that those students are at Queen’s only through the generosity of Queen’s Alumni and that they couldn’t be here any other way, undermining their own merit and right to be at this institution.

The ThankQ program ultimately stigmatizes the financial difficulties of certain students and creates a visual and public divide between those who can pay and those who cannot pay for their university careers.

The aforementioned problems need to amended. More personal, effective, possibly anonymous and definitely less targeted ways for students to show appreciation to alumni need to be developed.

One idea is to have students write thank you notes/cards that would be sent to alumni individually.

Further, making the committee and its associated offices aware of the problems I have identified is imperative. As a concerned student and soon-to-be alumnus, I want to ensure that ThankQ committees in the future do not use this method of appreciation and are aware of the problems associated with it.

Receiving the email sent by ThankQ was a very isolating experience for me as it likely was for other students. Many decisions are being made at Queen’s that show a complete disregard for low-income students, such as the changes in the tuition payment schedule and increasing international student fees, among others.

Isolating and targeting students who receive bursaries, along with ignoring the financial feasibility of a Queen’s education when making important decisions, stigmatizes the experiences of student who identify as low-income by isolating and labeling us while simultaneously making us irrelevant in the decision making process.

I am very grateful to all the alumni who donate money to support bursaries, scholarships and the work study program here at Queen’s.

I also recognize that it would be nearly impossible for me to afford to be here without their generous donations.

However, my presence here is not solely a result of generous alumni contributions. I am here because I’m ambitious, a hard worker, dedicated, intelligent and determined. Where’s my tag that says that?

Laura Stairs is co-chair of Students Against Poverty.

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