In countries across the globe, slavery and the slave trade have been banned for over a century, and in some places, for more than two. However, while slavery was abolished in, among other places, France in 1848, the United States in 1865 and Brazil in 1888, more than 40 million people remain enslaved in the world today, with their forced labor producing $150 million in annual profits. Each year, between 600,000 and 800,000 people are sold across international borders (Red Sand Project, “Stats”).
In response to these staggering statistics, activist and artist Molly Gochman created the Red Sand Project, which functions as a combination of art and advocacy as participants pour red sand in cracks in the sidewalks.
On April 27 from 5 to 8 p.m., the Vassar student organization known as the Underground will hold a gala in the Aula to raise awareness of the ongoing and critical issue of human trafficking worldwide. Tickets to the gala will be available for purchase in the College Center from Monday, April 23 until Thursday, April 26, as well as at the door on the night of the gala. Along with a catered dinner from Twisted Soul, the event will feature talks from three anti-human trafficking activists.
Founder of Give Way to Freedom Courtney Albert will explain the fundamentals of human trafficking, aiming to help expand knowledge of the subject. Give Way to Freedom, which began creating initiatives in 2010, is a community-based organization with offices in Vermont and New York. According to its website, “Give Way to Freedom’s mission is to support and provide victim care services to the survivors of human trafficking, advocate for optimal comprehensive care for victims, and educate in an effort to increase awareness and understanding of human trafficking” (GiveWayToFreedom.org, “What We Do”).
Among its many initiatives, Give Way to Freedom is currently working with healthcare providers to better understand the healthcare needs of human trafficking survivors as well as running the Rapid Response Report System in the United States to ensure adult victims of human trafficking can benefit from specifically tailored medical and emotional support as soon as they are identified by first responders. Also speaking at the event will be Gochman and Jasmine Marino-Fiandaca, a survivor of human trafficking.
Co-President of the Underground Grace Roebuck ’20 said of the gala, “We really want it to be a space where students can come with a huge set of knowledge, a little set of knowledge, and work together to learn from the different speakers we have, especially Jasmine. I think she will be really impactful because she’s a survivor.”
This is not Vassar’s first year of involvement with the Red Sand Project. Last year, students tabled at admitted students days and created an two-week-long exhibition that featured artwork created by Vassar students on the subject of human trafficking. It was held in the Collaboratory, a trailer outfitted for exhibitions and creative workshops, which was created by the Creative Arts Across Disciplines at Vassar (CAAD). This year, they organized the gala instead. Roebuck said, “When we were open for those two weeks, we had to have someone at the Collaboratory all the time and even though we got a decent amount of traffic over the whole two weeks, we thought that one condensed night would be best.”
The Red Sand Gala will be hosted with help from Vassar’s chapter of Amnesty International and Vassar’s Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) Office, which will organize activities. During the gala, Amnesty International will run a table where attendees can write letters in support of human trafficking abolitionists who have been jailed for their political actions. SAVP will run a training session focusing on sexual assault and violence protection work.
To end the night, each participant will be given a cup of red sand to spill into the cracks in the sidewalks around campus so that the next morning, the Vassar community will walk within an advocacy art project. Roebuck explained, “The purpose is to…raise awareness for the victims who have fallen through the cracks of society.”
Other initiatives organized by the Underground include a lecture with Founder of human trafficking advocacy organization Free the Slaves Kevin Bales on January 30. Roebuck also described many upcoming plans, including Art for Abolitionists, which the group hopes to implement in the upcoming academic year. This initiative will feature pieces by Vassar students and community members on human trafficking that will be sold in a silent auction form.
The Underground is also working to implement an anti-trafficking curriculum in Haiti in coordination with the Vassar Haiti Project. They are reaching out to Bales’s various contacts in Haiti to find an organization with which to partner in order to bring their curriculum to a secondary school and women’s cooperative. Closer to home, the members of the Underground are working with Mirage Theatre Company to produce “Broken Dolls,” a play about human trafficking, as well as planning socially conscious drama workshops and potentially a panel discussion.
One of their largest goals is helping Vassar become slave-free, meaning that the school would divest from corporations that rely on slave labor and shift to more fair-trade brands. In regards to this, the students plan to focus on educating the Vassar student body. Roebuck said, “We’re trying to shift Vassar into a more socially conscious direction. We’re trying to educate students on what human trafficking is and how they can do small things to combat it that don’t really take much effort, time out of their day, or expenses. A lot of that comes with education.” On this last point, the group hopes to develop a packet on the basics of human trafficking to distribute to incoming firstyears at the start of the 2018-19 academic year.
While the Underground organizes many initiatives, the theme of combining education with advocacy is present throughout, as is intended by the student organizers. In response to what he hopes people will take away from the gala, Co-President of the Underground Jaewon Kang ‘20 said, “I hope that [attendees will] find out that human trafficking is something that’s a very serious problem that’s still going on. And I hope…they truly understand that this is a problem that needs to be fixed.”