ThurtenE defines carnival as ‘community event,’ not charity fundraiser
This weekend’s ThurtenE carnival featured seven facades, more than a dozen rides and a student breaking a world record for underwater Rubik’s cubing. It didn’t necessarily raise much money for charity.
The junior honorary that runs ThurtenE, which is the oldest student-run carnival in the nation, benefits from its association with local charities and says that it donates profits to these groups. This year the beneficiary was UrbanFUTURE, a nonprofit organization that aims to support public schools through tutoring, mentorship and other programs.
ThurtenE, however, refuses to disclose how much money brought in by the carnival is donated and it bars the charities from disclosing the donations themselves. A ThurtenE spokesperson says it is inaccurate to think of ThurtenE as a charity.
“I would chalk it up to the misconception that the carnival is a ‘charity carnival’ or a fundraiser,” junior and ThurtenE Public Relations Chair Adam Cohen-Nowak said. “Instead, ThurtenE is a community event where the net proceeds are donated to a partner organization.”
Cohen-Nowak said that the carnival’s goal is “community engagement” rather than fundraising.
“Attaching a dollar value to that isn’t necessarily the best way to conclude the entire weekend,” Cohen-Nowak said. “So we kind of just try to focus everyone’s attention on the event itself and promoting the organization.”
Student Life contacted representatives from this year’s charity and the previous four charities designated as beneficiaries of the carnival, and all of them said they were barred from saying how much money they received.
Frank Van Bree, CEO of UrbanFUTURE, said his organization is not concerned with the expected donation and understands the secrecy that shrouds ThurtenE honorary.
“I don’t know if it’s three cents or $300,000, and we are not basing anything on that part of the relationship,” Van Bree said. “I kind of look at it as this is a fraternity, sorority or a group, association or whatever they call themselves…When I was in a fraternity myself, we had rituals and secret handshakes and things that only those in the fraternity can know about, and so I’ve written it off to this is the same thing.”
Cohen-Nowak said the benefits for the charity go beyond monetary value. However, at this weekend’s event, there was little information available to carnival-goers about the organization. A solitary UrbanFUTURE booth featured pamphlets and business cards.
Some in the St. Louis community assume that the proceeds from the carnival go directly toward ThurtenE’s selected community partner.
A woman who brought her two children to the carnival was unaware that the honorary did not reveal the amount of their donations.
“I never thought about that before,” she said. “It’s all about the donation, but I never knew that [the amount of donations was not disclosed.]”
ThurtenE estimated that 80,000 visitors would attend the carnival. If each spent $10 on rides, food and games, that would amount to $800,000 in revenue. It is not clear what the expenses of hosting the carnival add up to.
Although fraternities and sororities contribute significantly to ThurtenE each year, it has faced some criticism from those groups as well. Vice President of Operations for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and junior Austin Middleton said that Kappa Delta and Beta decided to work on a separate project and minimize their own facade work this year.
“There’s so much wasted effort where you build these giant facades and spend all of this money building it, and there is a week of that, and then it is essentially torn down at the end,” Middleton said. “It’s very much a waste of resources and time for something that doesn’t make a sustainable impact within the community.”
For several decades, the ThurtenE carnival has branded itself as a way to engage with the St. Louis community through donating its proceeds. But, in 1989, the Judevine Center, a group which aids children with autism, said it received only $4,000 from ThurtenE, according to a 1990 Student Life article, while the 1988 charity, the Missouri Coalition for Missing and Abused Children, reported receiving no funds at all, which ThurtenE said was because the charity was under investigation at the time.
At some point after, ThurtenE barred groups from disclosing the dollar amount they receive.
This secrecy has led to rumors amongst the student body that they donate little, if any, of the carnival proceeds to their chosen community partner.
Sophomore Erin Borders echoed the sentiments of the rumors that have been circulating around campus regarding how ThurtenE spends its funds.
“I guess I think they’re shady because they’re so closed off about where the money they earn goes to. I feel like it’s some kind of underground drug ring or college mafia or something,” Borders said.
Cohen-Nowak, ThurtenE public relations chair, said that the secrecy is justified by the honorary’s history.
“ThurtenE honorary has its roots as a secret society…since taking over the carnival in 1935,” Cohen-Nowak said. “We’ve tried to keep the planning a secret just so that in the end this whole event comes out of nowhere, there are rides, booths, it’s like ‘Wow! Where did this come from?’ It’s really exciting for us that way it’s exciting for everyone else.”
He noted that the secrecy of the donations and the organization “makes for quite a few colorful Yik-Yaks and some hateful stares in Whispers.”
Additional reporting by Emily Schienvar.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to the intended version which can also be found in print.