We must demand more from ThurtenE

| Staff Writer

It’s that time of year again. The ThurtenE carnival is upon us. The members of ThurtenE Honorary will bring together students, alumni and the St. Louis community for a weekend of rides, performances, food and more. On the surface, this is a wonderful and fun opportunity for Washington University to connect with the greater St. Louis community. However, ThurtenE’s financial practices and lack of transparency should make any attendee skeptical of the carnival’s impact and the integrity of the honorary.

Yes, it’s no secret that ThurtenE—a former secret society—isn’t the most transparent organization. Over the past decade, Student Life has published numerous articles about ThurtenE’s practices and lack of accountability. Yet every year, nothing changes, and ThurtenE goes about its business like usual.

Organizations such as fraternities, sororities and other student groups raise money for specific charitable causes during ThurtenE with facades and booths. These organizations must pay a fee to use some of the carnival’s space during the weekend. Prices for spaces in the lot can range from $180 to $375, but the net cost of building a facade costs over $3,300 (the groups building facades are Sigma Nu, Pi Beta Phi, Theta Xi, Delta Gamma, Kappa Sigma and Kappa Kappa Gamma). These groups also must pay for building materials which can hike up the total cost of creating a booth or facade. This money ostensibly comes from dues, so individual members are therefore funding their group’s participation in ThurtenE.

A lot of this is justified to organizations by pitching their ThurtenE contributions as a way to raise money for a designated charity, often one with which they have a long-lasting relationship. But students could have a more lasting impact on the community which would not cost the individual members anything if they directed their efforts to volunteering directly with charities or doing fundraising campaigns. Student groups often decide to participate in ThurtenE because it’s a fun bonding activity, but they should seriously consider more cost-effective and impactful philanthropic alternatives.

Additionally, ThurtenE is not transparent about their finances and overall profit. Every year, ThurtenE partners with a community organization (this year, they are partnering with Kingdom House, which provides critical social services to the under-resourced in St. Louis) and supposedly donates their net proceeds from the carnival to it. But they never release these numbers.

In the past, members of the honorary have claimed that they do not release these numbers because they do not want to market the carnival as a philanthropic event but a community event. But they still do fundraising for the event, advertising their community partner and many Wash. U. students are led to believe that their participation in the carnival will have a charitable impact. Also, ThurtenE’s website still uses rhetoric that suggests their impact on the community is itself an act of charity—“In the 1970’s, donations were consistently made to another charity – the St. Louis community.” The St. Louis community is not a charity, ThurtenE.

WU People’s History says that ThurtenE receives the lot they use for free from the University and that they receive a percentage of profit from outside carnival vendors. There’s also a rumor that ThurtenE Honorary members are paid for their efforts planning the carnival. It’s possible that these statements are not true, but the lack of transparency from ThurtenE does not suggest otherwise.

Plenty of Wash. U. students plan charitable and community engaging events and don’t ask (nor want) compensation for their efforts. What makes ThurtenE different? Why does the University allow this lack of transparency?

There’s nothing wrong with planning a carnival for the St. Louis community, but the honorary’s secrecy around money, along with the costs of participating, is just unacceptable. This weekend, don’t go to ThurtenE. Instead, demand answers from ThurtenE. Demand a commitment to transparency.

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