By Elise Schoening
Students who arrived late to any of Project Stay Gold’s “Fight the Traffick” events held last week found the rooms were often full to the brim with students, and little or no seats were left untaken. As such, instead of missing out on the moving and informative human trafficking awareness events that the club organized, many students chose to sit on the floor and gather in the backs of classrooms, spilling into the hallways.
After moving a dozen extra chairs into a classroom in the Social Sciences Building on Thursday, Feb. 26, Matt Newman, the president of Project Stay Gold, addressed the crowd in front of him. He admitted that he had not anticipated such a big turnout, but he was pleasantly surprised by the level of interest that students at the College were granting this human rights issue.
Project Stay Gold is a student organization that was founded at the College just last year. Its members work together to spread awareness of human trafficking, which is often referred to as modern day slavery. Newman, a sophomore communications and interactive multimedia major, explained the organization is founded on the belief that citizens can aid the government in ending both forms of human trafficking: forced labor and sexual slavery.
Project Stay Gold originated at a middle school in Newman’s hometown of Jefferson Township. He headed the efforts to bring the organization to the high school during his senior year and then decided to continue the fight against human trafficking at the College.
“This is something that, being a man myself, I feel like more men should be involved in the conversation,” Newman said. “It shouldn’t be a women’s issue. It should be a human rights issue.”
“Fight the Traffick” is the biggest programing the organization has held thus far. The anti-trafficking week consisted of various speakers and events, as well as a performance by the College’s Blackout Step Team.
Perhaps the most powerful speaker of the week was Danielle Douglas, a victim of sex trafficking, who spoke in the Library Auditorium on Tuesday, Feb. 24.
Douglas was trafficked in 2000 during her freshman year at Northeastern University. For two years, she was repeatedly beaten and forced to engage in sex work.
In a room full of college students, Douglas was able to personalize the topic of sex trafficking. She explained how, because pimps are often cunning and intelligent people who prey on the weaknesses of others, anyone can fall victim to their manipulation.
Douglas shared her story with students, detailing the years of mental, emotional and physical abuse that she endured. She explained how she was forced to work as a prostitute for most of the 24-hour day and became so exhausted that she couldn’t even think of escaping, since all of her energy was focused on survival.
“It really is brainwashing,” Douglas said. “People usually ask, ‘Why didn’t you leave?’ But you don’t need a physical chain to stay. It’s very, very possible to be mentally chained, and unfortunately, it’s very easy for people to do.”
Douglas believes it was a miracle that she was able to escape that life, and she can now share her story and offer a perspective of human trafficking that isn’t readily available.
Decontee Davis, a sophomore sociology major and secretary of Project Stay Gold, was moved by Douglas’s lecture and called her “an inspiration.”
“Because human trafficking is such a major international crime, it is at times discouraging and daunting to claim that I want to help end it,” Davis said. “However, when I hear Danielle speak, my hope is restored, and my passion is rekindled … Her story is evidence that it is possible to help rescue and restore women, girls, men and families affected by human trafficking.”
Another highlight of the week was the panel “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls,” where male students of the College discussed the role of men in the issue of sex trafficking, as well as how they can help end this cycle of violence and abuse.
Newman, who led the panel, explained that human trafficking is so dangerous because people often do not talk about it or its underlying issues, such as consent and unhealthy masculinity. Both are important topics that relate directly to sex trafficking, but are also relevant to the lives of all men.
“I don’t know if there’s anything more damaging to a man than being told to ‘man up’ or ‘grow some balls,’ because what does that turn into?” said Levi Klinger-Christiansen, a sophomore political science and English major. “That turns into violence, and usually against women.”
All five men on the panel encouraged their peers to set higher standards for themselves and others, which includes calling people out on violent or inappropriate behavior.
Although Project Stay Gold is a relatively new organization at the College, it is clear that it has been well received by the community and that many students enjoyed the programming for the week.
Ultimately, the goal of “Fight the Traffick” week was to educate students about human trafficking and spark a discussion on the issue, Newman said. He encourages any students who wish to learn more to attend Project Stay Gold’s bi-weekly meetings.
In the coming months, Project Stay Gold hopes to expand. According to Lauren Monaco, a sophomore elementary education and English double major and the public relations representative for the organization, the club wants to establish chapters at other colleges and universities to gather as many people as possible in the fight against human trafficking.