In just a few short days, hundreds upon hundreds of Wildcats will file into The Tent behind Norris and dance for 30 hours! What better way to start off Reading Week? As a Northwestern tradition, Dance Marathon has been considered a must-do on the Wildcat Bucket List for decades.
Of course, the point of DM is to raise money for charity, and in this arena, Northwestern more than succeeds. Last year, DM raised $1.175 million for Cradles for Crayons. At the same time, DM has also been making efforts to improve inclusivity in the event for all students with the Dancer Grant Program, the Fundraising Mentorship Program, the ability to get “perks” through acts of service and other means. These measures aim to ensure that students of all backgrounds can participate is great, but there are ways to improve.
Truth in advertising:
While DM is cognizant of where it falls short and despite the efforts towards inclusivity, many of the advertisements and announcements regarding the “$400 minimum” make it seem as if this amount of money to be raised is indeed mandatory.
When asked about if this is the case, representatives from DM said that “on a case by case basis...[a]s long as they [dancers] have put effort into fundraising, that should be totally fine!”
How do you feel after reading the announcements above? Doesn’t this $400 deadline seem mandatory? If DM wants to improve their access to all students, more transparent advertising is required. This is particularly important since many students are not aware of this, such as one who remarked how they had “no idea that this was the case” despite being a dancer.
Removing the “Perks”:
I understand why DM has perks based on how much you raise, I really do. Having perks inspire some to work even harder to fundraise. That being said, if the goal of Dance Marathon is to be more inclusive, students shouldn't be able to skip to the front of the bathroom line because they raised $800, not even once. Students also shouldn't have the opportunity to take a nap or have a sitting break for a certain amount of money raised – 30 hours of dancing is what they signed up for, right? Granted, this absolutely does not include the need for breaks and accommodations for those with accessibility needs and when it is necessary for the health and safety of students. The notion of perks should only be interpreted in the sense of “I raised a certain amount of money, so I earn this.”
Arguably the worst perk of them all has nothing to do with Dance Marathon; it's the “Special ‘Meet and Greet’” with students and staff benefited by the charity supported by DM. The idea that if you raise enough money, you'll get to meet the beneficiaries of your fundraising falls dangerously close to the concept of voluntourism. It's not sweet; it's not appropriate, especially with children.
Remove some of the functions on the “Leaderboard:”
Each dancer has their own page where they can fundraise on the NUDM website. There is also a leaderboard that shows the groups and individuals that have raised the most money. There are certainly points that can be made about how this leaderboard flaunts the privilege of those able to fundraise massive amounts of money. No, not just anyone can fundraise thousands of dollars if they “try hard enough.” This line of thinking assumes that those who are unable to raise enough money due to structural barriers shoulder the blame. What really needs to be addressed is the ability to see who has raised the least. Why is this a feature? Who benefits from seeing the list of who has raised the least amount of money? It's a way to shame and in and of itself.
These recommendations for DM are not radical, nor are they difficult. That does not mean that they are not impactful and would benefit the culture of Dance Marathon as well as the general Northwestern culture that is trying to come together under the philosophy of inclusivity for all.
Editor's Note: The views presented in this story belong to the writer are not necessarily reflective of North by Northwestern as a whole.