This guest post from Ben Wright, a doctoral candidate in history at Rice University, reports on activities organized this past week by undergraduate members of the Rice Free Project in Houston.
Student activists at Rice University are working to end modern slavery. All week, the members of the local Free Project chapter are confronting their peers, as well as the faculty and staff, with the realities of modern slavery. A large flag display in the quad, with each flag representing 10,000 of the estimated 27 million people enslaved today, is unmistakable, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Free Project Rice, like many consequential movements, past and present, began with the passion of an individual. Rachel Mitchell first took an interest in modern day slavery while studying in Greece. After discovering the role of slavery in Greek strip clubs, Rachel decided to learn more and enrolled in Kerry Ward's course entitled "Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking." Kerry recognized Rachel's potential and connected her to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where Rachel worked as an intern this past summer. Working with Luke Blocher and Brooke Hathaway encouraged Rachel in her activist ambitions. (Applications are still open for 2014 interns.)
Upon returning to Rice, Rachel kickstarted the local chapter of The Free Project. Under her leadership, Rice undergraduates have held numerous events, culminating with a week of activities to honor January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In addition to the moving display on the quad, the students also gave away almost 200 t-shirts, all of which included the national human trafficking hotline. A screening of Black Gold, a documentary about forced labor in the coffee industry was catered by Rice Coffeehouse (using fair trade coffee, of course). During the week students have also handed out fact sheets on modern slavery along with baked goods and approximately 40 students milling about campus wearing sandwich boards explaining the reality of modern slavery as expressed in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. State Department.
These students describe their goals as two-fold. First, they seek to raise awareness and consolidate student activists into an effective movement. Second, the leaders are working to connect Rice students to the world beyond the hedges of the campus. Connections are being developed with Free the Captives, Tahirih Justice Center, Freedom Place, and We've Been There Done That.
Witnessing the work of these students and talking briefly with Rachel reinforced my biggest takeaway from the 2013 Crossing Boundaries conference. We at HAS are best served by building relationships with students, nudging them in the right direction and then watching supportively while their energy and creativity changes the world.