by Caroline Incledon, Community Investment Organizer
As the school year comes to a close, I've finally submitted a formal community investment proposal to Tufts administrators on behalf of Students at Tufts for Investment Responsibility (STIR). The proposal urges Tufts to live up to its ideals of active citizenship by investing a portion of its operating account into a local bank, which will support small business and low-income residents, improve town-gown relations, and promote opportunities for interdisciplinary education. The proposal was presented alongside a letter of support from the Tufts Progressive Alumni Network (TPAN), a petition for community investment signed by 100+ students, signatures of support from many individual alumni, and REC's handbook on community investment for administrators, Maximizing Returns to Colleges & Communities (PDF). It contained two semesters' worth of research and organizing, and incorporated the needs and desires of students, faculty, administrators, and the local community. While the administration won't formally debate the proposal until the next meeting of the Board of Trustees, there was productive dialogue about the proposal's contents and the potential concerns of the administration. No matter the outcome, though, I'm proud of the proposal, grateful for the support of those who helped shape it, and confident that the Tufts campus is collectively more active and informed about investment responsibility.
At the same time, I don't feel a sense of completion, and I don't think I will feel one after getting a definitive answer from the administration, either. Working as a community investment organizer has opened my eyes to how much more of an impact a university can have on the local community by simply moving its money, and our universities can always improve. Being a part of REC has also taught me about the myriad other ways that universities can improve socioeconomic conditions. This work is also always unfinished. Finally, representing investment responsibility at Tufts has allowed me to realize and interact with the variety of activist individuals and student groups on this campus fighting for progressive causes, and impressed upon me our mutually supportive goals. Therefore, even though I've handed in a final proposal to school administrators regarding my community investment initiative, the opportunities and challenges I see regarding community investment, socially responsible investment, and activism in general in higher education seem greater than ever. My community investment campaign served to open my eyes to new ideas and new ventures on my campus and on others. I am reminded of a quote from the 1962 Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society:
"these social uses of the universities' resources also demonstrate the unchangeable reliance by men of power on the men and storehouses of knowledge: this makes the university functionally tied to society in new ways, revealing new potentialities, new levers for change."
Ultimately, this isn’t troubling. In fact, it’s beneficial. When we try to create change – like working to improve higher education investments – we begin to think more critically about the work we are doing and how it can impact present campaigns or lead to future ones. Therefore, our past experiences allow us to be more adept at identifying and acting on these “new potentialities” for change. In a way, we become the “new levers for change” ourselves. A year of student organizing has taught me skills and introduced me to people that I will always wish to remember. It’s taught me how I work best with people, what I am most effective at, and what my weaknesses are. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them, and should have approached some things differently. At the end of the day, though, I am better prepared for the next chapter in the story – and I hope that all my fellow organizers feel the same way!