Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Talking About Social Justice At Your Undergraduate Campus

When I began college in 2006, my main academic focus was on my biology degree and science requirements for medical school. Truth be told, I was unaware of many human rights issues that were rampant in the world at that time. During my freshman year, while in conversation with my mentor at a student organization that I was involved in, I begun to learn about what “human rights” were. She was especially interested in the topic of human trafficking, which subsequently piqued curiosity in me.

The Asian American Human Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP) at IOFA has had the privilege of partnering with college students to educate them in an academic setting on a more in depth and technical look at human trafficking and to develop outreach materials to Asian victims in the Chicago community. College students are at a very receptive time in their lives and comprise a strategic demographic that can begin fast-growing movements with far-reaching potential.

In my previous job, I worked with an undergraduate campus student organization whose students expressed great interest in issues such as human trafficking and the severe restriction of civilian rights in North Korea. I would often be confronted with questions of “I’m just a student, but what can I do more to tell people about trafficking?” and “I don’t want to just raise money.” My friends, let me reframe your previous statement: yes, you may be a undergraduate student buried nightly in biochem pathways and you don’t have a full-time job to abolish modern day slavery, but you are ambitious and energized, with zealous hearts full of passion! You want to see the real effects of change, and I think that this reason is enough for you to start making a visible difference.

During my time working with the undergraduate organization, I helped my students to spearhead a weeklong campus event called Justice Week, focusing on building awareness of human trafficking. It is now a recurring annual spring event in which the students connect with other campus groups and community organizations, bringing to light issues of injustice and providing ways for students to participate in change. In our conversations with students on campus, we would ask if they knew about human trafficking and were surprised to hear that some of them had not. I still keep in touch with my students and over the years, have seen them grow to become individuals who now lead more socially conscious lifestyles, activists who don’t limit their outreach to the campus, and young adults who get involved in their local communities even when it’s neither convenient nor glamorous.

This is a news story about a collaboration between several student organizations at Johns Hopkins University on Human Trafficking and Awareness Week that brought a panel of speakers, a petition to pass a bill, and fair trade products to their campus. Here, fraternity brothers from San Diego address the impact of trafficking on the African American community at a leadership conference while women from a sorority educate middle school students in North Carolina about trafficking at a youth summit.

I believe that being aware of and being up to date on current social justice issues as an undergraduate sets one up to be a catalyst that sparks a chain of knowledge, reaching far to even the most unlikely recipient.  Building awareness on a college campus is never too insignificant. Learning how to advocate on behalf for those affected by injustice is even better. 7 years later after my freshman year of college, I am not in medical school. Instead, I am on my way to being a social worker. Had I not taken the step to be involved in dialogue about social justice during my time in undergrad, the current trajectory of my career would not have been the same.

Esther Liew
Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP) Program Development Intern

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