Inside USD

USD’s Students For Life, Actress Raise Human Trafficking Awareness

Friday, November 2, 2012

Students For Life, a University Ministry-sponsored student organization at the University of San Diego, is dedicated to preserving the dignity of human life at all stages. It promotes this foundational principle of Catholic Social Thought by creating awareness through education, community outreach and service.

On Thursday afternoon, Students For Life, thanks to its strong social networking and partnership efforts on and off campus, won a competitive contest, beating out California State University, Chico, by 18 votes (1,955 to 1,937). The group’s reward was hosting a Town Hall Forum on human trafficking with movie actress Jada Pinkett Smith as a panelist.

Smith was joined by two human trafficking female survivors, Stacy and Jordanne — “I call them Survival Soldiers,” Smith said — San Diego Police Officers Association representative Brian Marvel and California Against Slavery representative Daphne Phung. The co-moderators were Students For Life Co-President Jessica McCarthy, a junior double major in Biology and Theology and Religious Studies, and Sapphire Blackwood, a first-year USD School of Law student.

The event, held at USD’s Shiley Theatre, was designed to bring more awareness to the issue of human trafficking, a crime involving the exploitation of women, men and young children.

Smith, whose activism grew serious when her 11-year-old daughter Willow brought the issue of human trafficking to her attention, said talking about human trafficking on a college campus was important because the student audience can play an active role in spreading awareness.

Blackwood said the event was, indeed, a learning opportunity because of how it affects lives in San Diego and beyond.

“Some didn’t know that it was such a huge issue,” said Blackwood, who admitted she was amazed by the reaction of some while she sought voting support. “Human trafficking happens in California, in our own city and it happens on the other side of the (U.S.-Mexico) border. Not as many people knew about it and that’s sad. This event was a good chance to get educated.”

McCarthy (top picture, far right) said Students For Life was thankful to learn about the event opportunity. The students met with local representatives before entering, but once they did, word spread quickly. USD and Chico State went back and forth holding the lead until the mid-October deadline. The final outcome and the event itself was certainly worth it.

“Being up there (on stage Thursday) and seeing it all come together, you realize how powerful it is,” McCarthy said. “Storytelling (by the survivors) is one of the most powerful things. It makes the issue personal. You realize it’s happening to real people. And, to have someone like Jada here as an activist, someone people know, and to see her so fired up about it, I think, will inspire other people to get fired up.”

Students For Life, McCarthy said, will also discuss human trafficking at its annual spring event, L.I.F.E. (Life is for Everyone) Week, April 22-26, 2013.

“One of the primary goals of our organization is educating people on our campus about these issues because so many people don’t know they exist,” she said. “Human trafficking is one of our L.I.F.E. Week issues. Having this forum also helps because once people know about it, that gets them talking about it. It’s especially important, too, because the girls (Stacy and Jordanne) who were being trafficked are our age.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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