Creating an Inclusive Campaign

by Chris Clem, Northwest Student Organizer

When organizing our campaigns, it is often all too easy to focus on people as targets rather than allies.  After all, activism is all about revolution and establishing an all-too-French Reign of Terror, right?  Wrong.  When establishing our campaigns to bring positive social gains to our institutions, communities, and the world, we need to be engaging as many stakeholders as possible.  Obviously, undergraduate students will probably be a large part of any movement, given their easy accessibility and larger amount of time and energy to devote to the process.  However, although drive may come from a small, committed group of undergraduate students at first, the eventual goal is for change to become institutionalized and be a priority in everyone’s minds.  When building your committee, it is important to strategize about stakeholders who are useful and plausible participants.

If you are enrolled at an university that offers graduate programs, graduate students are also important stakeholders to include.  At many universities, graduate students often seem as elusive as a mythological creature; you have may faith that they exist, but you may never see or speak to one.  Their classes are housed in different buildings and at different times, so the undergraduate population seldom has contact.  In addition, graduate students often hold day jobs or internships, which makes contact that much more difficult.  However, as students of the university, graduate students also have just as much stake in the investments of the university.  Therefore, there are many graduate students who are incredibly interested in participating in socially responsible investment campaigns, but are not ever contacted.  At Seattle University, our committee charter includes permanent positions on our committee for graduate students.  To fill these positions, we work close with our Graduate Student Council to contact and reach out to potential members.  So far, we have had a fairly good response and our graduate students have been real assets to our committee in the past.  Overall, although graduate students are often overlooked, it is important to tie them into the grand scheme of responsible investment.

Integrating faculty and staff is often a great idea for strengthening your movement as well.  Although they may not pay to be at the university, as employees, they have just as much stake in the university’s endowment.  In addition to allowing faculty voice to be heard through an organized and informed body, involving faculty and staff can also strengthen movements by providing expertise and/or valuable connections.  Although we often like to think that we, the students, are the only ones with social lives, faculty and staff also spend a great amount of time networking with colleagues and higher administration.  By involving staff and faculty in your movement, you thereby wrangle in their connections, including valuable relationships with administration, and engage a wider audience.  In addition to connections, faculty and staff often bring certain amounts of expertise and access to resources.  For example, by involving professors from your business school or staff from the finance department, you have access to much more insight into the investment process.  At Seattle University, for example, we have had a great amount of support from our campus sustainability manager.  As a member of the first committee, she assisted the committee in establishing several action items including a community investment plan and a sustainable investment clause.  Now, although she is not a member of a committee, she is still very supportive of any work being done and is instrumental in helping to reach out to the SU community about economic sustainability.  By involving staff and faculty, your campaign is able to gain valuable assets with which to move forward.

Finally, another possible route of involvement is the alumni route.  Considering the endowment often consists of money from alumni donations, it goes without saying that the alumni definitely have a stake in its proper investment.  Alumni bring major political power, considering the money that they donate actually makes up the whole of the endowment.  In addition, alumni often bring expertise and personal connections that faculty may or may not also bring.  However, that being said, alumni are often trickier to get involved in a movement.  Because they are often professionals outside of the university setting, they are harder to connect with in a working manner.  Also, depending on how you would like to involve them, they may or may not be of use.  For example, at this stage of Seattle University’s movement, we have decided not to include alumni on our committee because of the frequency with which our committee is set to meet, according to our charter.  However, at other schools, there have been immense gains by involving the voices of alumni, writing letters in support of community investment strategies, including sustainable investment clauses, or filing resolutions against companies.  Therefore, although alumni are sometimes more difficult to involve in ongoing campaigns, they can often be useful allies depending on the objectives at hand.

In conclusion, considering that colleges and universities consist of several different stakeholders, we as organizers must be cognizant of those that we are including in the process of change-making.  Besides providing space and opportunities for all voices to heard, each group of stakeholders brings valuable perspectives, experience, or connections to the movement.  By involving many parties in this process, your campaigns will involve a broader audience, open opportunities, and raise the legitimacy of the campaign ideas.

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