A New and Improved Tufts Committee!

by Caroline Incledon, Community Investment Campaign Organizer

Recently, the Tufts’ Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) had an exciting victory. After an informal negotiation between the committee and school administrators, the committee was granted the ability to include graduate students and faculty as research advisors. The team was previously composed of just 3 undergraduates, who were the only ones privy to certain investment information and had to take on a large amount of work. This expansion will give the committee enhanced legitimacy and increase their capacity. Ideally, the new and improved committee can take on more and do a better job, implementing a deeper institutional commitment to responsible investing. Yet with these new and exciting responsibilities come some interesting questions.

Firstly, what does an ideal committee look like? Models can vary in size and inclusiveness. For example, Columbia’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing includes not just students, faculty, and alumni, but a non-voting administrative member (the Executive VP for Finance at Columbia) as well.  The original student activists behind the creation of Tufts’ ACSR called for a 10-person committee comprised of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and alumni, but only a 3-person undergraduate committee was approved. In trying to restructure their committee, should the ACSR seek to reclaim the original and diverse 10-person committee? That has yet to be decided.

Every school has a difficult decision to make in how to form a committee. Even with the support of one’s school, determining the most effective committee make-up can be difficult. Committees should contain a diverse set of school representatives, who can bring different interests, and perspectives to the table. They should also contain some people with knowledge of certain applicable areas to the committee’s work. At the same time, the committee should be a learning experience for all members, and not exclusionary to those without previous knowledge. In terms of numbers, a committee should be adequately sized to handle the task it has been given. It might be useful to ascertain your committee’s specific purpose before staffing it. But it is also important that the committee not be so large as to cause confusion about duties, scheduling conflicts, or over-delegation of responsibilities. Therefore, there is no “perfect” committee to copy. Every school is different, and Tufts’ Advisory Committee of Shareholder Responsibility and other committees need to take all these factors into account.

Secondly, what initiative(s) should the new committee tackle? It is likely that the increased input and diversity of opinion will lead to a shift in the ACSR’s strategy and priorities. It is equally likely that they will simply be capable of taking on more due to their increased manpower. Other schools starting committees (or expanding them!) should also think strategically about a) what responsible investment initiatives to prioritize, and b) what they can truly accomplish or are willing to undertake. Right now, the Tufts committee has chosen to pursue the promotion of responsible investment in all things “green” – from green technology itself to environmentally conscious companies.

Therefore, we have reached an exciting point on the Tufts campus. The expanded ACSR is a great victory for its current members and for those of us at Tufts working on endowment issues. It is especially exciting due to the potential it creates for future change. An enlarged committee has more power and can voice socially responsible investment concerns in a more informed and representative way. Creating the perfect committee and setting the correct agenda in the future will be a challenge, but it is one that doesn’t minimize the win itself.
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Overcoming the Bureaucracy

by Chris Clem, Pacific Northwest Student Organizer

Being a student activist on your campus can often seem like an uphill battle with a masked figure stationed at the top who is throwing obstacles in your path at every step.  These obstacles can often seem like useless, aggravating hoops that bureaucracy places in front of you just to watch you stumble.  At times, it may often seem as if things are going nowhere.  However, it’s important to always remember that bureaucracy can be beat.  In the last month, the Seattle University campaign seemed to stall for a time due to bureaucracy and red tape, but with some communication, persistence, and framing, the path is once again clear and we are moving ahead.  All universities have some kind of bureaucracy in place that you, as an activist, will most likely have to engage.  However, it’s important to know that red tape can be cut and bureaucracy can be overcome with the right tools and approach.

First and foremost, you must find out who is in charge and have a target.  Beating bureaucracy is all about targeting and pursuing the right authority.  In a university setting, this job can often seem daunting.  Unlike, for example, a high school, universities do not simply report to a single administrative principal, but has many other players involved.  Although there is most certainly a president at your university, he or she most likely does not have the most decision-making power and will, more then likely, be very hard to track down for a face-to-face meeting.   The best thing to do is tailor your target, depending on what you may be pursuing at the moment.   For example, you may want to target your student government, your chief financial officer (CFO), your university president, and/or eventually the board of trustees.  In the campaign for reestablishing our Committee on Responsible Investment here at Seattle U for example, the main interlocutor has been our student government, which runs our committee appointment process.  However, as things move along, we may establish closer ties with our CFO or president, depending on what we pursue next.

