Every year Building Bridges brings a conference to campus addressing a social justice issue. This year’s topic is “Slavery Past and Present.” Building Bridges Co-Chairs Elizabeth Coco, junior English, gender, women and sexuality studies and religion major and Shanda Kirkeide, senior health fitness major described more about the conference.
The idea for the conference was a collaboration of Coco and Kirkeide’s research from last spring about slavery. After deciding on the topic, they attended a global forum on human trafficking in Yorba Linda, Calif., sponsored by an organization called Not For Sale, addressing the issue of modern day slavery. The trip allowed for networking with other activists and inspired the co-chairs to bring similar forum to Gustavus.
“It’s a young movement,” Coco said of the recent surge of activism regarding human trafficking. Statistics and information about modern day slavery are still very limited, because the business is so covert. “The information we do have says that there are over 27 million people enslaved in 161 countries,” Coco said. “But that is a gross underestimate,” Kirkeide said.
There are several forms of slavery today, with perhaps the most publicized form being sex slavery. Other forms of human trafficking include: domestic labor, child soldiers, child labor and bonded labor with many variations of each.
“Slavery is a $32 billion a year industry,” Kirkeide said. “It affects everyone and everyone is susceptible.” In fact, Minnesota is the 13th leading state in the United States for trafficking victims.
Building Bridges organized a “Flash Mob for Freedom” at the Mall of America last January to spread awareness about the human trafficking that goes on in the mall. The group of Gustavus students wore T-shirts that read “I’m not for sale” on the front with human trafficking statistics printed on the back and walked around the mall for an afternoon.
The co-chairs want everyone to be concerned about slavery because we take part in the continuation of it everyday. “If we didn’t buy it, they wouldn’t sell it,” Kirkeide said. “Our responsibility is to not only be aware of it, but to also not partake in the cycle.”
Also during January, Building Bridges showed a documentary in the International Center called The Dark Side of Chocolate about slavery within the cocoa bean industry with the hope that students would take away a better understanding of how they consume the products of slavery in their everyday lives.
Kirkeide spoke adamently about our consumption of sex slavery through pornography and strip clubs. People may go to a strip club or watch pornography and think that the women or men performing are acting of free will, but Kirkeide said that the reality is much different. “You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors,” she said. Those women and men, more often than not, “are victims of human trafficking,” she said. “Exercise on the side of caution,” she said, and don’t take part in it.
“We have the power to make changes,” Coco said. “We hope that after attending the conference, people will take away not only awareness about [human trafficking], but will be inspired to act,” she said. “We abolished slavery once. We have the responsibility to do it again.”
Students interested in attending the conference should get their ticket as soon as possible, as there is a limited number reserved for students. Tickets are free for all students both on and off the Gustavus campus. To get yours, look for Building Bridges members who will be tabling outside of the Evelyn Young Dining Room up until the day of the conference.
What can you do today to help end slavery?
- Get your ticket and attend the conference.
- Buy fair trade.
- Do research about the products you purchase.
- Stay informed
- Purchase a “Red Thread” bracelet for $3 that provides income for victims of human trafficking (available in the the Diversity Center).
- Donate your old cell phones to the “Cellphone Drive for Freedom” (drop-off in the Diversity Center).
- Spread the word.
Dr. Joy DeGruy (formerly Leary) holds a bachelor of science degree in communications, a master’s degree in social work and psychology and a Ph.D. in social work research. She is an assistant professor at Portland State University. DeGruy’s keynote speech titled “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome” will elaborate on the historical elements of slavery. Her work suggests that centuries of slavery followed by systemic racism and oppression have resulted in multigenerational adaptive behaviors, some of which have been positive and reflections of resilience and others that are detrimental and destructive.
Joy Friedman was forced into sex-trafficking in the United States at the age of 15 and survived 27 years of sexual exploitation. She knows firsthand the importance of Breaking Free Women’s Program, as she was one of the first women to successfully complete the graduation process and begin working on staff at Breaking Free. For the past eight years, Joy has worked for Breaking Free as a case manager, outreach specialist, program manager and policy coordinator for the Offender’s Program (John’s School). Joy has extensive experience in providing services to women who have been victimized by systematic prostitution. She has provided numerous trainings and presentations on prostitution/sex-trafficking as violence against women and girls and serves as Breaking Free’s primary liaison with the St. Paul Police/Vice Unit and the FBI.
Schedule of Events
Wednesday, March 9
- 7:00 p.m. – Performance by guitarist Guolezian Michael in the Courtyard Café
Friday, March 11
- 7:00 p.m. – GAC Idol
- 9:00 p.m. – Karaoke in the Dive with FREE Buffalo Wild Wings and Cold Stone Creamery
- 11:00 p.m. – Dive Night sponsored by Building Bridges
Saturday, March 12 Conference Schedule
- 9:00 a.m. – Registration
- 9:30 a.m. – Opening remarks by co-chairs
- 9:30 a.m. – I Am We Are performance
- 10:00 a.m. – Joy DeGruy’s keynote address
- 11:30 a.m. – Lunch break
- 12:15 p.m. – Joy Friedman’s highlighted workshop
- 1:30 p.m. – Break
- 1:45 p.m. – Workshop session #1
- 1:45 p.m. – Joy and Joy joint Q&A session
- 2:45 p.m. – Workshop session #2- Action piece
- 3:45 p.m. – Workshop session #3- Action piece
- 4:45 p.m. – Action piece
- 5:45 p.m. – Action piece
- 6:00 p.m. – Banquet: Keynote speaker, workshop presenters, and committee members