If you have not had a chance yet to read this article, I strongly encourage you to do so. It is written by Dr. John Anderson, President of Alfred State, titled Beyond Volunteering: Civic Engagement in Action.
You might already be wondering what this post has to do with Fair Trade – and I’ll get to that. But let’s start with Dr. Anderson’s discussion of volunteering versus civic engagement, terminology that is easily confused by students, faculty, and the general public. I have always told students that volunteering is usually a “one and done” service event, where only a band-aid fix is applied to a problem – for example, a canned food drive. Now volunteering is certainly important. We NEED to have food drives to help the food insecure in our region, but a food drive does not help address or make progress in solving the issue of hunger or eliminating the need for these collection drives. This is where I tell students civic engagement comes in, using the content knowledge and skill sets we’re learning in college and applying them to real-world situations to find sustainable solutions to local-to-international challenges.
And Dr. Anderson does a great job addressing the differences between volunteering and civic engagement. He relates volunteering to the term “what” – what are the problems? What can be done? But to get to civic engagement, that’s where the “why” and “how” comes in – why does this circumstance exist? Why is there a need? How can action be taken to change the current situation? How can a solution be put into place?
Students involved in Fair Trade University campaigns across the United States (and the globe!) play a strong role in civic engagement on their campuses. These students are leading events on campus, online, and in the community. Students are helping others make informed purchases of Fair Trade products from food to clothing to athletic equipment. Through events such as Alta Gracia t-shirt swaps (our what and how) and Fair Trade s’mores (our what and how) to the upcoming Going Bananas for Fair Trade event (being organized by an entire course on campus), my own Penn State Brandywine students are learning that education and awareness can lead to advocacy and the change they want to see.
Imagine how much further we could move the Fair Trade movement with even more civic engagement on college campuses. Thank you, Dr. Anderson, for reminding us that we need to continue to ask “why.”
Contributed by Dr. Laura Guertin