Although having a target in mind is essential to overcoming bureaucracy, it is also very important to not limit yourself to one contact.  Although you may want to influence the president of the university for example, it would not be a bad idea to also rub elbows with the CFO or higher-ups in your student government.  When bringing change to an institution, always remember to also bring or gain plenty of support.  At Seattle U, I have found it most helpful to be in good graces with my representatives and peers in our student government.  Since my student government directs the committee appointment process for the university, showing them the importance of socially responsible investment has been a major motivator for things getting moved along.  Although you may still be focused on a target audience, connecting with more people, creating a larger area of influence, and producing a wider pool of allies is continue to be an invaluable advantage.

When things look as if they may be slowing down, be sure to be persistent.  Often times when dealing with bureaucracy, things seem to disappear for ages without a trace.  Although it was designed to make things efficient, the nature of bureaucracy often does the opposite, or at least produces the outward illusion that the opposite is being done.  However, if and when things begin to fade, make sure to keep pursuing, pushing, and persisting.  Give people in charge a small nudge or reminder every once in awhile.  Send an e-mail, pick up the telephone, or even drop in for an impromptu visit; whatever you do, just be sure that you are reminding them that people care about what is happening.  Most times, they will be appreciative of having someone remind them that some things needs pushed along or, at the very least, that someone actually cares about the work that they do.  You can even use your wider support network that you have been establishing (check out paragraph #3)  in order to illustrate support and increase the pressure. Just be sure not to let the machine wear you out; instead, you should wear out the machine.

Always know what you’re talking about, and don’t be afraid to push back.  Bureaucracy, by nature, often is resistant to change.  It’s not always individuals that are opposed to ideas, but simply the result of working to change an established institution.  Rather than working toward tangible positive outcomes, many people work, often unknowingly, for the sustainability of the bureaucracy.  According to Jerry Pournelle’s theory, in any bureaucratic organization, there are “those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself.”

As activists, it is our job to consistently remind the bureaucracy of the positive goals it should be pursuing, whether that comes with resistance or affirmation.  When this persistence comes with resistance, we must always be knowledgeable with our information and persuasive in our reasoning.  It is our job to be friends of the university rather than come across as accusers, complainers, or just unsatisfied students.  We must always show that, although our ideas may differ from others’, we too simply want the best for our universities and the wider community, both now and in the future.
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Campus Updates, December 2010

AU Solidarity, a workers’ rights group at American University, is planning on taking up a community investment proposal developed in the spring of 2010. They are focusing on supporting a local bank in which other DC-area schools have already made an investment as a first step in a conversation about responsible investment on campus.

At Arizona State University, a new member of REC, the ASU Coalition for Human Rights is organizing a responsible investment effort as a coalition to work towards setting up a committee on investment responsibility and finding out how their university’s investment portfolio has an impact on human rights worldwide.

REC is working with Loyola University New Orleans on campus awareness of a three-point proposal for a revolving green loan fund, a green collar job training program, and a community investment and shareholder advocacy committee.

The Student Endowment Responsibility Committee (SERC) at Macalester College is having its first public event--a presentation about what the endowment is and how it can be invested in a more socially responsible manner.

At Portland State University, students are discussing the potential formation of a responsible investment committee, as well as the prospect of moving some money into a local bank. They are also in talks with students at the University of Oregon, who are working on their own responsible investment campaign.

Princeton Workers Rights, a labor group at Princeton University, is weighing its options as they move forward on their responsible investment campaign. They are hoping to use responsible investment as a way to bring more people from different issue areas towards a common cause by staging several events this school year.

