Students take creative stand against slavery

Students sought to make human slavery around the world a more recognizable issue on the John Brown University campus this week. Two groups endeavored to raise awareness of the plight of an estimated 27 million people.

People passing the Walker Student Center on Monday and Tuesday wondered at a tree decorated with 27 pairs of shoes. Several members of the University’s Leaders Scholars Institute started “Clues to the Shoes” as an awareness project.

Freshman Carlos Lopez, one of the six students involved, said the team decided to use the shoes as something noticeable which would hopefully catch people’s attention.

“We have shoes from men, women and children to show the impact slavery has on all different ages,” Lopez said. “People tend to think that slavery has been abolished. We want to raise awareness that it is still a real issue in the world.”

On Wednesday, the team set up a table in the student center to inform people more about what the shoes stood for. They also provided paper for students to write letters to people currently trapped in slavery. Lopez said the team partnered with the A21 Campaign.

“This is something people need to know about,” Lopez concluded.

Also on Tuesday and Wednesday, students had the opportunity to take part in a Stand for Freedom event. The stand, one of more than 500 around the country, was facilitated by the International Justice Mission.

Sarah Cook, ‘09 graduate, and senior Emily Hochstetler led the 27-hour stand at the University, beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and continuing until 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

They originally picked the plaza area right outside of the cafeteria for its high traffic. Cold and windy weather caused the location to be moved to the lobby of the cafeteria for the daytime hours and to the student center for overnight.

They said they hoped students would join them in standing, but for much of the time that was not the case.

Cook and Hochstetler also asked students to sign a petition, provided by the mission, which will be sent to President Barack Obama. It encourages him to make eradicating slavery a priority during his second term.

Cook said it was sometimes frustrating when people would walk by without even making eye contact with her.

“It burns even more when I explain about what we are doing or the petition, and then they decide not to sign it,” Cook said. “I wonder why you wouldn’t care about something like this.”

She added that others were really interested and would stay to have a conversation about the issue or share things they had heard about.

More than 130 people signed the paper petition. Others also signed it electronically on the website.

Cook and Hochstetler provided a variety of information for passers-by or participants, including books from the library or posters with statistics from advocacy organizations.

Based on the 27 million number, Cook made a sign stating that three in every 1,000 people in the world is affected by slavery. In addition, the International Justice Mission estimates that $32 billion worth of revenue comes from slavery every year.

Freshman Krista Gay, who recently started a CAUSE ministry called Students Against Sex Slavery said she supported the event.

“People underestimate how many 27 million is,” Gay said. “Twenty-seven hours is a long time, and I think it’s a great way to draw attention to the fact that slaves don’t get a break.”

Gay will be holding a meeting tonight at 9 p.m. in Walker Student Center 223 for those interested in participating in the new ministry.