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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