Late-night study sessions and strong coffee are staples of college life, but in the Blue Room cafeteria in Faunce House, students are making a political statement while they cram, caffeinated, for exams. Thanks to the conscience and business savvy of Erbin Crowell ’93 and his colleagues at the Massachusetts-based company Equal Exchange, over the the past four years Brown coffee drinkers have consumed java made from more than 10,000 pounds of coffee bought from farmers’ cooperatives in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Equal Exchange pays farmers at least $1.26 per pound, regardless of how low wholesale prices fall, and it pays 60 percent of this in advance.

“For students it’s a great way to get going in the morning,” Crowell said while handing out sample cups of hot coffee during a promotional visit to campus in September. “But for the farmers it may mean the difference between whether they can hold onto their land, purchase medicines that they need, or send their children to school.”

Fortunately for students, many of whom have no idea that the coffee they’re drinking contains a lesson in running a successful, socially conscious business, a cup of Equal Exchange isactually less expensive than the brew from the Starbucks just a few blocks down the street. Social action doesn’t get any better than that.