Terp Thon is a good cause, but it should operate differently

Terp Thon at Richie Coliseum in 2014. (File photo/The Diamondback)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

I don’t like Terp Thon, and I’m not afraid to say it. I can’t stand the deluge of Instagram stories asking for Venmos and Facebook fundraisers pleading for donations to meet certain goals. In my eyes, most of the requests for money are disingenuous and uncomfortable. 

The organization means well, but in reality, it’s a mechanism for college kids to gain self-congratulatory philanthropic clout. In order for the organization to go beyond being a tokenistic form of fundraising and have a greater impact on the kids they strive to help, Terp Thon needs to place a greater emphasis on community service itself. 

As a concept, I think Terp Thon is wonderful. The student-run organization raises money for children with pediatric illnesses and donates the funds to a children’s hospital. Raising money for Children’s National in Washington, D.C., dancing for 12 hours straight to symbolically represent nurses’ shifts and year-long fundraising efforts? That’s all great. I have no issue with the mission or goal of Terp Thon. 

Where I start to run into problems, however, is the manner with which the organization operates. 

Terp Thon isn’t community service. It’s not volunteerism. It’s not even charity work. It’s philanthropy, pure and simple. And philanthropy, by its very nature, is geared toward those who can afford to donate. It implies that giving money is the catalyst for change and gives members a superficial sense of empowerment that they seem to hold over the heads of those who do not join in. 

For example, Terp Thon places so much emphasis on engaging fraternities and sororities. These Greek Life groups typically have members who can afford to pay dues totalling thousands of dollars, and therefore are able to consistently engage in Terp Thon’s fundraising efforts. Not only is the participation from these groups overwhelming to the rest of the student body, it’s uniform and uninspiring. Every Facebook post and Instagram story has the same scripted request for donations. 

The privilege-based work that Terp Thon engages in allows for wealthier students to tout their generosity despite doing the bare minimum of work. It overlooks students who want to participate but can’t afford to, or feel awkward asking for donations to fulfill the $120 fundraising minimum for a formal invitation as a dancer. It overpowers students who actively volunteer and engage with the patients at Children’s National Hospital without gloating about it on social media. 

If you really want to be for the kids, you have to give more than just your money. Give your time by going to the hospital to spend time with the patients on a regular basis. Give your attention by advocating for a healthcare system funded strongly enough to eliminate the need for college students powering through a 12-hour dance marathon fundraiser. Give your support by volunteering with the nurses and doctors who work tirelessly to save the lives of these children. 

It’s not all surface level. I know some amazing, passionate individuals who participate in Terp Thon because they truly believe in the cause. They do more than just ask for money; they work on advocacy and public relations and actually interact with the kids. I applaud and admire the leaders who put in their time and effort all year long to consistently ensure that Terp Thon meets its goals. But these individuals, who spend months planning and programming the dance marathon, are few and far between. 

Terp Thon already raises incredible amounts of money for children who truly need it. However, on the ground community service could elevate the group from being a social media pat on the back to having an even stronger impact than they already have. It’s time for participants to do more than just put their money where their mouth is.

This column has been updated.

Maya Rosenberg is a sophomore journalism and public policy major. She can be reached at maya.b.rosenberg@gmail.com.

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