What We Love: Emma Willard School

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Focus, determination, the will to enact change. These qualities are some of the roots that support social justice work . Under the proper conditions these roots can grow and deepen in all of us.

The founders of Slavery No More cultivated these qualities and set their roots when they started their student campaign at the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York.  After hearing a talk by Benjamin Skinner, author of A Crime so Monstrous, several students at the all-girls school took a real interest in the issue of forced labor around the world.  Rather than take on the whole world, however, they focused on their own community’s contribution to slavery.  As long as their school purchased food from non-Fair Trade certified sources, there was no way of knowing whether the workers had been treated justly.  The students and faculty involved with Slavery No More understood this problem as an opportunity to influence social change, not only because becoming a Fair Trade School would help the communities who produced their food, but also because it would empower other schools to do the same.

Just because their goal was manageable does not mean their efforts did not require immense planning (determination), education (the will to enact change), and organization (focus).  Robert Naeher, Chair of the school’s History and Social Studies Department, explains that:

“Students made and put up posters around the school, shared information and video clips at our Morning Reports time… hosted a couple of movie nights where information was again shared, had bake sales to raise funds for anti-slavery organizations, presented their proposal at a faculty meeting and obtained a unanimous vote of support from the faculty, presented their proposal to our School Council and again obtained a unanimous vote of support, met with Director of Dining Services and the school’s Chief Financial Officer to get their input on the feasibility of what they were proposing, made a formal presentation of their proposal to the Board of Trustees, and worked for several months in conjunction with one member of the Board to provide additional information and revise some aspects of the proposal to meet Board concerns.”

The girls’ hard work paid off when in November 2010 the Emma Willard School became the first official Fair Trade high school in the United States.

Trudy Hall, Head of the School says that “this accomplishment is precisely what comes of empowering young women to pursue their passion and commitment to making the world turn better.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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