At Tufts University, Students at Tufts for Investment Responsibility (STIR) have begun a petition to support community investment that they intend to bring to the administration next semester. The Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, meanwhile, is focusing on writing a report on how the university can be supporting ‘green’ technology and energy.

Students are planning an educational event at the University of California - Santa Barbara to educate the community in the winter term about responsible investment and its importance in the hopes that this will gather support for their committee campaign.

At the University of Michigan - Dearborn, grassroots groups are gathering support for the Talloires Declaration as a way to incorporate sustainability in a more comprehensive way, including investments, into the university’s activities.

At Washington University in St. Louis, Students for Endowment Transparency are presenting their proposal for a committee on responsible investment before leaving for winter break. We wish them luck!
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Middlebury College’s Sustainable Investments Initiative

by Olivia Grugan, Northeast Student Organizer

In May 2010, Middlebury College announced that it has designated a portion of the endowment to be actively invested in environmentally responsible companies. “The Sustainable Investments Initiative” was created with $4 million from Middlebury and an additional $35-70 million from The Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

For Middlebury, the Initiative reflects an effort to have the college’s investment strategies be consistent with its institutional values. The college’s mission statement refers to a commitment to integrate “environmental stewardship” in both curriculum and practices. Though the school’s on-campus efforts—carbon neutrality by 2016, biomass plant, recycling center, organic garden—have gained it a national reputation for environmental responsibility, as of the start of 2010, the endowment had not yet incorporated these values.

The Sustainable Investments Initiative represents a significant shift in college’s investment strategy.  For the first time in the college’s history, rather than judging the success of an investment exclusively by its financial performance, this fund will be monitored for environmental impact as well.  This shift is inspired by a hope that investing in environmentally sustainable initiatives will eventually become a standard investment practice.  Some predict that investing this way in the future will actually yield higher returns as environmental issues continue to become more salient across the globe.

In the official press release for the fund, Middlebury College’s President Ron Liebowitz is quoted, “We are pleased to be involved in this new initiative. We’re excited at the prospect of an initiative whose performance can further our educational mission while providing social and environmental value.”

While the creation of the fund is certainly a significant first step, there are still many questions left unanswered.  What kind of criteria should be used to evaluate companies in the fund, what the returns from the fund will be spent on, and how the fund will be monitored are just a few of these.

The students at Middlebury College hope that this Initiative will serve as a model for the rest of the endowment, providing an opportunity to test this investment strategy.  It is also their hope that this fund will serve as inspiration to other education institutions to evaluate how their own values are reflected in their endowment investments.

For the Responsible Endowments Coalition, this fund hopefully represents the beginning of a trend—school communities coming together to determine the values they hold in common and then applying those a their endowment, a vehicle for change with incredible amounts of untapped potential.
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You’re Not The Enemy

By Brett Vetterlein, Community Investment Campaign Organizer

Fordham University

As a student activist on my campus at Fordham, I’ve constantly felt like an agitator instead of an agent for positive change. Let’s be honest with ourselves: Universities, like other social institutions, are resistant to any change, especially something so fundamental to their structure like investments. Naturally, people who try to change the investment policy, who try to gain access to the university’s endowment, or who simply question if the university is investing in the right places are going to be met with lots of resistance by the administration. Typically, on my campus at least, the way we’ve dealt with this was to allow this narrative of opposition to continue. We saw ourselves at being at odds with an administration who was not sympathetic at all. To be fair to us, and to other activists doing work on their campuses, it’s a pretty safe bet to make that the administration will see you as an annoyance.

Our job as students for social justice using our universities’ resources to create change is to convince our peers, faculties, administrators, and board of trustees that what we do isn’t self serving, isn’t just part of the “cause” (whatever that means exactly), but that it will do some real good for our university, our investments, and our reputation. We need to present ourselves as friends of the school, people concerned with the future of the educational institution we pour tens of thousands of dollars into. Our concerns may differ from the administration’s on the future of our university, but we aren’t people trying to bring the school down, just make it better. The problem remains that administrators don’t realize this. Three years ago, students at Fordham’s campus launched a campaign to renegotiate the security workers’ union contract. After a successful renegotiation, the administration began complaining to us that we had cost the school $1 million, and used that as an excuse to limit library operation hours. For whatever reason, the cost of giving the underpaid security workers of our three campuses a raise was perceived by them to be far too much.

