January 11, 2005

Committee thinks big in aiding relief efforts

A group of University students are organizing what they hope will be a "mega-event" to raise money for the tsunami relief effort and tap into the spirit of philanthropy and community on campus.

The group, which formed its own ad-hoc committee at the beginning of this quarter, is trying to realize their goal of a stair-climb with hundreds of University participants at a famous Chicago landmark. The group, led by David Clayman, a second-year in the College, has contacted the Sears Tower and the Aeon Tower as possible venues.

According to Clayman, student response to the idea of a University students' stair-climb has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Clayman said that the idea for a fundraiser of this magnitude came from the fact that many of the victims affected by the South Asian tsunami need large-scale monetary aid to recover.

Clayman said a large fundraiser needs sponsorship, and businesses often look to two possibilities: ridiculous feats or athletic events. The group saw the skyscraper stair-climb—which, in its non-competitiveness, will be more like a march than a race—as both.

The group has been planning carefully for a week. "We believe we know how to organize this to be the most effective way of raising money and to spread the word out would be to utilize a Chicago trademark," Clayman said.

He added that this is the most cost-effective model, and that "hopefully the University will chip in." He would like this to be a model for other campuses in the nation. "We want to bring students together for this particular cause that can only require getting money and getting the funds to people who can use it the best."

Bill Michel, dean of students at the University, has been consulted for the project. He said that University students have worked together before to raise funds, such as the Order of the C and the Women's Athletic Association raising funds to support the Special Olympics. Michel noted though that this was the first time in recent history that University students have tried to organize an effort that could galvanize other campuses to action.

"We are working with a number of different student groups to support their fundraising efforts through the University Community Service Center and the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities, among others, [and] this includes the students who hope to raise funds with a stair climb event," Michel said. "As with all student groups, we are providing advice on how to organize the event."

Clayman got the idea watching news coverage of the tsunami's horrific aftermath during break, which gave him a mind-numbing shock. "I first thought of a quote by Josef Stalin: ‘A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic,'" he said.

Clayman said that he then emptied out his Paypal account, worth $56, and sent it to the Red Cross.

"I started to think about how much of an impact that donation would make," Clayman said. "Or if I would still donate the next year and would that make a difference. I began to ask, ‘What can I do to fundraise in a big way for the cause (of the tsunami relief)?'"

Inspired by other examples of charity—like the University crew team's participation in the Damon Runyon stair-climb at the Sears Tower to raise money for cancer research last fall—Clayman started to e-mail others over break. He thought of the stair-climb idea as the best way to harness comparative advantages of college-aged students to organize an event, raise money, and donate their time and effort. With his experience on SG committees communicating with University administration, Clayman and Daniel Worthen, also a second-year in the College, along with Worthen's roommates, Joshua Motta, a third-year in the College, and Feliks Pleszczynski, a second-year in the College, wrote a letter proposing their ideas to Michel, who forwarded it to other University administrators.

Currently, Clayman and his group are working with city officials and University administration to try to actualize the event. Their goal is to have all the arrangements of the stair-climb planned out, and if a skyscraper venue does not turn up, they would like to host a march to a Chicago landmark.

"One of the great things about the University of Chicago is the creativity, compassion, and passion of our students and student organizations," Michel said. "It is terrific that so many students and student groups have come together to organize events in support of the tsunami relief effort. After solving all logistical problems, this climb looks to be a great event."