Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, May 27, 2019

Opinion: Let Wonk Cat be a cat, not a fundraising tool

AU is attempting to take advantage of student love for cat for financial gain

Opinion: Let Wonk Cat be a cat, not a fundraising tool

Officially, AU’s mascot is the infamous Clawed Z. Eagle. However, everyone on campus knows that the unofficial mascot has become the Wonk Cat, a black and white tuxedo cat who lives outside of the McKinley building. Since her first appearance on campus, Wonk Cat has been the recipient of an outpouring of student love, a source of memes and even a way for students to connect with their community. 

Since then, it’s not far off to say that Wonk Cat has become a local celebrity. She has her own Twitter account. One student made a documentary about her. She was voted Cutest Cat by a Washingtonian poll last month. She has an article written about her in the Washington Post. 

So it was a bit odd when students got an email from someone claiming to be “Wonk Cat,” asking for them to donate money to the University that many can barely afford. 

AU has an endowment of about $642 million, which, compared to similar universities, is tiny. (George Washington University’s endowment is about $1.7 billion). As a result, AU is overwhelmingly reliant upon student tuition fees, often needing to go to greater lengths to support itself financially by raising costs (even though its students pay an exorbitant amount of money to attend). 

But does this financial situation justify co-opting innocent love for a cute animal and turning it into a financial instrument to raise money? It’s a somewhat tragic statement about higher education when a wealthy university feels the pressure to monetize everything, even a simple, stray cat. Just as upsetting is the fact that AU would not need to go to such extreme lengths if they addressed the issues facing students and alumni, the issues that incline them not to donate.

There’s no inherent harm in using the Wonk Cat in promotional material. She’s cute, she’s part of the community and she provides a much-needed source of school spirit. However, it is simply irritating to simultaneously use the community’s love for the cat as a way to solicit students for more money, especially amidst protests on budget transparency and tuition hikes.

College is getting more and more unaffordable by the year, and students are right to be angry about it. It only makes them feel more overlooked and aggravated to see something they love exploited for profit. 

One of the main issues is that AU is using the Wonk Cat as a Band-Aid, a way to cover up the real pain students and alumni feel about the University. Band-Aids are great; they help to heal wounds. However, it’d be better to address the root cause of those wounds in the first place, especially when some injuries simply can’t be healed with a Band-Aid. 

I’m not against the Wonk Cat. I have been known to stop and pet her on many occasions. I also get why AU is doing this. They’re trying to appeal to us with the things we enjoy. Students, for the most part, love Wonk Cat. It’s nice to see pictures of fluffy animals, especially during finals. 

However, I’d love it more if AU actually decided to address our concerns, if they didn’t feel the incessant need to take basic sources of joy and turn them into capitalist, financial instruments. The best way for AU administrators to be “relevant” with the student body is to take student issues seriously by not forcing them through unending bureaucratic hoops to get their problems addressed. Let’s leave Wonk Cat out of it. 

Lauren Patetta is a sophomore in the School of Communication and a columnist for The Eagle.

lpatetta@theeagleonline.com

This article originally appeared in The Eagle's April 2019 print edition.


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