On the way from Sierra Center to the bookstore complex last week, I was greeted with an unfortunately familiar sight. An outside organization had claimed a table at the edge of the garden near the bookstore walkway. Three men descended on passing students asking for donations to support their cause.
I had to suppress my inner cranky old lady. I wanted to shake my ineffectual little fist at them and shout, “Get off my lawn!”
Students are approached by solicitors every day on our campus. Some want you to attend a “free” movie, others want your signature on a petition, a few may be offering a great deal on manicures. They are not always contained to one area or table. And they don’t generally take “no” for an answer, either. Students have been approached while eating lunch outdoors, walking to the library and entering the parking garage…on the same day.
There are all kinds of tactics to avoid dealing with that awkward social moment: denying a complete stranger their request. Cell phones suddenly appear out of nowhere and imaginary music plays through hastily-popped-in ear phones. One fellow student simply tells petitioners she’s Canadian.
Most of us like our school. God knows there are days when we spend more time here than at home with our families. We expect to feel comfortable and safe on campus. If we choose to buy a doughnut from a student club’s bake-sale, we know the money is going to support actual CSUN students. Maybe there are some trust issues here, but we really shouldn’t hand over money to some guy we just met because he says it’s “for the children”. The least he could do is trade us a cookie for our dollar.
As students, we’re usually not in any kind of position to be granting their requests for money anyway. The high-pressure tactics some groups use are just offensive. A lot of us have loans. There’s often a stack of bills to pay sitting on the kitchen counter. The last thing we need is a guilt trip from a complete stranger because we won’t hand over our lunch money. Didn’t we leave those bullies back in the grammar school playground?
According to the Matador Involvement Center’s policies, outside groups should be getting permission to solicit on campus. The policy states that “the use of campus grounds and facilities for the purpose of seeking donations may be permitted in accordance with reasonable directives as to time, place and manner,” and that these groups, “must obtain the appropriate event and space reservation form from the Matador Involvement Center…”
Interesting. There is no way the multiple organizations occupying the same space, handing out information and hitting us up for money, all got permission to be outside the bookstore at the same time. I don’t buy it and neither should you.
First, there are two kinds of groups who come on campus looking for our attention. Some are simply here to hand out information or request signatures. Think of all the folks running around during the election season with their ballot initiatives or the ones who want to talk to you about Jesus.
Vicki Allen, assistant director at The Matador Involvement Center explains that these groups should be registering with the Center, but that the university cannot infringe upon the First Amendment rights of others. If a group simply wishes to disseminate information, they have a right to do so. And students have the right to ignore them.
“Nine times out of 10, if they’re asked to register with us, they will,” Allen said.
The second kind of organization, is here to ask for money, and once money is involved the rules change. Groups wishing to seek donations for their cause should be registered and assigned a table and a time to be on campus. These folks should not be approaching passersby or following them down the sidewalks, though they often do.
If a group has registered, they should have been given a form to prove it. Ask to see it. By registering with the school, they have been assigned a table and the center knows they’re here. In addition, most smaller charities register with the county and have an identification card they can show when they fill out their CSUN campus forms. You can ask to see that, too.
Charitable giving has been on the rise the last couple of years according to a 2012 report by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It’s a great indication of economic recovery that people are willing to give again. Unfortunately, scammers are on the rise too. Rather than drop a dollar in their outstretched hands on campus, many people prefer to make an annual donation through official channels. Not only do you get a tax credit, but a quick internet search can help determine if they’re really on the up-and-up.
And then there are the people selling something that just seems too good to be true. A stranger’s presence on campus doesn’t equate to forthright honesty. Those coupon books with $100 worth of spa services for only fifty bucks? Probably a scam. Half off the price on a paintball adventure? Most likely not legit. If we wouldn’t buy it from a stranger at the mall, why hand over money just because someone wandered onto campus?
If you see a group wandering campus asking for money, report them. They should be behind a table. If you’ve been harassed by any of these people, report them. If a solicitor has the nerve to touch you, for Christ’s sake report them. And do it right away. Like, before they have a chance to run off.
If these so-called organizations didn’t make so much off of us, it wouldn’t be worth it to hang around the bookstore all day. If more of us just walked on by, they’d eventually get the message and go someplace else.
The next time someone asks you for a donation, offers you a “free” movie ticket or wants you to sign something, ask them if they’ve registered to be on campus. If not, you might just want to make a quick call on your handy-dandy smartphone to (818) 677-5111 and let the Matador Involvement Center know we have uninvited guests.
Then, tell them to get the hell off your lawn.
-Michelle Reuter is a graduating senior who has dodged solicitors from New York to L.A. She enjoys shaking her ineffectual little fist at impertinent petitioners whenever she gets the chance.