This is a guest post written by Sophia Zaller, a freshman at the University of Chicago. Sophia began interning at Chicago Fair Trade this year, working on the planning for the World Fair Trade Day Market and outreach. She took a few minutes recently to chat with a few students from the Chicago area about the Fair Trade movements at their respective Universities, about which she shares here. 

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Students from Loyola University of Chicago, DePaul University, Columbia College, and North Park University came together this past winter to collaborate in developing their visions for the fair trade movements at their respective schools. Now, several months later, several universities have made significant progress thanks to the advice and feedback obtained at the summit.

Fair Trade Campaigns is an organization that mobilizes Fair Trade consumerism and advocacy in institutions across the United States to increase the availability and awareness of Fair Trade products. There are currently 150 active Fair Trade campaigns at U.S. colleges and universities. Three such campaigns are led by CFT affiliates Helena Dueker of DePaul University, Anne Debertin of Northwestern University, and Stephanie Ochoa of Loyola University.

Helena Dueker, a senior at DePaul University, first became interested in Fair Trade after taking a freshman seminar about the movement. Nancy Jones, Chicago Fair Trade’s former director, came to speak to the class and encouraged Dueker to get involved. She joined the DePaul Fair Trade committee just as its Fair Trade resolution was being developed. As a sophomore, she launched an annual Fair Trade fashion show and interned at CFT. Now, as a senior and president of the Fair Trade Committee, Dueker is committed to expanding Fair Trade to other universities in the Chicago area.

Dueker’s main goals for her last months in Chicago are connecting DePaul to the greater Chicago community and offering reflections of her experience at DePaul to the Fair Trade community. Earlier this year, she attended a Fair Trade summit. “A big part of the summit was sharing resources and ideas, and linking DePaul students to other social initiatives in Chicago,” she said. Dueker shared DePaul’s success story of becoming a Fair Trade University and coached other groups through common challenges. “The summit made it more of a community movement rather than an individual one.”

Anne Debertin is a junior at Northwestern University. She first got involved with the Fair Trade movement by volunteering at the World Fair Trade Day Market in Daley Plaza after CFT Director Katherine Bissell-Cordova held an information session at her school. “I found CFT to be such an inclusive environment,” she said. “Fair Trade is the type of model where people aren’t competing . . . all these businesses are working together.”

According to Debertin, the process of achieving a Fair Trade University certification begins with registering the campaign through Fair Trade Campaigns  and assembling a team of students and faculty adviser. “Part of getting Fair Trade certified is committing to Fair Trade education, so we’ve also been working on having panels, speakers and documentary screenings,” she said. “We’re also working on getting more Fair Trade products in campus outlets.” The final step in the certification process is the University passing a Fair Trade resolution, in which it will commit to sourcing more Fair Trade products and including Fair Trade initiatives in their future policy and marketing initiatives.

This year, Debertin will be applying to dental school but plans to stay involved with the Fair Trade movement. “It’s really not hard to get the movement started,” she said. “My advice to anyone wanting to start a Fair Trade movement is to include as many people as possible to maximize its effectiveness.”

Stephanie Ochoa is a junior at Loyola University of Chicago. Earlier on, she had worked on a non-profit project called Global Divide, which aimed to bridge the economic and social gap between the global north and south. “When I got to Loyola, I had the opportunity to develop my non-profit idea, but I didn’t really know how a non-profit worked,” she said. She reached out to the directors of non-profits across the city for guidance, and Katherine Bissell-Cordova  responded. “I had been working on this project for so long and it felt amazing to be able to present it [to Katherine],” Ochoa said. “I was so grateful to Katherine, so I started volunteering in Fair Trade pop-up shops.” She later interned at CFT and recently joined the Board of Directors.

Ochoa and another student are currently starting the process of getting Loyola certified as a Fair Trade University. She’s currently recruiting students for a club and searching for a faculty adviser.

All three students shared a common challenge to starting a fair trade movement: finding committed students. Debertin said that Northwestern students frequently overcommit to extracurriculars. “People get stretched too thin and can’t give 100% to anything,” she said. Ochoa ran into a similar issue at Loyola: It’s not hard to find students that are interested, it’s getting them together and finding a time when everyone can meet.” Similarly, Dueker cited overcommitted students as a major roadblock. “It’s difficult to keep people involved, but our University has been very receptive to working with us,” she said.

Ochoa said that her involvement with CFT has been a defining part of her college experience. “I always felt overwhelmed with all the problems in the world, and I would think ‘why even bother?’ But then I started working at Chicago Fair Trade and I could see the money I was raising being put to good use, and see all of these people we were helping. It gave me a whole other meaning to my life, and made me ten times happier.” This impetus resonates with many of our volunteers at Chicago Fair Trade, and it is part of what makes our organization and the students involved such an incredible community.

Interested in starting your own campaign? Visit Fair Trade Campaigns to learn how you can certify your school, town, or congregation as a fair trade institution.