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Feven Getachew
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Trustee open forum recap

At the Trustee open forum last night, the four ten-minute presentations by student groups, followed by questions, brought together two, usually distant, groups.

The event, which is often scheduled during the Trustees’ tri-yearly visits to campus, took place in the Forum South Lounge and was hosted by SGA President Neo Morake ‘09. Afterwards, presenters and students-at-large stayed for more in-depth conversations with Trustees.
The four groups that gave presentations were the San Ramón Alliance, A Just Grinnell, the No Limits Project (NLP) and Students for Responsible Investing.

The groups’ messages overlapped with a focus on two specific core values promoted by Grinnell College—social responsibility and a diverse community. Last night’s presentations highlighted both successes and setbacks in fulfilling these core values in a variety of contexts, including campus life, service trips and investment ethics.

While no definite decisions can be made at this open forum, these student-Trustee discussions give Trustees a sampling of students’ perspectives on current College policies and potential changes.

The San Ramón Alliance:
Consisting of Marissa Gilman ’09, Grace Philipp ’12, Aniko Drlik-Muehleck ’11, Mary Jane Giesey ’12, Emma Peterson ’10, and Katherine Gregersen ’09, The San Ramón Alliance presented on their self-organized alternative break trip to Nicaragua. The group, basing their presentation on the study abroad programs and internships of group members and alumni, spoke of experiences in the community of San Ramón and the nearby region.

Alliance members worked with El Centro Promocional Cristiano por la Paz y la Vida (CPCPV), an organization which was founded in the 1980s to support victims of violence in the Contra wars.

Recently, another student group, Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG), which specializes in microloans to developing communities, formed a partnership with CPCPV.

Philipp, the primary correspondent between the two groups, spoke of the successes of CPCPV. “CPCPV is an extremely professional organization,” Philipp said. “They’ve been working with various forms of microfinancing and microloans for the past seven years.”
In addition to, building the community through partnerships with SEG and the CPCPV, members of the San Ramón alliance spoke to how their experiences in Nicaragua allowed them to put their Grinnell education into practice.

“I had taken environmental economics with Mark Montgomery and I felt that every single day I was thinking about that class when I was down there,” Gilman said. “Having that experience really brought to life my education at Grinnell, and so I wanted other people to have that same ‘aha’ moment through experiencing things that we going through while we were there.”

A Just Grinnell:
Two new members of A Just Grinnell, Rashawn Sims ’12 and Nichole Baker ’10, described their future ambitions as well as the group’s many achievements this year, especially since their last Trustee presentation in early February.

A Just Grinnell is “currently doing a pilot program with workshops” addressing injustices at Grinnell College, Sims said. These include a workshop on racism two weeks ago and another on classism this weekend. Indeed, it was at the racism workshop that Sims became interested in and involved with the group.

On a larger scale, the group hosted a November retreat, attended by 50 people, and a spring break retreat with 40 participants, including a school-sponsored professional moderator. While this is a student-run program, flown-in facilitators can cost thousands of dollars, requiring Trustee and administrative support.

Baker tied this semester’s successes with the program’s overall goals.

“The reason this pilot program is [happening] like we said [is because] we want this peer education program to be institutionalized at Grinnell,” Baker said. “We want every student who comes through Grinnell to have a basic understanding of privilege and oppression in general and specifically how it acts at Grinnell.”

No Limits Project:
Four students—Joe Hiller ’12, Rachel Smith ’11, Virginia Andersen ’10 and Alex Conlon ’09—represented the No Limits Project. Their discussion revolved around their message, movement, and motivations.

In general, “the No Limits Project wants accountability and transparency on issues of social responsibility,” Smith said. The group referred to the 14 demands listed on its website, emphasizing the cost-neutral ones.

The group also focused on the long history behind many of the demands. “Some students have been working on these projects for almost their full four years that they have been here. Students, faculty and staff have been working on this for more than a decade,” Conlon said.
The group also addressed their unorthodox approach as a student group, particularly their decision to not register as an official student organization. “We are working as best we can through [institutional] and maybe less traditional approaches,” Conlon said.

Before voicing their demands, members noted that their motivation “is mostly because we love Grinnell and we want it to be a better place and we think that it can be a better place,” Smith said.

“But we think that Grinnell as an institution really needs to support what we say we support. A lot of students have been really active in getting programs that do this but we have found that students come against a brick wall in these project,” Smith said.

Students for Responsible Investment:
In a follow-up to their presentation to the Trustees at the February open forum, students Ari Anisfeld ’09, Jared Rubinstein ’10, and Sarah Goff ’11 gave an update on their progress in setting goals for raising the investment standards of the College.

The group seeks to encourage the College to use its power as a significant shareholder in many publicly traded companies in a way that encourages socially responsible business practices.

“In the ’80s, Grinnell joined the international movement to divest from South Africa and helped end apartheid,” said Anisfeld, who is an editor for the S&B.

The group is currently advocating that the College approve shareholder resolutions up for vote, which would compel Wal-Mart to include gender identity and expression in its official non-discrimination policy.

“We’ve been researching various shareholder resolutions for this term,” Goff said.

The group’s chief proposal was the establishment of a committee to oversee how well the College’s investment practices align with its stated values of social justice. The committee would include membership from students, Trustees and College administrators.

“The committee would be made up, we propose, of four students, Treasurer David Clay and Investment Analyst Paige Carlson at the Treasurer’s Office, both of whom we’ve worked with the last few years on this campaign, and two members of the board of Trustees who would not be required to come [to] any meetings but would be kind of our Trustee liaisons,” Rubinstein said.

One Trustee questioned the feasibility and efficiency of considering the thousands of shareholder resolutions that could come before the Committee. SRI members, however, contended that the Committee would only target a few of the more salient resolutions and focus their efforts on those.

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