REC's 6th Annual National Conference

Written by Olivia Grugan, Student Organizer, Middlebury College

Students carried signs that read, “Stop HANDING our money to HEI” and “Our Endowment. Our Responsibility. Our Power.” Others led the group in protest cries saying, “When working conditions are obscene, it’s Penn’s duty to intervene.” Yet others carried a letter addressed to the President of Penn University and signed by students from over 20 colleges and universities, representing states from Washington to Vermont. This letter demanded that Penn divest from HEI, a hotel investment group that owns and operates hotels across the country, but whose labor practices are unjust and inhumane. What united these students was their common concern for the way educational institutions invest their endowments.

REC’s 6th national conference was much more than an opportunity for students from across the country to show their support for Penn’s divestment from HEI. It was an educational environment where we—the 70 attendees—could share ideas, tactics, research tools and enthusiasm for Socially Responsible Investment. During the three-day-long conference, we were able to attend workshops presented by REC staff, fellow student activists, and professionals in the field of investment. Workshops ranged form how to combat climate change through investments, to community investment strategies, to the alternative economics and the solidarity economy. Training for Peace and the Ruckus society made special presentations on creating effective tactics and strategy and on group dynamics. All throughout the conference there were opportunities to strategize in small groups and learn from one another. The students from Yale shared with us how they had set up a student-run endowment, while students from Sarah Lawrence and Washington University shared ideas on how to work within the bureaucracy of one’s school to bring about change. At the end of each day, we headed back to the hostel just out of town to continue our discussions from the day and develop quick friendships with one another.

For me, the most encouraging aspect of the conference was the atmosphere of enthusiasm and potential. Rather than individual facets of an amorphous movement, we were united as one body of students dedicated to change through responsible investment. I think for many of us it was the first time we were able to put a face and a name to the movement. We were delighted to find people who understood what we were talking about when we said, “SRI,” “hedge funds,” and “proxy voting.” And we walked away from the weekend with not just a notebook full of notes and new information, but an array of contacts for future organizing.

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