We need to present ourselves not as a cost but as a benefit. We need to prove to our administrators and boards that things like SRI and community investment are not going to slow the university down, but that in ten years, schools that don’t do this will develop a negative reputation as a social institution that does not give back. We need to prove to them that what we’re doing is going to benefit them and the entire university community. Mostly we need to demonstrate that we are not the enemy and that we don’t see them as an enemy.

Having a good relationship with the administration is usually much more strategic than having an opposing one. We can do all our research, write up detailed proposals and get lots of student support, but if the administration isn’t at least open to our campaign, we will hit a wall. The most important part of our campaigns must be to make sure the administration views us in a positive light, convincing them that we are all on the same side, that we want the same things they want. Remember, when you’re in your president’s office, at a meeting with the CFO, or presenting your campaign in front of the board of trustees: you’re not the enemy.
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Community Investment Proves to Be Beneficial

By Chris Clem, Pacific Northwest Student Organizer

Generally, the term community investment refers to the investment of capital into a surrounding community through community development financial institutions, such as credit unions and organizations such as Community Capital Development (in which Seattle University also invested). These institutions function by providing capital to smaller community-based projects, rather than lending to big businesses with unsustainable practices. In turn, this lending to the surrounding community fosters economic growth and development in the immediate area. However, although the practice generally refers to investing in an area that immediately surrounds your college campus, the same positive outcomes can be extended to an international sphere and still prove to be beneficial in financial, social, and environmental spheres.

During the 2009-2010 academic year, Seattle University began its community investment campaign. In March of that year, the Board of Trustees Investment Committee approved an investment of $500,000 into the third and newest microfinance fund with the organization Global Partnerships. Global Partnerships, although it does not lend directly to the surrounding Central District of Seattle, is a Seattle-based organization whose strategy is to combat poverty in Latin America. The strategy of Global Partnerships is to invest in and provide capital to microfinance institutions throughout Latin America. Microfinance aims to provide capital to individuals who are consistently outside of the scope of traditional financial institutions. The keystone of microfinance is that it offers very small sums of capital that people can afford to pay off in a short time (i.e. a $20 loan). This therefore allows them to gain access to affordable loans that enable the establishment and continuation of local business ventures.

During this last summer of 2010, this new fund reached its cap of $20 million through donations and investments from individuals, foundations, institutions, and corporations that are committed to responsible investment. Since then, the fund has been applied to the microfinance institutions of Latin America and has proven to be lucrative in both financial and social returns. Ron Smith, Seattle University’s vice president for finance and business affairs, expressed that the decision to invest in Global Partnerships and microfinance “has been on of [the] best investments in the economic downturn.” Overall, this investment has a 4 percent annual return on a five-year investment. Although these types of investments tend to not have the highest initial returns on paper, as Smith goes on to say, they appear to be much more dependable and less volatile than traditional forms of investment. Therefore, in the long run, these investments offer a much more sustainable and reliable form of return.

However, in addition to bringing a stable return to investors, the social benefits of such investments into organizations such as Global Partnerships has even more of a long term impact. Global Partnerships’ main focus is a “microfinance plus” strategy, which aims at providing funding for ventures that are traditionally not funded by microcredit lending. For example, Global Partnerships funds not only simple business ventures, but also lends to health and education projects, which create much more sustainable programs and healthier populations. Over the years, much of the microfinance industry has been criticized for charging high interest rates and profiting from the impoverished, similar to predatory lending in underserved communities in the United States. However, Global Partnerships aims at creating a balance between providing much needed, affordable services and access to capital that developing nations need and earning a fair return for the investors. The organization also strives to offer low interest rates to individual borrowers in order to extend their impact to rural business as well.

