On the Road to Change

There is good reason for optimism amongst the members of the Proactive Investment Club at Fairfield University. Over the course of March we became an official student group and nearly doubled in size as students all around Fairfield began to hear about our efforts. “Responsible investment?” students would ask, “That sounds really cool!”

Our group continued to gain legitimacy and support throughout March, garnering a student government resolution in favor of establishing a committee on investor responsibility and even booking a meeting with a couple of important administrators and board of trustees members. After a number of weeks of preparations we finally had our meeting at the end of March and it went a little something like this:

We arrived at the meeting as four good-looking, well-rehearsed and well-dressed, PIC representatives. We shook hands, introduced ourselves and wasted no time in bestowing upon our administrators their own beautifully crafted binders. The binders enclosed nearly 400 student signatures, a student government resolution signed by the president of the student body, a number of case studies of responsible investment activism around the country and two nicely polished proposals—they were our portable support-containers. We sat and began our meeting according to plan.

Suddenly, however, we encountered some turbulence in the form of a factor we had not anticipated in our preparation; the finance chairperson of the board of trustees was ostensibly a very curious man. At every step, he posed questions ranging from “so where are you all from?—just out of curiosity” to “and what other schools have done community investment like that?” And what we expected to be an ongoing verbal presentation became a dialogue before our eyes. We nervously exchanged glances, telepathically communicating the thought “we didn’t plan for this kind of setting!” The turn of events, in the end, seemed to us highly serendipitous. After all, we became people—real, live Fairfield University students—to our administrators and we formed great relationships in the space of an hour.

Did we leave the meeting with a gratifying agreement about a sweeping revision of Fairfield’s endowment investment? Contrary to my wildest dreams, we did not. But we parted ways with real, live smiles, mutual respect and new allies in our endeavor. And this is all the encouragement we need to push forward and continue our quest for social change—But there’s more!

Just a few days later I was referred to a newly appointed member of our board of trustees by a Jesuit priest on campus. I spoke with this new member over the phone and we hit it off. After about five minutes of taking each other’s temperature it was clear that we had very similar views about the transformative power of money, both socially and environmentally speaking. His enthusiasm and sheer willingness to engage in a conversation about how Fairfield can explore responsible investment possibilities left me excited and assured that our approach is working. We are building relationships and with genuine attempts at collaboration, finding allies all around us. But what initially began as a search—an active combing process—has gotten a lot easier. Allies are now approaching us, as though carried in by the winds of change, and forecasting a high chance of positive impact in the world.

So as I near the end of a year as a student organizer for the responsible endowments coalition, where does the Fairfield chapter leave off? Well this is precisely the source of my excitement; it doesn’t leave off at all. We’ve erected a student group that will give this pursuit longevity on Fairfield University’s campus. We have momentum, just absolutely snowballing its way forward, drawing in allies and support from various directions. We know that we can make a change in the world, as absurdly idealistic or naïve as that might sound, and we’re getting an idea of what it’s going to look like. As my mentor and friend has frequently counseled me, “we have to make the path by walking.” It’s a reassuring bit of advice for when the task you face is terribly daunting and ambiguous and you just can’t imagine where to start. Lo and behold, I’ve been walking for 8 months and these words are proving true. A path is now unfolding before me and it is clear to me that the Fairfield chapter was but a prologue. The best, I’m betting, is yet to come. Results are on their way.

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