Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh.
The 1869 Challenge has sparked marketing scandals over problematic posts from Dining Services and the Athletics Department that elicited backlash from students.
The 1869 challenge is put on by the Alumni Relations and Development department. The purpose is to raise student donations for the university.
Every year, there is a community donation challenge that involves someone notable on campus. The Alumni Relations and Development Department focuses on identifying a well-known person on campus as the featured person in the student challenge. Last year, David Tuttle, dean of students, was locked in the tower until donations hit a certain thresholds and was released. This year, Yolanda Rangel, Dining Services employee, was chosen as the featured person. On the Trinity Instagram, a post on Sept. 19 picturing Rangel was captioned, “If we receive 250 student gifts today, Yolanda will get an additional day off and will be treated like the QUEEN she is thanks to YOU!”
Additionally, a separate post by the Athletics Department featured employees from the Athletics Department with cardboard posters mimicking homeless people asking for donations.
Tess Coody-Anders, vice president for Strategic Communications and Marketing, understands the intent behind the posts and the reaction they received.
“The idea was to look for someone who is beloved, and Rangel’s name kept coming up. Someone referenced that, you know, in the past graduation ceremony she got a shout out. So the development team reached out to Yolanda directly and said, ‘Look, you know, we’re looking to do this, and we’d love to kind of make it a way to honor you and have students honor you through their giving to the university’,” Coody-Anders said. “What I understand is that she was really honored and excited that the students thought about her and were interested in honoring her. So that’s how she was selected. Then they went to Aramark to say, ‘Hey, what are the various kinds of things we could do for Yolanda as part of the, you know, the prize if you will?’”
Bella Spangher, was troubled by a lot of the recent posts on the Trinity social media accounts.
“It was quite troubling to see how 250 donations added up to one day off for Mrs. Yolanda at Mabee. Whoever is handling the social media in general needs to reevaluate a lot of these posts because they are classist,” Spangher said.
Senior Emily Bourgeois posted on her Twitter account about these problematic posts. Bourgeois believes that the photos were symbolic of larger issues on campus.
“I think that the posts were indicative of a larger issue surrounding class and socio-economic status on campus. I felt that the Rangel challenge took a beloved figure at this school and used her as a marketing tool. As the child of a working-class employee at UTSA, I could only think of how I would react if this had been my mom. This kind of exploitation, and I use that term deliberately, really annoyed me,” Bourgeois said. “They promised someone who has worked at this school for nearly a decade 24 hours off and a day at the spa in exchange for donations to the 1869 Challenge. The entity making a profit off of this exchange would be the school, not [Rangel] herself, though her name and face were used in conjunction with the campaign. There are ways to give back to dedicated employees, but doing this to gain capital of the institution is not one.”
According to Coody-Anders, the goal of the marketing was to give Rangel recognition.
“In following up with Aramark what I understand is, that someone with [Rangel’s] seniority and in her position, that they receive weeks of paid time off, so it wasn’t so much that she needed a day off but that it was one way to specially recognize her and then do other things for her, spa day, things like that,” Coody-Anders said.
Despite the good intentions behind this act, the teams involved recognize how the post was perceived as incentive.
“[The development team was] just focused on [Rangel] as a person, the person they knew, and they weren’t really pulling back and thinking about how it can be perceived as insensitive until students began to point that out. And so I think that there is a lot of regret about creating a challenge that was perceived as insensitive by some, and a lot of concern about not embarrassing [Rangel] because now she’s caught in the middle, and the delicate balance here is [Rangel] is excited about being part of it. So how do you apologize for doing something that others see as insensitive without in some way suggesting that [Rangel] didn’t deserve the honor? And so I think that that’s the difficult situation that everybody finds themself in with that one,” Coody-Anders said.
The Athletics Department Instagram post was also seen as problematic by students.
“Having employees make fun of some of the most vulnerable, at-risk people in society to get donations is absolutely outrageous,” Spangher said.
Students were especially upset that the posts did not consider the greater context.
“It’s important to think about these actions in the context of the city we live in. San Antonio is one of the most economically segregated cities in the country. We are mere miles from the poorest census tract in Bexar County, where the median yearly income is barely over $13,000 a year. Haven for Hope, one of the largest homeless services centers in the country, is right down the road. There is a lot of talk about the Trinity bubble, but I think we need to think of it more broadly than just what parts of town students live their lives in. We need to be deliberate about how Trinity, as an institution with so much academic and monetary privilege, interacts with the community we are situated in. Yes, we participate in the MLK parade. Yes, we have days of service. But what are we doing as students to contribute to the San Antonio community year-round?” Bourgeouis said.
Bourgeouis offered a suggestion to make things right.
“I think that the posts should be taken down even though the damage has already been done. I also believe that the university and Athletics department should issue statements of apology that reflect a critical interaction with the institution’s privilege and our relationship to San Antonio,” Bourgeouis said.