All in all, community investment can be employed on a local or an international scale. From an investor standpoint, the returns on such investments are generally more stable and nonvolatile, which ensures a safe investment. However, more importantly, the impact of such investments clearly make a difference in the lives of those who are affected, allowing them to escape predatory lending practices while providing an opportunity to succeed. Community investment, whether local or abroad, confronts and works to solve countless issues, and as Ron Smith states, “it’s a social justice issue and that’s what we’re all about.”
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Campus Updates: November 2010

Bard College's Socially Responsible Investment Committee is considering the issue of hydraulic fracturing ('hydrofracking') and how as an investor they might mitigate environmental and social risks involved in the practice.

Students at Fordham University continue to research and explore the potential benefits of community investment and hosted an event to educate the campus community about these opportunities.

At Howard University a campaign is beginning to petition to open up the campus credit union to the broader community, including students, to educate the community about responsible investment models and practices.

Middlebury College’s Sustainability Fund continues to be the focus of responsible investment activists’ attention as they work to ensure its transparency, performance, and credibility as a vehicle for truly sustainable investments.

Princeton for Workers’ Rights, a labor activism group at Princeton University, is planning a responsible investment campaign and is working with REC on the planning stages.

The Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility at Tufts University is preparing a community investment proposal with the help of Students at Tufts for Investment Responsibility (STIR).

At the University of California - Santa Barbara, students spoke with the Board of Trustees about setting up a committee on investment responsibility. The conversation received a warm reception and now both sides are working on next steps.

Student government representatives, campus environmental leaders, and other activists at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill are in the planning and discussion stages of a campaign for endowment transparency.

Students at the University of Oregon are planning a dialogue and campaign with the administration and student body about taking first steps towards a commitment to responsible investment.

A policy recommendation, supported by the student government of the University of Texas at Austin, is being submitted to the state university's system-wide Board of Trustees that would make social responsibility an official consideration in investments.

At Washington University in St. Louis, students are preparing to meet with the administration about the creation of a responsible investment committee.

Students at the Yale University Responsible Endowments Project continue to brainstorm and dialogue with the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility and the university administration about ways that all parties can work together towards new responsible investment ideas and models.
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Shopping for Banks 101

by Caroline Incledon, Community Investment Campaign Organizer

Banks can be friendly, too!

Now that we are working on writing a community investment proposal at Tufts, we are also beginning to narrow down our list of banks. While initially searching for community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the most prevalent topic was the idea of “community”. There are so many CDFIs in the Tufts community of Medford and Somerville, not to mention Cambridge or even greater Boston. Therefore, should proximity to the school be one of the most important factors? Or would a bank with a wider community reach be most effective? These were questions we had to consider.

Next, we needed to research the banks themselves. What were their rates? Are these rates comparable to other banks (such as the bank that your school currently has its money in)? Ratings are also important, and we used independent assessment sites such as or to investigate. On the other hand, try to get a real sense for your banks reputation with local residents. For example, a bank that we were looking at was voted “highly” by small business owners in a local poll. Those factors can be just as significant when choosing a bank. It’s also valuable to get a feel for the bank customer service. Is the bank responsive to your calls? When you arrive at the bank, is your presence acknowledged? One of the main reasons we are encouraging community development banks is their personal touch and commitment to the community, so make sure that you can really see this in a tangible way. Banking with a bank like this might also encourage students to move their money and make the school feel more secure with its decision.

Finally, assessing a CDFI’s community commitment is crucial. This isn’t very hard to do – community banks have a professed desire to work within the community, and they will provide evidence of their initiatives and programs. Once you begin comparing banks, those with exceptionally high commitments will stand out. If you are still unsure, or want to know more about their real impact, you could also independently research some of their community programs. A CDFI with a high and demonstrated community commitment is priority. It will signal to your school administrators the real value of their placing the endowment in the bank and will strengthen town-gown relations so much more than simply moving money into a local bank would. Furthermore, a bank’s extensive community commitments might signal their receptiveness at working with your school later on to create co-curricular opportunities between your bank, school, and the community.

