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Creating Change on a College Campus

Posted: 01/31/2012 2:38 pm

By Stephen Warner

"Free sex! Get your free sex on campus!" I shouted these simple words across Georgia Southern's campus. Some students looked at me funny, and others tried not to make eye contact.

"What's the catch?" "What is this really about?" "What does sex stand for?" Numerous questions, which all led to the same answer: "free sex."

"Can I have Matthew?" "I want Jessica!"

When it was all said and done, 50 cans of "sex" were given out and each can had one of five names on them and a description of the "person". Inside each of the cans was a piece of paper that said, "Did you know that sex trafficking could be that easy?" as well another piece of paper that directed them to a Web site with more information. I, along with a few other volunteers, was able to utilize guerilla marketing tactics to raise awareness of human trafficking, which led to a great response from the students on our campus and great conversations about the issue.
Even though they were just cans, they represented much more than that. They represented the millions who are enslaved today. They represented all the people who were told they were getting a great new job, but in reality were being forced to have sex with multiple people a day, and they represented the boys who are bought each night in the "boy bars" across the globe. Human trafficking is a global issue that can affect anyone, and is even happening right here in the U.S. More people need to step up and fight against its injustices.

In November, I received an e-mail from a faculty member at my school, Georgia Southern University, about a campus challenge sponsored by mtvU and Slavery Footprint. The challenge, part of the mtvU Against Our Will Campaign, encouraged students to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking. I immediately knew I wanted to get involved. Human trafficking is an issue I have been passionate about since high school, when I was asked to complete a project about a social justice issue. Since then, I've spent a considerable amount of time battling and bringing awareness to the issue.

Over the next couple of months, my friends and I spoke to classes on campus; staged the "free sex" event; invited Alezandra Russell (founder of Urban Light, an organization that benefits young boys who are the victims of commercial sexual exploitation) to speak to students; sent letters to companies asking them to examine supply chains; and promoted the challenge on social media.

We were able to make an impact on our campus because of the number of people we were able to talk to about human trafficking. When we had Alezandra Russell speak on campus, more than 100 students and faculty came to hear about her experiences and the work she is doing in Thailand. In the process, we raised a few hundred dollars for the organization and wrote notes to the Urban Light boys. That was an amazing night: a lot of people left the event inspired and wanting to get more involved with the fight against human trafficking.

This winter, that inspiration became reality when I traveled to Thailand to volunteer with Urban Light. Boys are not often recognized as victims of sex trafficking, so I was thrilled to work with an organization that recognizes this aspect of the issue. It was an amazing opportunity, and deepened my passion for fighting human trafficking.

Being involved at Georgia Southern has given me many opportunities to raise awareness about social issues on a college campus. Our school is engaging and empowers its students to be aware of and to respond to the critical social issues we face in our world and this mtvU and Slavery Footprint Challenge encouraged our efforts even further. But fundraising and travelling to foreign countries are not the only ways to spread awareness; telling friends and professors is a great (and under-utilized) channel that was key to our success at Georgia Southern.
Another way to get involved is starting movements and groups on campus. Organizations such as Polaris Project, GEMS, Free the Slaves, Not For Sale and International Justice Mission are there to provide guidance and support in your efforts. They're all happy to provide many resources to help. I am extremely grateful for my experience of bringing Not For Sale's Student Abolitionist Movement to Georgia Southern.

Finally, I encourage you to get creative and use your unique skills - whether they are public speaking, engineering, writing, marketing, or even baking - to make a difference. My friends and I enjoy public speaking, so we focused our awareness based around that skill and we had a very successful campaign. So, if you utilize all the student abilities at your school, the amount of awareness you can raise is limitless.

Today mtvU launched its newest contest, the "Against Our Will Challenge," with LexisNexis. This one, which comes with a $10,000 prize, asks students to create a new, innovative digital tool that will spark awareness about modern-day slavery and encourage others to take action. The tool can be anything: a game, an app, a social media plug-in. Some previous student-led challenges from the network led to games that have been played millions of times, like "Darfur is Dying" and "Debt Ski," as well as the "Draw Your Line" application.

In thinking of the creativity of our generation, I am reminded of the book Shake the World, in which author James Reilly explains how Millennials have become successful by responding to ordinary events in extraordinary ways. That is exactly what students need to do on college campuses around the country - take the simple idea of raising awareness about human trafficking and make it extraordinary.

You have heard the Mohandas Gandhi quote, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Let's go out and be the change that will end human trafficking around the world in our lifetime.