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Combating Modern Slavery with Art

SDSU students used art to raise funds and awareness about modern-day slavery in San Diego.
Students created unique art pieces and collectively contributed to a canvas mural during the Week of Caring.
Students created unique art pieces and collectively contributed to a canvas mural during the Week of Caring.

It’s estimated that between 45,000 to 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year, with many of those victims passing through the San Diego County–Tijuana Region. While the statistic is alarming and the epidemic widespread, it’s a topic few know much about.

In February, San Diego State University students sought to change that, using an arsenal of art to raise awareness and funds for combatting modern-day slavery during SDSU’s 10th annual Week of Caring.

Students created unique art pieces and collectively contributed to a canvas mural during the Week of Caring’s Art + Activism event held on Feb. 28. The pieces were then auctioned off to raise funds for the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing and intervening in slavery and human trafficking.

Unseen, unheard, unspoken

Film and poetry events took the artistry beyond paper, however, and each artistic medium highlighted the oppressive circumstances faced by victims of human trafficking: opening eyes what often goes unseen, giving a voice to the unheard, and speaking out about a topic that is largely unspoken.  

“This is a subject that isn’t always discussed in a way that’s mainstream or resonates with people on a personal level,” said Caryl Adams, SDSU residence hall coordinator.

“There aren’t always calls to action. These events provided that call to action, and not necessarily on a grandiose level. These are small daily actions, like the language we use or the clothes that we buy, that add up to widespread change.” 

Marisa Ugarte, executive director for the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, called the selection an honor, saying that the commitment from students and staff was vital to shedding light on an often-overlooked issue.

A campus-wide conversation

Planning for the annual event began last semester with approximately 25 freshmen living in the Social Activism and Global Environments, or SAGE, residential learning community. Together in their university seminar course, the students chose the theme and the beneficiary for the weeklong philanthropic event.

Each year, when the course comes to an end, SDSU’s Residential Education department brings their concepts to life, sponsoring and implementing each event throughout the week. 

All eight of SDSU’s residence halls hosted a Week of Caring program or event on Feb. 27 to increase education and awareness about human trafficking, collecting thousands of food and clothing items for trafficking survivors in the process.

SDSU’s Week of Caring has received national recognition in the past, and Adams said this year’s events, which mostly took place beyond the residence hall walls, drew increased participation and engagement.

Between a screening of the film “Not My Life,” in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union theater, the interactive art gallery on Centennial Walkway and vocal performances and a silent auction at the Cholula Community Center, the Week of Caring broadened its scope from a program traditionally focused on students living in SDSU’s residence halls to one that reaches the entire student body.

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