There is a lot that must go into bank research, and it can get confusing. However, try to think about the two “R”s – Reach and Reputation. The bank’s reach refers to its commitment within the community and what that community is; while reputation refers to its literal financial reputation but also its relationships with the community. Your list will inevitably begin to narrow.

Good luck “shopping”,
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Shareholder activism and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

by Olivia Grugan, Northeast Student Organizer

On July 21, 2010 President Obama signed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law.  This bill is designed to respond to the financial meltdown by increasing transparency and accountability on Wall Street, ending bailouts, and protecting consumers from exploitative financial practices.

I have neither the space, nor the expertise to provide a comprehensive overview of this bill in this blog.  Instead, my goal is to discuss what this bill means for the future of shareholder activism, one of the central tenants of REC’s Socially Responsible Investment initiatives.

The bill was introduced by Barney Frank (a Democrat from Massachusetts) and Chris Dodd (the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, a Democrat from Connecticut), in the House and the Senate respectively.  As stated in the title of the Act, it aims
“To promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘‘too big to fail’’, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.”

For REC, one of the most relevant parts of the bill is Title IX, which stipulates that shareholders have a “say on pay,” meaning shareholders have the right to vote on executive compensation.  Furthermore, shareholders determine the frequency with which they vote on this compensation—once a year, once every two years, or once every three years.  The bill also requires full transparency of CEO pay, median compensation of all other workers, and the ratio of these two numbers.

As the AFL-CIO says, “the new Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act will help rein in CEO pay if it’s allowed to work. That’s a good thing for working people and the whole economy.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says the bill will bring “an era of transparency for our financial markets, tough oversight of Wall Street, and strong consumer protections on Main Street.”

The implications for shareholder activism are clear.  Starting in January 2011 when the bill goes into effect, shareholders will have increased access to information about the compensation of all company employees.  They will also have the opportunity to approve executive pay.  Managing the much distained discrepancy between the salary of the CEO and the average worker will become the opportunity—and the responsibility—of the shareholder.

The implications are especially poignant for college endowments.  Since colleges often have larger holdings than individuals, their opinions are also more likely to be heard when voicing a concern.  Imagine what college SRI groups could do if they could play a role in determining corporate salaries.

However, we have yet to make it to January 2011.   In the meantime, Big Business is lobbying the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) to put restraints on proxy voting and limit the influence of shareholders.  This would cripple the essential channel through which shareholders could manage executive compensation. However, the SEC is accepting public comments on the issue and tracks all bill activity to date.  Visit their website to express your concern for shareholder rights.

Or if you’d just like to learn more about this, visit the SEC’s website on the Dodd-Frank Act. And keep your eyes and ears open to see what progress is made in the coming months!
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Reflections on REC's 7th National Conference

By Brett Vetterlein, Community Investment Campaign Organizer

Last weekend, October 9th and 10th, the Responsible Endowments Coalition held their 7th National Conference at Columbia University in New York City. Students and faculty came from all over, Boston to St. Louis, Oregon to North Carolina, California to Pittsburgh, and even Canada. These activists and organizers gathered to attend workshops, discuss strategy, and have a bit of fun. However, I think we all walked out with a little bit more than we had originally anticipated.

For me the conference started very late Friday night, when two people who were at that point strangers to me from the University of Pittsburgh buzzed up to my Bronx apartment. I was expecting them, of course. The hostel where everyone was supposed to sleep had run out of room for all of the REC attendees so I offered my couches as extra sleeping space. After some getting to know one another I let them get to bed.

Fast-forward to 7 A.M. Saturday morning, when I woke up after less than four hours of sleep. I realized I had forgotten to print out my script for the workshop I was leading, not to mention the schedule for the day. Needless to say I was worried about what laid ahead. Trying not to wake my guests up, I poured a cup of coffee and ran out the door at 7:30 hoping to make it to the hostel on 104th Street around 8:15. The MTA didn’t like my plan however, and decided 8:25 was a more appropriate time for me to arrive. I met Martin, REC’s national organizer and a few other staff members, not the mention the room full of student activists, for coffee and bagels before heading over to the conference center at Columbia.

