Mason professor brings awareness to human trafficking

This past Wednesday, New Century College professor Dr. Al Fuertes received the 2015 Spirit of King Award at the event Faces of Human Trafficking.

“[The Faces of Human Trafficking] was my way of giving back for receiving the 2015 Spirit of King award,” Fuertes said.

The Spirit of King Award is given to one student and one faculty or staff member who have made exceptional contributions to the development of a multicultural campus community according to onMason’s website.

Fuertes explained that when he received the award, the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education and the campus-wide committee on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration asked if he could host an event that showed what he did outside of his class.

“They asked me if I were to facilitate an event, what topic would I be willing to highlight. So I said maybe let’s try human trafficking. They said ‘OK great! Human trafficking is a very timely topic’,” Fuertes said.

Fuertes continued that they decided to do a media-related, interactive kind of presentation, and what was supposed to be a one-time event went so well and the ODIME decided they would like to do the event annually.

At the event, Fuertes who is also the faculty sponsor for Freedom Connection gave a presentation, along with members of the organization. Freedom Connection formed on campus this semester and it looks to raise awareness about human trafficking.

The president of Freedom Connection, senior and Global Affairs major Isaiah Floyd, said the organization was formed by six students including himself, Dan O’Brien, Saranya Jagadish, Whitney Morcom, Tyler Rogers, and Allie Sibner, with Fuertes as their faculty advisor. He continued that each founding member was either currently enrolled or had previously been enrolled in Fuertes’s NCLC 475 on Human Trafficking.

“The first time I taught this [course] it was purely classroom based. By mid semester, students were saying that every time we had a session [they received] all this new information [that made them feel] frustrated and hopeless and angry and [they] needed ways in which [they could] channel [those emotions],” Fuertes said.

Floyd said that while in Fuertes class, he and his fellow Freedom Connection members decided to create an organization on campus where they channel those emotions.

“Myself, and the executive board were compelled by the material we covered in class, we found it quite disappointing that there was no organization that concentrated on raising awareness for transatlantic crime industry that everyday effects more than 20 million people,” Floyd said. “[We] came to a group consensus that we have to be more than just conscious consumers.”

Fuertes continued that from those students who need to channel their emotions in Freedom Connection, which had previously been the organization I Fight, was reborn. The organization now has kiosks, the students do presentations in other classes and they do a project where they recreate what a safe house feels like, all to raise awareness about human trafficking, Fuertes said.

“The organization is structured and predicated on programming, academic facilitations, and the establishment of Non-Governmental Organization partnerships. Through these events and facilitations we hope to assist in the mitigation of human trafficking,” Floyd said.

Fuertes said that through his class, Freedom Connection, and this new annual event, he hopes to spread awareness of the severity of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking does not discriminate. It involves women, men, boys, girls, and even members of the family,” Fuertes said. “Human trafficking is really one of the most pressing issues that we need to address [not only] on the individual level [but] also as a community.”

Photo Credit: New Century College website