We are lagging. Here at Princeton, a university devoted to serving the nation and all humanity, an institution with students committed to being change-agents in our world, we are falling behind. While our student body does its part in donating time, energy, winter coats, children’s books, and monetary support, Princeton is running low on blood donations. And with the February blood drive coming up just next week, it’s time for us to think about what that means for us as a community.
Three times each year, the American Red Cross, in conjunction with a team of student leaders, runs blood drives specifically for students (separate drives are organized for faculty and staff, though all drives are open to both populations and the general public). These blood drives are part of the Red Cross’s broader efforts to collect units of blood on university campuses, which continue to be an important source of donations. College students, more often than not, have more flexible schedules than the average working American, enjoy easy access to event advertising and donation sites, and tend to be young and in good health, in addition to being often altruistically minded. With all this in mind, one would expect that donation rates on campuses would be higher than the national average.
But not so at Princeton. The American Red Cross estimates that although thirty-eight percent of Americans are eligible to donate, only about ten percent do so in a given year. Extending to Princeton, whose undergraduate student body is 5,400 strong (leaving aside graduate students), one might hope to collect at least 500 units for each drive, or at the very least to collect that many over the course of a year. Yet internal records from the past fifteen years of blood drives in Princeton indicate the contrary. From 2003 to 2011, two-day blood drives often brought in close to 200 donations, even reaching 266 units in December of 2006. Yet around 2011, numbers of donations began to decrease, coming in at around 100 or fewer, with a record low of 56 units at the student drive last April – that’s one percent of the student body (ignoring the fact that many who donate at the drives are graduate students, faculty, staff, and community members).
Yet the need is not declining. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, the number of blood units donated instate has steadily decreased in recent years. So much so, in fact, that the report notes that “New Jersey continues to have an annual blood collection deficit and must regularly import blood from other states to meet the transfusion needs of our citizens.” Those citizens (and non-citizens) face a range of needs: they are victims of serious accidents, people who have undergone extensive surgery or childbirth, cancer patients (including those suffering from angiosarcoma, like our friend Jacob Kaplan ’19 of blessed memory), and others going through various sorts of medical treatment. All these people benefit in different ways from the 43,000 units of blood used in the United States each day.
Thankfully, the campus American Red Cross team, under the leadership of McKenna Brownell ’20, is working to slowly bring those numbers back up; the December drive brought in 108 units, and the goal for the February drive (taking place in Frist next Monday, Feb. 19 and Tuesday, Feb. 20) is 180 units. Even that number only gets us a third of the way to the 540-unit threshold that would put us at ten percent, but it’s an important first step for the student body’s responsibilities toward those in dire need of the gift of life in New Jersey and beyond.
Matthew Kritz is a senior from Silver Spring, Md. This article represents his views only. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.