Guest Post By Blair Allan, Recent Graduate, New York University
I recently graduated from New York University (NYU) and can easily say it was one of the most influential experiences of my life. I was given various opportunities to meet inspiring individuals and grow as a student and activist. An important aspect of this experience was my involvement with NYU Against Child Trafficking (NYU ACT) student club. This group became a crucial part of my journey into advocacy work.
I first learned about human trafficking in 2010 when I volunteered at a children’s shelter in Kathmandu, Nepal. Many of the children I worked with had been rescued from indentured servitude and some from sexual exploitation. When I left Nepal, I felt compelled to learn more about modern day slavery and human trafficking. I went back home to California and began volunteering at a small nonprofit organization in Oakland that worked with young girls and boys who had been sexually exploited in the Bay Area. I realized that sexual and labor exploitation are global issues, not just unique to one region. I decided to go back to school and get a degree in public policy in order to work against social injustices and raise awareness about the underlying causes of modern day slavery and human trafficking.
The next year, I began my studies at New York University (NYU) and quickly found the NYU Against Child Trafficking Student Club (ACT). For me, it was a place where I could go to meet other activists who shared similar interests. We inspired each other and this only strengthened my work in advocacy. Every week, we explored different schools of thought on human trafficking and analyzed how it affects the way we discuss the topic. NYU ACT provided me with a space to truly understand and study not only the complexities of human trafficking, but also the current movement and the laws and policies that have been implemented.
Human trafficking is a very sensationalized issue. Discussions tend to center around the idea of “rescuing victims.” However, this eliminates important aspects of the problem. Human trafficking overlaps with many other social issues such as racism, extreme poverty, governance, women’s inequality and LGBT rights. It is not an isolated issue, which is why it is crucial to speak about the many contributing factors and social injustices that can accompany human trafficking. It is important to have a space to understand the intricacies of exploitation and the nuances between the different terms used such as “forced labor,” “slavery,” and “servitude,” as well as understanding the harm in using words like “victim” and “rescue.” I believe one’s choice of words affects the way society looks at an issue. The media especially can misconstrue global problems so that they become much harder to grasp. NYU ACT was a great place to understand and learn about such complex and multifaceted global issues.
At NYU ACT, I was able to speak freely, ask any questions, share articles, watch documentaries and listen to others. We had the opportunity to hold great events with survivors and leading organizations in the field. Being part of an anti-human trafficking group encouraged a strong sense of activism within me. For instance, our group was able to speak against food and clothing at NYU that was not ethically sourced or slave free. We also spoke out against policies that were harmful to women’s sexual autonomy and supported the Black Lives Matter movement. NYU ACT instilled in us the sense that we, as students, are able to initiate the changes that need to happen.
Having NYU ACT kept me focused on what my goals were and why I got my degree. I completed my BA/MPA program and received my Masters in International development and Public Policy, as well as my Bachelor’s in Sociology and Politics. I hope to eventually work for an international organization that promotes the rights of vulnerable populations. I am grateful for the sense of activism NYU ACT inspired in me. I had the opportunity to meet other students like me who had the same passion and interests. I felt I could talk openly about a topic I felt strongly about. It was such an incredible feeling to see new and old faces at our weekly meetings and events, and to hear people talk about their ideas of activism and desires to learn more about human trafficking. NYU ACT also taught me how to approach the discussion on human trafficking and how meaningful action can take place.
While I believe it is imperative for survivors to take the lead in the movement against human trafficking and modern day slavery, it is also important for everyone to be involved on some level. This is a global issue that requires great awareness and advocacy and college campuses can be a great place to start.