I had no clue which project to take on for this class. I wasn’t particularly passionate about any one topic which prevented me from finding an activist project. Luckily for me, the staff at Susquehanna Hall decided to take on a social change project for the semester. Later named P.A.T.H. (People Against the Trafficking of Humans), the project had the goal to raise awareness of human trafficking. Collectively we wanted the residents of Susquehanna to not only learn about the issue but to also partake in helping survivors.
The P.A.T.H. campaign involved trivia questions and bulletin boards about human trafficking, a showing of Taken, an information session specifically about Maryland trafficking, an immersion tent, a donation drive for the Samaritan Women house, and two days of volunteer work at the house itself. To honor and remember victims of human trafficking, the staff also wanted to plan a Candlelight Vigil. This is where I fit in.
Planning the event was frustrating at first since I had never planned an event on campus—I didn’t know who to talk to about what. Once I used my connections with Residential Life, I was able to reserve the Harbor Courtyard for the event. Guest speakers needed to be booked for the event as well. A fellow staff member—Kathy—took charge of this task. She found a sex trafficking survivor named Stacy Jewell Lewis online and contacted her about speaking at the Vigil. I helped by obtaining funding from Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL) and Residential Life to cover the costs of the speaker’s fee. Susquehanna’s partnership with the Samaritan Women also allowed for a representative to come and talk as well. Candles were purchased with the help of Residential Life’s funding. Lighters, audiovisual equipment, and extension cords were all free and borrowed from various sources on campus.
Prior to the event, P.A.T.H. created a facebook page specifically for the Vigil. Fliers were posted in almost every academic and residential building on campus (admittedly, I forgot Public Policy). A host script was written and memorized (though later forgotten and ad-libbed) and other staff members were recruited to help work the event. A PowerPoint presentation was put together by various staff members as well and was played during the candle lighting portion of the evening.
The Vigil itself consisted of an introduction by myself, an informative speech by a Samaritan Women representative, and a spoken word piece and speech by Ms. Lewis followed by the candle lighting. Everything went well except for what felt like hurricane-force winds. The sun went down in time for the PowerPoint presentation to play and the crowd came together for the candle lighting.
After the Vigil, Ms. Lewis stated hopes of partnering with UMBC in the fall to perform her plays about trafficking. The Vigil also increased excitement about the volunteer opportunities over the following two days, allowing us to go to the Samaritan Women with more helping hands. I think the greatest accomplishment was the awareness many in the audience gained. For example, one of my friends (originally from Estonia) expressed his surprise that human trafficking even occurred in the United States. I felt like the Vigil served its purpose after hearing this.
As a whole, I thought the P.A.T.H. campaign not only raised awareness but showed freshmen (the vast majority of Susquehanna residents) that they too can create a change. Many were unaware that the Samaritan Women is a volunteer site offered through the Shriver Center each semester. This project also taught me the importance of collaboration and asking for help when it is needed—without the help of Kathy, WILL, and Residential Life the Vigil would not have come together at all. That said, I also learned that micromanaging can be a good thing with such a large event. If I were to plan an event on campus again, I would start planning earlier and collaborate with even more groups on campus to lighten the load on myself. In all honesty, I would purposefully choose my next topic so I truly feel passion for what I’m doing. If I were to plan another event, it would definitely involve mental health and suicide risk as I have been heavily involved with a friend’s treatment this semester. I feel like I could really make a difference on campus in this area, a feeling I could not have had without planning this Vigil. I have always wanted to make a difference…now I know how.
Stacy Jewell Lewis’ spoken word piece at the Vigil: