Despite previously confirming their commitment to canning, THON executives announced yesterday that canning will be permanently phased out over the next two years. “The decision to eliminate canning was a difficult, but necessary decision,” the 2016 and 2017 Executive Directors said in a statement.
This decision comes after the fatal car accident this past fall involving students returning from a canning trip, and the subsequent cancellation of the two remaining canning weekends.
The car accident that occurred this past fall was a tragedy that we will not forget. But we also mustn’t forget one clear distinction that many — including the University — seem to have failed to make: this was a car accident, not a canning accident. To say this accident was the fault of THON or the fault of canning is preposterous. Whether you’re driving to the store, home for break, or to a canning trip, the unfortunate truth is car accidents can occur at any time, no matter the destination. We don’t see the university trying to cancel Thanksgiving or Spring Breaks, when thousands of students pile into cars and drive home.
However, the statement released by THON bears no mention of the car accident nor its effect on the decision to eliminate canning, despite being the foremost reason the latter two canning weekends were canceled last fall. Instead, the statement champions “exciting trends” in non-canning fundraising and paints the distorted picture that we have outgrown canning.
THON justifies the termination of canning because of its “relatively stagnant growth.” The statement released by THON’s Executive Directors reports that since 2012 there has been a 32 percent increase in online fundraising, a 19 percent increase in physical check fundraising, and “only” a five percent increase in canning fundraising — which means absolutely nothing when you don’t know how much each type of fundraising accounts toward the total.
The percent growth of each type of fundraising is trivial compared to its percentage of the fundraising total. If canning accounts for a significant portion of THON’s fundraising total, then a so-called “mere” five percent increase would be irrelevant compared to the portion of the total that we will lose along with canning. But THON doesn’t disclose these numbers, so it’s impossible to know just how much of the total we are forfeiting along with the termination of canning. This is all aside from the fact that canning contributes to a large part of the THON culture, and it’s the sole mechanism through which many people participate in and are introduced to the organization.
Worse, it’s probably not even THON’s fault. It’s not hard to read between the lines. “In agreement with the University’s recommendation, we have determined that canning can return as part of THON’s fundraising model with a plan to permanently phase it out of our model by THON 2019,” the letter reads.
Now THON executives get to take all the criticism when it seems obvious they were strong-armed by university officials. What did they have to lose by saying no and forcing Penn State to make that decision itself?
To add insult to injury, THON (or whoever is actually making these calls) is also introducing yet another online training module. The new Driver e-Course, which was “constructed with resources and information from existing driving modules that are used for training adolescents and young adults,” aims to teach licensed drivers how to drive. Not to down-play the importance of safe driving, but this module is completely unnecessary. We are adults, and we are responsible for our own actions, including the decision to drive a car. We are also responsible for our actions if we choose not to wear seatbelts, which both of the victims in THON canning tragedies so far were not. There is no doubt that both Courtney O’Bryan and Tally Sepot knew that the right thing to do was wear a seatbelt. This is not to minimize the tragedy of their deaths or their lives, or even to assign blame, but nothing any module says will change the fact that sometimes people have errors in judgement. Willfully giving up millions of dollars for cancer research and treatment is not the legacy that those two beautiful people should be burdened with.
This is a truly unfortunate time for THON, and its executives deserve the utmost respect for taking charge and having to deal with this situation. Since the fall, THON’s executive boards have been under an inescapable pressure to “do something.” When an event as tragic as that car accident happens, people — mostly parents and administrators — will demand that something happen in order to never allow that tragic event to happen again.
Underneath the unbearable weight of the public’s desire for something to change, THON (or more likely, the university) gave into the pressure and eliminated canning. They did something. They tried. They decided that we, the adult volunteers, cannot be trusted to drive a car to raise money for one of the best causes there is. That is, in a way, another tragedy — not for us, but for the millions of dollars lost that will no longer help the people who need it most.