The Lowman Student Center Mall is home to a variety of student groups presenting a multitude of ideas, interests and issues. From prayer circles and Greek recruitment, to free food and t-shirts, the mall gives a space for groups large and small to spread their influence across campus.
However, an area of the mall shifted to a serious tone Wednesday to highlight an issue of which many college students are unaware.
27 million men, women and children are trapped in slavery today, according to the End It Movement, a national social media effort committed to ending modern-day slavery. 200,000 of those slaves are held captive in the United States alone.
The Global Center for Journalism and Democracy at Sam Houston State University has joined the fight and will present several events throughout the next week to raise awareness on the issue of modern-day slavery.
GCJD kicked off their campaign yesterday with a demonstration titled “Experience the Reality” in the LSC Mall. The demonstration used student actors to portray forced-laborers, slave workers and prostitutes, all of which are examples of modern-day slavery.
Senior mass communications major Cesar Jimenez spearheaded the campaign along with GCJD executive director Kelli Arena. Jimenez said their focus is to promote awareness through social media to college-aged-students.
“What we’re trying to do is make a big social media push to really make 18 to 25 year olds know that this is a reality,” Jimenez said.
Senior theatre major Lex Lass worked with the group to find the actors for yesterday’s demonstration. He said modern-day slavery is an issue that has an impact close to home.
“You could be sitting in class next to someone and they could be a forced laborer, they could be in prostitution,” Lass said. “You would never know, they blend in with society. We just want people to show that they’re out there, they’re next to you.”
Jimenez echoed Lass’ thoughts on the proximity of modern-day slavery.
“Houston is a huge port for prostitution and forced labor,” Jimenez said. “It’s mostly because [Houston’s ports] have a lot of ships coming in, and that’s what brings [slavery] in. It’s also because Texas has one of the biggest borders of any state.”
The campaign will continue next week with two more events on campus.
GCJD will host an exhibit on modern-day slavery featuring stories of former slaves and facts on slavery around the world. The gallery will also feature information from slaveryfootprint.org, which shows how profits on products support slave labor, according to Jimenez.
“The reason we support that website is not because they’re trying to force you to stop buying things that you love,” Jimenez said. “Most companies don’t know. They have good intentions because they are making these products right. Where the issue comes in is where their suppliers are.”
The gallery will be on exhibit Oct. 13-14 in the LSC Atrium.
The week concludes with a GCJD Speaker Series event that will feature Shyima Hall, an author and former child slave.
Hall was sold to another family for less than $30. She was smuggled in to California at the age of 10 to serve the wealthy Cairo couple that purchased her.
Jose Medina, senior mass communications major, said attentive neighbors in the family’s southern California neighborhood led to Hall’s freedom.
“It wasn’t until neighbors saw this 10 year old kid sneaking out to the garage when she should’ve been in school that they notified authorities,” Medina said.
Hall is now 24 years old and a U.S. citizen, with her memoir, “Hidden Girl,” being published in January. She speaks across the country about fighting human trafficking and has briefed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on the trauma that victims of modern-day slavery endure.
Hall’s next stop is at SHSU.
“Meet Shyima Hall” is scheduled for Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. at the Gaertner Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.
While the End It Movement events at SHSU end next week, the fight never stops. For more information on how to end modern-day slavery, visit enditmovement.com, or the GCJD website, shsu.edu/global-journalism.