Let’s get the shock factor out of the way: yes, I donated my $500 Anthropology Club Award to an organization that worked to reconstruct a small village in the Himalayas; a place I will likely never get to see.
I realize that giving away money when I’m a broke student might sound very stupid, but only at a superficial level, trust me. I’ve come to understand money takes so much space and importance in our lives that we’ve begun to cherish it as much as material possessions or friends. However, you can use money to an extent far beyond favours you can ask friends—to support something you personally care about, using a language that has become nearly universal.
When an institution determines money as the most meaningful way to reward hard work, the award can reflect what the administration most cares about or what format it sees as legitimate. Crazy as it sounds, donating the money awarded by a university indirectly forces the university to donate for a cause you really care about. Remember that an institution will often want to donate money in ways that will gild its own image—it’s the “what’s in it for me?” mentality.
If somebody wants to write a letter against an institution’s actions, it has to be framed in a way recognized by the recipient. This relates to how, historically—and arguably still today—written information is seen as legitimate whereas the spoken word is devoid of any credibility. Are you over 19? I need to see your ID. Are you living in this apartment? Let me see the lease. Is this land yours? Show me your land title. So when a student is given money generously offered by his university and throws it away for something he cares about, I believe that is power in action. He finally speaks a language the university recognizes: the language of money.
I could have used that money, just like any student would have, and that is part of my argument. As I stood there, with the certificate in my hands, I could see all the other students who would live on without the award I had just received. Surely, I could do without it too.
Furthermore, it’s an anthropology award. We study humans in all their fascinating aspects. How ironic that we study ourselves and somehow spend all of our time reading books and writing essays? Of course, some time must be spent cultivating and improving our individual selves. I feel that is taking an increasingly large proportion of our lives, and we end up learning less and less about how to create and maintain ties between each other. We learn to care about ourselves as the person, not ourselves as us all. A sense of community, humanity, solidarity, is unfortunately not something you can learn from books.
I don’t want to convince you, dear reader, that you should donate money. I just want you to think about the role money plays and which currencies are acknowledged around you. If you want to make a point, make it in the right language. Who knows, you might end up creating a new one.