I would like to respond to some of the ideas expressed in the letter to the editor, “Dance Marathon is a biodome of oppressive systems.”
Though I personally think many aspects of the aforementioned article are misinformed or weakly researched, I would like to briefly share my personal story instead of responding to specific points. I hope my perspective will open the minds of some Northwestern students and the author. I debated publishing this because it shares some personal details, but I would like to show that our world is very connected — and Dance Marathon helps present, past and future students in concrete ways. No organization is perfect, but I think the some of the author’s criticisms are extremely unfair. I hope DM continues in years to come so that its wonderful beneficiaries can keep up their concrete impact.
My freshman year, as a student with financial need receiving a scholarship from the Evans Scholars Foundation, I decided to dance on the Evans Scholars Dance Marathon team. It is true that fundraising $400 took a lot of effort, and DM was hard and physically taxing. However, I knew that many people have donated to philanthropies that have helped me in the past and present: Without my scholarship, I would not be at Northwestern, studying and doing things I love. Like other people who have helped me without a personal connection, NUDM gave me the agency to support others in a similar way. Sure, it was a bit tiring being chaperoned to the bathroom, but crowd control is important in maintaining safety. Sure, it was also a little annoying to hear high fundraising totals from Greek life teams, but it is understandable to fundraise and dance with people that you know and live with. I’m not denying that wealth and privilege exist on campus, but they are visible with or without DM. To me, the more important takeaway from DM was that students in my school worked so hard to make an effective event that can really change a nonprofit’s trajectory. DM does not oppress students; it gives them agency to create something meaningful during their time at Northwestern.
Then, my sophomore year, I registered for DM upon hearing that the beneficiary was Blessings in a Backpack, a beneficiary that gives food on weekends to children who receive free or reduced lunch at public schools. I remembered receiving reduced fee school lunch in middle school and provided school lunch in high school when my family was going through hard times. I remembered when my parents would spend hours grocery shopping to feed a family of five on a budget of $100 a week, a number that baffles me as I grow older. I was proud that NU students wanted to take some of this stress off of another potential NU student’s family. Besides that, I had a lot of fun dancing 30 more hours, making friends from all different backgrounds in the Northwestern community. It was eye-opening to see the appreciation of my roommate, an Evanstonian doing DM for the first time, when she saw that Evanston Community Foundation gets much-needed support from DM’s donations every year.
Then, junior year, the beneficiary was GiGi’s Playhouse, an organization that helps people with Down syndrome. My older sister has Down syndrome and benefits from GiGi’s services. Wanting to help forge more connections between students and GiGi’s, I signed up for the newly founded Community Engagement Committee, a committee that organizes and executes service trips to the beneficiary and helps students fundraise. Though the author claims that NUDM participants are disassociated, I would challenge her to ask the NUDM beneficiaries if they feel the same way about NU students who diligently volunteer, fundraise and donate. The night of dance marathon, my sister went to a Friday night group for adults with Down syndrome at GiGi’s Minnesota location, and they sent photos cheering for us. Nothing gave me greater joy than seeing NUDM participants dancing with kids with Downs and seeing the people with Downs dancing on stage. If my sister had that chance as a kid, I’m sure she would have talked about it for years to come. Yes, my friends and I were crying block 10, along with the exec board. The author mocks this display of emotion, saying “cheers, applause, screams and tears are heard and seen among the dancers, and their work is done.” For me, I was crying because I was so overwhelmed to spend 30 hours with 1,000 students who dedicated their time and effort to give my sister a better life. After learning about the immense progress and added services GiGi’s was able to create because of NUDM, I know this to be true.
After this, at my final year of DM, my perspective was widened, knowing that causes of DM have big impacts on students like me — as well as the thousands of people that have had their needs met because of DM. Because of DM and the Community Engagement Committee, I had the chance to go to Cradles to Crayons’ giving factory on Fridays to organize items heading to students. These were open service events, transportation provided, to which many non-dancers came to regularly (shout out for their positivity and support). NUDM held events including a “Systems of Oppression” panel for students to hear from expert researchers and nonprofit leaders about the cycle of poverty and role of philanthropy in our society, as well as opening dialogue about how to make NUDM positively progress. Members of the exec board helped dancers immensely, for example, going “canning” weekly throughout the year and every single day the past two weeks to help students meet the $400 goal. This DM, every time my feet hurt dancing, I thought about last year, when my parents watched the livestream to see all the students supporting GiGi’s. Because of my experience, I realized that NUDM’s beneficiaries each year have a very personal impact on NU students in the tent at that moment, in the past and the future.
The author says that “Money cannot be thrown on organizations in order to fix systemic issues that are deeply entrenched in our society. That is similar to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. We must address the wound first through education, critical thought and dialogue.” Yes, there are deeply entrenched problems in our society that need to be discussed, including the lack of services for people with disabilities and a massive amount of wealth inequality and homelessness in our country. NUDM promotes that discussion. But today, my sister needs speech therapy and a Chicagoan kid needs warm clothes to wait for the school bus, and money solves that. So I would challenge the author to check their own privilege at the door and step in a tent that helps people, including my family, get what they need in reality.
Natalie Burg, Weinberg senior