Goucher’s first ever Congo Week, which included a series of events about the ongoing violent discord in the Democratic Republic of Congo, imparted an eye-opening look at an injustice that has taken more than 5 million lives. However, in the face of such a relevant yet obscure war, one week hardly seemed like enough for members of Goucher’s chapter of STAND (the national student-led division of United to End Genocide)—Christina Murphy ‘12, Chiara Collete ‘12, Cailin Barker ‘12, Laura Henry ‘12, Katie Mauer ‘15, and Gabrielle Spear ’15. Empowered by this new awareness, these students have begun to push Goucher to establish a Conflict-Free Campus Initiative.
Barker says of this initiative, “The conflict is very complex, but we didn’t want to be disabled by all the new knowledge, and we see Conflict-Free Campus Initiative as a way to get involved.”
While the Congo and its challenges lay a continent away from Goucher’s bucolic campus, the actions of the college
community can have an impact. Electronic devices purchased in the United States and abroad, such as cell phones and computers, contain many minerals mined in the Congo. And it is clear that these resources are not procured in the most responsible of ways.
With the Congo’s lack of governmental control, militia groups are in constant contention over minerals such as tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. This tension causes a breeding ground for the abasement of humanitarian rights, and has left Congolese civilians to live in a country where rape, murder, and destruction of private property are common.
In response to this, Enough, a project to end genocide and crimes against humanity, launched their Raise Hope for Congo campaign. This campaign involves the Conflict-Free Campus (CFC) Initiative, which, according to their website, promotes student activists, “encouraging university officials and stakeholders, both of whom are large purchasers of electronics and powerful spokespersons, to commit to measures that pressure electronics companies to responsibly invest in Congo’s minerals sector.”
Barker saw this initiative as a way to get involved and Henry echoes this sentiment, saying, “It’s something very tangible to achieve and possible to accomplish.”
These student leaders feel that the initiation of a CFC Initiative at Goucher would be in line with the values of the school and would contribute to the school’s commitment to international awareness and responsibility.
“This is our school and it should reflect our values, live up to community principles,” Murphy says.
The conflict-free movement is growing in popularity across the United States and Canada, with nearly 45 colleges and universities now participating. If Goucher adopts a policy of purchasing awareness, it would be the first college in Maryland to be a part of the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative.
The CFC Initiative manifests itself in a different form at each institution. Each Initiative is tailored to each specific college so institutions can participate as much or as little as they want, in a manner that works for them. The University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and Duke, along with several other schools, have posted statements of encouragement for conflict-free purchases on their respective official websites. In September 2011, Clark University announced, as part of its Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, that it would include in its standard purchasing policy “conflict-free progress as a key criterion when purchasing electronics products,” according to The Enough Project’s website.
While Goucher’s effort to establish a CFC initiative is still in its infancy, student organizers remain committed. A group recently attended a conference in Washington, DC to meet with students from other institutions involved with CFC Initiatives. These Goucher activists returned emboldened by the possibilities that lie ahead.
The members of STAND are currently seeking a coalition of existing clubs at Goucher to join in solidarity over this project. They are also learning if there have been any other divestment efforts at the college in the past.
“We are also trying to gauge the interest of the student body,” Murphy adds. Ultimately the group wishes to use the leverage of the student body, a prime target of the electronics industry, to promote the manufacture of more responsibly made products.
The current semester is all about laying the foundation for a more active semester in the fall. Ideally, leaders would like Goucher to make a formal statement to post on its website and reach out beyond the confines of the Goucher woods to push the state of Maryland for a statement of conflict-free support.
Murphy repeats the idea that while this will not solve all the problems that the Democratic Republic of the Congo faces, “[The CFC Initiative] is an action that we can take as students and as Americans.”