As a STAND chapter at Clark University, we have often struggled with uncertainty about what we, as individual college students, could really do to help people on the other side of the world. When we first heard about the Conflict-Free Campus initiative, we were immediately drawn to the concrete message that we could send to electronics companies using a resource that we already had, the purchasing power of a university. Yet the thought of actually making it happen was initially overwhelming.
Founding the Clark University Conflict-Free Campus initiative was a first for us in many ways. It was our first experience in drafting a resolution, and our first experience in being part of a social movement, as active proponents towards a specific goal. We had never before advocated for a cause in such depth, and it was incredible to understand first-hand the slow-and-steady nature of building a movement that can reach high into the international corporate sphere. It has been inspiring to know that we are one of over 45 universities working tirelessly towards this common goal.
A vital component of this project was the value of having a fantastic team, which allowed us to utilize our individual strengths and balance tasks. Our team is comprised of five undergraduate students and one graduate student. Very early in the process, we learned that the key to success was good communication. We met weekly to lay out step-by-step plans, and used a Google document to share information between meetings. We worked our way from the bottom up, starting by educating ourselves, raising awareness on campus, and gathering student and faculty petition signatures. We contacted all of the professors in relevant departments and asked if we could make five-minute presentations in their classes, we posted flyers around campus, and we hosted a screening of “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.” During this phase of the process, we gained the support of over 700 undergraduate and graduate students, 21 professors, and 12 student groups including the undergraduate and graduate student councils.
Once we felt we had enough support and interest behind us, we met with our faculty advisor, Professor Shelly Tenenbaum, and decided that the next step would be to contact the president of the university directly through e-mail. We were very lucky to hear back from President Angel promptly, and after answering some of his questions, we scheduled a meeting. We met with the president, the university business manager, and an administrator for information and technology services. The president was very receptive to our ideas and was interested in helping us develop the next steps.
President Angel referred us to the Board of Trustees, and last month we met with the Social Responsibility Committee of the Board. They were not only interested in the idea; they pushed us to make our conflict-free resolution stronger by adding more concrete action. Cathy Dunham, chair of the committee, suggested that we add a clause requiring companies to provide a progress report any time they submit a bid to the purchasing department at Clark, just as the conflict minerals clause of the U.S. Financial Reform Bill requires on a federal level. We feel that this addition will put further pressure on the companies to reach the goals set by the bill. Now we are waiting for the board’s next meeting, where they will decide what action to take.
Although we still have a ways to go, this process has truly shown us that by breaking up tasks into small steps and making personal connections with as many people as possible, we could reach a goal that at first seemed entirely far-fetched. Clark’s conflict-free resolution may only be one part of a movement aimed at alleviating the crisis over conflict minerals, but if enough people show electronics companies that they care about ending the cycle of violence, the message will reach the Congo.
Learn more about how you can launch a Conflict-Free Campus initiative at your school.
Emma Craig and Rachel Gore are sophomores at Clark University in Worcester, MA, and are co-presidents of Clark's STAND chapter. Emma is majoring in international development and social change with a minor in entrepreneurship, and Rachel is a biology major with pre-med focus.