Grad hopes on-campus group will live on

When first laying eyes on Rory Phillips, there is no question this third-year senior was born a leader. His fiery red curls and stony pale eyes immediately accentuate his presence in any crowd.Phillips takes his time answering questions – comfortable in moments of silence.

As his friend of three years, Krista Jennings remembers Phillips seems quiet and almost stoic at first glance, but he soon relieves any tension through witty and humorous remarks.

When Phillips first attended the annual United Students for Fair Trade conference, called Convergence, his freshman year February 2005, fair trade was an alien concept to him. Because University Ministries was funding the trip, Phillips and Megan Severns, a senior at the time, eagerly accepted a free trip.

Little did he know, the trip was just one step of many he took for the fair trade movement locally and nationally.

“When we went, we were still calling fair trade free trade,” he said with a small smile. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.”

Phillips saw at Convergence that fair trade was a rational way of addressing many of the world’s greatest issues such as poverty, hunger and oppression. He said he was inspired by the fair trade community and the power found within.

“Fair trade isn’t just about buying a certain kind of product,” the Omaha, Neb., resident said. “It’s about realizing that our actions have an effect on people. It’s just a way of living that.”

On their flight back from Convergence, Phillips and Severns didn’t need a discussion to decide to launch an on-campus organization dedicated to shedding light on fair trade issues.

“It was like, all right, how do we start?” Phillips said.

One month later, Frogs for Fair Trade was an active on-campus organization.

“It was definitely one of those serendipitous moments of life,” said the Rev. Angela Kaufman, the Frogs for Fair Trade sponsor and university minister. “It was amazing to see him completely changed – completely on fire.”

The main initial goals for Phillips were to start an organization, make fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate available on campus and work with professors to make fair trade presentations in classrooms. All of those goals have come to fruition.

Phillips’ impact didn’t stop there, though. He promptly became a part of the USFT regional coordinating committee, and this year, through USFT, he spearheaded the first national fair trade banana campaign, which is dedicated to making fair trade bananas available to colleges.

“He had to learn how to work with a team of people that most of the time he only spoke to over the phone,” Kaufman said. “He had to be able to handle interaction not just with other college students, but other non-profits, fair trade certifiers and producers.”

However, during the biweekly Frogs for Fair Trade meetings, a first-comer would never guess the extent of his contribution to the organization and the fair trade movement as a whole. He simply sits back and listens intently as the recently appointed pair of freshman co-coordinators lead the discussions they have prepared.

“Rory knew early on that he couldn’t be the only student leader in this community,” Kaufman said. “That’s what leadership is – building others to take your place.”

A relatively new Frogs for Fair Trade member is an example of one of the many leaders Phillips has handed over his role and knowledge to. Phillips approached sophomore anthropology major Kate Lewis and suggested she apply for a coordinating role with USFT. Lewis said when she first joined USFT last summer, she only had a basic understanding of fair trade.

“(Phillips) would stay up with me while I ask question after question,” Lewis said. “He knew everything about fair trade and he didn’t mind staying forever on the phone with me.”

Lewis serves as the USFT movement liaison. She said her involvement with USFT prompted her to change her major from nursing to anthropology because she wanted to be more involved with social activism.

Phillips said he hopes Frogs for Fair Trade will remain in existence after he graduates. And the chances of that happening are promising, because as Lewis said, “He started a group that can keep on going without him.”

Phillips will also “keep on going” without the group. He’ll serve on the USFT advisory committee and hopes to plan a Convergence.

“He’s much more than just fair trade,” said Jennings, a junior ballet/modern dance and English major said. “He’s very into being aware of what’s going on in the world beyond the United States.”

Phillips plans to graduate with Honors distinctions this May with a degree in religion.

After a year of serving as a youth minister in Chicago, Phillips plans to attend seminary in order to reach his ultimate goal of serving as a parish minister.

Kaufman said no matter where he goes and what he pursues, she pictures Phillips “causing trouble for a good cause.