After making a quick round to make sure everyone was out of bed and ready to get going, we started out for our destination. The only problem was that I had no idea where any of my fellow Fordham activists were, not to mention the two Pittsburgh people I had made them responsible. I was getting a little nervous. After arriving at the conference center and sending out a few strongly-worded text messages, I began to relax as I drank my third cup of coffee, and Dan and Martin introduced the conference.

My first workshop was “Student Power: Organizing and Envisioning Democracy in Higher Education” presented by Patrick St. John and Tristan Husby. I was really blown away by the historical and social context they brought to the student movement. The two began by introducing the concepts of the “university” and “student power” and then moved onto discussing the history of the structure of higher education, pointing out that in the 14th century, when universities first started popping up, there existed a student run university. We talked about what a student run university could look like and how we could get there, not to mention discussing why its important to use prefigurative politics.

After lunch, and another cup of coffee and two cans of coke (I was on a bit of a caffeine high by this point), it was my turn to run a workshop with my fellow REC community investment campaign organizer from Tufts, Caroline Incledon. This was what I had been looking forward to (and simultaneously dreading) for weeks now. It was our job to introduce these students to Community Investment and convincing them that they could move their university’s money out of the big banks that caused the financial crash. The presentation went great though, with the help of Dan, REC executive director (although he won’t like me saying so). We talked about different kinds of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and how we could use the economic recession to prove to our university administrations that investing in our local community not only will help residents of the depressed areas our universities are located in, but will be a way of telling the big banks we don’t approve of their practices.

After that the Keynote Panel, Sarah Ludwig from the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project and Leslie Lowe, a consultant for several SRI industry organizations, presented on the practices of banks like Chase, how practices like sub-prime mortgage lending are the natural successor to the practice of redlining, systematically denying loans to low-income communities and especially communities of color. They also showed how universities and other institutional investors can fight back. All in all it was very inspirational.

Next I attended the “Moving your Money” workshop led by Vonda Brunsting from the Service Employees International Union, who gave us ideas about how to get individuals and especially universities to break up the big banks by moving their accounts away from Chase, Bank of America, etc and into small community banks and credit unions, just like many pension funds, labor unions, and other institutional investors have been doing for years.

The day ended with a walk back to the Hostel for some pizza and open discussion. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the any of the “open spaces” as they are called, because I met with some people to discuss REC’s Steering Committee, possibly one of my favorite aspects of the organization. It is a group made up of entirely students that is meant to advise REC’s Board of Trustees, to make sure that we always remain driven by the needs of the actual students. Talk about democracy in action!

While many others went out to bars and to sightsee in the city, I headed home for some much needed rest. The morning came too quickly once again, and I found myself back at Columbia soon enough sitting in Cheyenna Weber’s, REC’s former national organizer, workshop “Creating Sustainable Activist Cultures,” where we discussed how to created long-term movements and avoid burnout for others and especially ourselves. The entire conversation made me think very seriously about the campaign I’m running at Fordham and how to make sure that it is always enjoyable so that I don’t get burnt out too quickly.

The last workshop was presented by Yotam Marom, a NYC activist formerly from the New School and member of the Organization for a Free Society (not to mention a good friend of mine). He led a workshop called “The Movement Inside and Out,” about how to structure our movements so we promote diversity and inclusiveness, not to mention challenge multiple sections of social life (the economy, sexism, racism, etc) while organizing for social change.

Finally the conference ended with us going around “RECognizing” (get it?) all the people we wanted to thank for making the weekend memorable. After eating another leftover bagel from breakfast, giving a few directions to out-of-towners, and chatting with some people, I finally went home, happy with a successful weekend and my first REC conference of what I’m sure will be many.

I’d like to thank Martin, Dan, and all my fellow REC Student Organizers, and especially all the students from around the country for coming and making REC’s National Conference something truly great, and for doing all the great work we all do on our campuses. Here’s to us getting a better world. We’ll make it happen soon enough.
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