By Emily Schroder
Last night (November 5th), I hosted the event “Action & Awareness: A Seminar on Human Trafficking” in the UNF Student Union West. By far, this event has been the most rewarding experience I’ve had with the Interfaith Center. I came up with the idea at the beginning of the Fall Semester and had been working up until last night to plan and execute it successfully. I had expected an average attendance of 10-15 people; to my great surprise, 49 showed up. By the first 30 minutes of the seminar, every single seat was taken and the walls were lined with standing attendees. I was shocked, excited, and so incredibly pleased with the turnout. My goal for this seminar was to educate students about the issue of human trafficking, how it is directly relevant to them, and how to protect themselves and others from this form of modern day slavery; noting the incredibly high attendance and the engaged expressions of students, I believe that my goal was fulfilled. As long as one person left that room with increased awareness and increased knowledge regarding this epidemic, I feel as though I served my student body well. Nothing works quicker as a catalyst than awareness; how can one fight injustice if they are naive of the injustice being served?
Two guest speakers joined us for the seminar: Lt. Dingee and Ms. Armstrong from the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition. Both speakers provided students with a plethora of information regarding human trafficking: what it is, why it is so prevalent in Florida, what we can do to eradicate it, and how to join the fight against it. They told us that Florida is #3 in the country for human trafficking prevalence- an appalling ranking for a place that so many of us call “home.” So what can we do about it? Our speakers gave us some tips on identifying issues of human trafficking, including asking questions and not ignoring “fishy situations.” Does something seem “off” to you? Trust your gut- by asking questions or alerting the police of something suspicious, you could be saving someone’s life and/or helping to free them from slavery.
With that in mind, where is the silver lining? What positivity could students take away from this seminar? In our post-presentation reflection, we discussed how awareness regarding human trafficking- specifically in our own community- is increasing. As a community and society, we are becoming more knowledgeable and equipped to advocate for human rights and fight violations of it. I see this potential in UNF students. I see change happening. I see a wave of catalytic awareness sweeping our campus. It seems logical to say that we- the young, the educated, the driven- have immense potential to combat human trafficking. We wield the ability to shift paradigms that feed into the human trafficking “industry”- the ability to refrain from hiring prostitutes or escorts, stop looking the other way when something seems suspicious, and pursue knowledge about the world around us.
This is why “Awareness & Action: A Human Trafficking Seminar” was so rewarding for me; I was able to play a role in mobilizing my peers to become informed, active members in our society. The Interfaith Center and UNF as a whole is focusing on the issue of human trafficking in response to the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge- a Whitehouse Initiative that encourages students of diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds to work together to tackle an issue affecting their communities. Human trafficking overwhelmingly affects our community. It overwhelmingly affects our world. If students are mobilized in fighting this issue, the mobilization will trickle down to the rest of the community. How many times have you been told that “you are the future?” Its cliché, but it’s true. What kind of future do you see for yourself? One that includes slavery as a prevalent reality? Or one that only includes it in history books? We have the ability to decide, and we can shape our future.