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NMSU sociology spotlights border fair trade issues through film, graphic design

The film "Black Gold" will be shown Saturday, Nov. 14 at the Fountain Theatre in an effort to raise awareness about the importance of fair trade, an issue that has captured the research interests of New Mexico State University Assistant Professor of Sociology Julie Steinkopf Rice.

NMSU art students used environmentally sustainable techniques to design the poster for the fair trade event at the Fountain Theatre on Nov. 14. (Image courtesy Julie Rice and Peter Fine)

The event also will see local artisan groups from along the border selling their products, as the work they do is consistent with the fair trade model. Rice attributes the event's materialization to the support of the NMSU sociology department and women's studies program, the Mesilla Valley Film Society at the Fountain Theatre and Sophia's Circle, a local non-profit organization.

Rice volunteered her time and efforts this summer with Sophia's Circle, an organization that supports women's artisan work from disadvantaged communities in the borderland. While volunteering, Rice met Peter Fine, an NMSU art graphic design assistant professor with similar interests in raising awareness of fair trade.

"I find it shocking there's not a great awareness or strong support for fair trade," Rice said. "I want to change it. Fair trade is a big movement and living along the border is a unique place to be."

Rice said coffee is a good example of a product that needs improvements on trade relationships. The film "Black Gold" highlights coffee farmers in Ethiopia and their current struggle to be paid a regulated fair wage.

"It's an issue that affects us because a lot of people drink coffee," Fine said. "And, it's regionally relevant. It's important that we're focusing on the border and the Southwest."

Fine's students have designed the poster for the event using the latest environmentally sustainable design techniques, which include using Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper. In describing the poster's visual requirements, Fine said it must contain an aesthetic interest and a call to action. "But it has to do all this without being pedantic."

"People in the field aren't [using these techniques] yet. This is where the research is happening. A practicing graphic designer doesn't have time to explore all this."

Fine said this undertaking puts students in direct contact with politics and social issues, and helps to expose them to professional practice. Fine used the project as a lab activity throughout the semester, though eventually he'd like to move it into a grant process.

Rice said the project consists of several notable components beyond raising awareness for fair trade. One of these is sustainability, which Rice said could be conceived as a three-legged stool consisting of the environment, the economy and social equity.
"If sustainability is to be advanced, all three components must be addressed," Rice said. "Here at the university the predominant focus is on environmental sustainability?which is great, but it is only one leg of the three-legged stool."

Rice went on to say the project also supports the university's emphasis on community involvement with both educational and economic benefits; it promotes interdepartmental cooperation by working with individuals in the sociology and art departments; and it provides students with real-world opportunities and experiences in working with clients.

Some short-term goals Rice said she would like to see are to pack the Fountain Theatre on Saturday while contributing to the artisan groups from Palomas, Columbus, Juárez, Chaparral, Anthony and San Miguel. A long-term goal of Rice's is not only for the university to begin selling fair trade coffee at campus locations, but also to make the event an annual one.

"I dream big," Rice said.

The film screening is free with a suggested donation of $5. The event begins at 4 p.m., and limited edition silkscreen posters will be on sale as well. That money will go to printing costs and the women of Sophia's Circle.

For more information on the event or on how to get involved, e-mail Julie Steinkopf Rice at ja_rice@nmsu.edu.