Jan 23, 2014

Be The Change: Human Trafficking

Liz Ramirez Kemp, a sociology and media arts and design double major at James Madison University, is not only a dynamic and engaged student at JMU but also a social agent for human trafficking in our nation.

In the spring of 2012, Ramirez’ sophomore year, she found a way to combine her passion for justice and equality with her collegiate studies at JMU. Ramirez, along with classmates Danielle McLean, Jasmine Jones, and Kristen Hotz, enrolled in the SMAD (School of Media Arts and Design) class Writing for New Media taught by instructor Paige Normand. During the course of the semester, mtvU, a digital cable television network owned by MTV with content geared toward university students, launched the “Against Our Will Campaign” to raise awareness and inspire action related to ending modern day slavery.

Ramirez and her classmates, with the encouragement of their professor, researched human trafficking and created an interactive video project that highlights the backstories of survivors of sex and labor trafficking. By making the project interactive, the SMAD students felt like the public would be able to connect better to the emotional context of human trafficking. mtvU agreed, selected the work as one of the finalists for their campaign, and in January of 2013 re-released the project as part of the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The interactive video, adopted by mtvU and called “The Backstory” is now a combination of interpretive dance and story-telling, narrated by rapper Talib Kweli, and features the troupe Ailey II. The students were subsequently awarded $10,000 and were considering donating some of the money to anti human trafficking organizations.

Ramirez, however, was not one to rest on her successes.  Wanting to do more and continue her investigation into human trafficking, she designed an ethnographic study of an agency providing services to victims of human trafficking as a thoughtful and impressive senior honors thesis in sociology. Collecting her own data, she conducted over 300 hours of participant observation and did semi-structured interviews with a number of survivors and staff members, seeking to understand more of the survivors' experiences and identify best practices of advocacy and support. Ramirez’s work exemplifies her dedication to JMU’s motto “be the change."



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