The Fair Trade discussion began at Penn State Brandywine in summer 2011, when Communications major Abbey Dufoe asked Dr. Laura Guertin, Associate Professor of Earth Science, if she could do an independent study for the environmental inquiry minor. Abbey and Dr. G agreed that Fair Trade would be one of her topics of investigation, as the Penn State Brandywine campus is located in Media, Pennsylvania, the first Fair Trade Town in the United States. Following from the passion Abbey demonstrated towards Fair Trade, Dr. G attended the Fair Trade Towns and Universities National Conference held in Philadelphia, September 2011. From there, Dr. G began conversations back on campus with students, staff, and administrators to explore the feasibility of Penn State Brandywine becoming a Fair Trade University. The answer was a resounding yes. So the next step was to mobilize a group of students to ensure this was a student-led, student-driven effort.
In Spring 2012, Dr. Guertin taught ENVST 400W, a Senior Seminar in Environmental Studies, focusing on Fair Trade. In seeking to learn more about Fair Trade, students held a Skype session with United Students for Fair Trade, invited members of Media’s Fair Trade Town committee to come speak on campus, and utilized social media (especially Twitter and Google+) to share information and to foster communication. The students contacted Penn State alumni via email and Skype and hosted a visit from Fair Trade Towns USA National Coordinator Billy Linstead Goldsmith. The group, referring to themselves as the Fair Trade TrailBlazers, connected with other students going for or who have already obtained Fair Trade University status through a Fair Trade University conference call (02/29/12) and by attending the Fair Trade Leadership Development session at Temple University (03/17/12).
The TrailBlazers then hosted a speaker from Divine Chocolate (with samples for the audience, see our post) and organized a two-day Fair Trade t-shirt swap (see our post). The students presented their work at the campus undergraduate research symposium (see our post), as well as presented their efforts for Fair Trade University status to the students, staff, faculty, and campus advisory board.
The Fair Trade University application was a collaborative effort by the students, and in the end their 50-page application was approved. Penn State Brandywine was granted Fair Trade University status on May 12, 2012, World Fair Trade Day (see our post).