COLUMBIA — More than 4,400 people have preregistered to give blood at MU's annual Homecoming Blood Drive, which begins Tuesday and ends Thursday.
The drive is one of the largest in the country, and in 1999, it was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of whole blood units collected in a single day in the United States. But the event isn't just about blood donations; the drive's ties to homecoming has fostered fierce competition among participating groups.
"If I wasn't told that I should give blood, then I wouldn't be a donor," said Rebecca Muehling, who is a member of a sorority and sits on the homecoming public relations committee. "Without that sense of competition, I don't think I would have that extra drive to take the leap."
For Muehling, giving blood isn't an easy task. The smell of blood and the prick of the needle are almost enough to keep her away.
"I didn't get my ears pierced until I was a senior in high school," Muehling said. "I would probably have not really tried to get over that fear had it not been for seeing all my friends donate and seeing them get through it."
It is the promise of homecoming points that motivates Muehling to give blood. Those points, collected in 10 categories, are part of a homecoming competition between Greek houses, residence halls and other student organizations. By participating in the blood drive an organization can earn up to 150 points, or 15 percent of the total points awarded. Other areas include service, worth 160 points, and talent and campus decorations, which both earn up to 140 points.
In the past the intense competition surrounding the blood drive has led to behavior that has been criticized by MU and the Greek community. In 2004, MU's Gamma Phi Beta chapter was reprimanded for an e-mail sent out by Christie Key, its blood donation coordinator. The e-mail encouraged members of the sorority to lie about their eligibility to give blood. As previously reported in the Missourian, Key wrote in the email: "I don't care if you have a cold. Suck it up. We all do. LIE. Recent peircings (sic)? LIE. Even if you're going to use the ‘Do Not Use My Blood' sticker, GIVE ANYWAY."
As a result of the e-mail, the Red Cross was forced to destroy all of the blood donated by the sorority.
The Greek Week blood drive in the spring of this year also sparked some controversy.
"There was an e-mail sent out saying that if you don't show up on time (to the blood drive) the house is going to be fined," said Jeremy Haley, one of the tri-directors for Homecoming. "It was just one of those things where they are trying to make sure that everybody gets out and gives blood, and they took it a little to the extreme."
Elizabeth Kauffmann, a Greek Week advisor, and Haley both refused to comment on which Greek house sent the e-mail. Kauffmann said that the e-mail was not against Food and Drug Administration regulations, which determine whether the blood can be used, though the house did lose all of its blood drive points.
In order to discourage similar incidents, the official homecoming rule book was revamped four years ago. Organizations can be disqualified from the blood drive if they bribe people to donate, threaten people to donate or participate in any act deemed unethical by the Red Cross, the FDA, Greek Life or the Homecoming Steering Committee. Organizations may also be penalized for mass solicitation.
The Greek Week Steering Committee is also now "extensively revising the rule book" in hopes of making the rules "clear cut," Kauffmann said.
To further educate students on blood donation policies, the Red Cross held an information session during the past week.
"We educate the students on the process of donation," said Tiffany Abbott, coordinator of alumni activities. "We educate them on how many lives this blood drive has saved, and it is impressive. This blood drive compares to no other. It blows every other blood drive out of the water. I think the students understand the importance of it."
The blood donations gathered at MU keep the Red Cross stocked through winter.
"We really and truly depend on the blood drive," said Honora Bates, a Red Cross associate donor recruitment representative.
Muehling keeps it in perspective: "The point of the blood drive is to give blood, not just to get points."