Over the past several years I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of projects faculty and students could organize around that would have meaningful impacts on the university and the community. During my first two years at KU, I was the faculty adviser for a group of amazing students who wanted to found a chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops. In less than a year, the students researched the history of USAS, of KU’s licensing agreements, and the range of tactics students could use to persuade the university to join the Workers Rights Consortium–an independent group that monitors textile factories around the world and organizes against sweatshop labor. The short story is that the students convinced the university to join the WRC and for a period of several years, you could be assured that if you were donning the KU logo on your clothing, that you were not supporting sweatshop labor. One year, President Cevallos even mentioned the university’s WRC membership in his opening address — even though he never acknowledged that it was STUDENTS who responsible for the university signing on. I just checked the WRC web site only to find that Kutztown is no longer a member of the WRC. It just goes to show, once the spotlight is turned in a different direction, the university will ditch any stated commitment to human rights.
Anyway, the fact is that students’ activist made a tangible, concrete change in the university. If that student organization had continued after a couple of the key organizers graduated, we might still be able to say our KU apparel was not made in sweatshops. In the light of the current recession and budget-cut mania, I’ve been thinking about the kind of things we could do locally that would have real, tangible effects and that would provide some degree of mutual aid to our communities. Ever since the Occupy Movement exploded on the scene, I’ve been having conversations here and there about just this issue. And today’s Occupy Kutztown rally was an encouraging place to begin a conversation about organizing locally and retaking a piece of the commons. With that in mind, here are some projects you will be hearing more about on the XChange in the coming weeks and months. Here are some concrete things we can demand our university does:
- For starters, 50% of all food served in the dining halls and other locations on campus should be locally sourced from family farms
- 75% of all university supplies should be manufactured in Pennsylvania, when possible, at union shops. This includes office supplies such as paper and pens as well as larger items such as desks and walkway lighting.
- All new building projects should be build using union contractors from Pennsylvania.
- Space should be set aside on campus for a farmers’ market
- All university banking accounts should be moved out of “big banks” and relocated to community based banks in the area.