Human Trafficking Course Brings Awareness, Volunteering Opportunities to A&M-Commerce Students

Students at Texas A&M University-Commerce are gaining awareness of human trafficking thanks to the university’s newly developed undergraduate and graduate programs. This course also provides volunteer opportunities for students to help victims of human trafficking.

The US Department of Justice defines human trafficking as “a crime involving coercing or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts.”

According to a report by the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion a year, with traffickers victimizing an estimated 25 million people worldwide each year.

Lyndsey Norris is a clinical instructor for the School of Social Work at A&M-Commerce. After years of research, she is working toward a doctorate in higher education focused on human trafficking research.

He originally developed an intensive masters level course on the subject that was offered to A&M-Commerce social work students. The success of the graduate program prompted Norris to develop an undergraduate program that is available to all A&M-Commerce students, regardless of their major.

Undergraduate courses are available during the winter mini term. Students study the various forms of human trafficking, identify the human costs of buying cheap goods that human trafficking makes possible and discuss people smuggling, which can often lead to human trafficking.

“Another real eye-opener is the number of college students nationwide participating in sugar dating,” says Norris.

He explains that sugar dating, also known as “sugaring,” occurs when students engage in relationships with older, affluent individuals to offset high tuition fees without falling into student debt. Norris said this practice often lapses into or turns into human trafficking.

Zachariah Branham, junior social work major at A&M-Commerce, said the undergraduate program increased his awareness and vigilance.

“This experience showed me the importance of being fully aware of my surroundings, especially when I’m with my wife and daughter,” said Branham. “Now that I am educated about the realities of human trafficking, it is hard not to look for signs everywhere I go.”

Graduate-level human trafficking courses are available to social work students each summer.

“We go into greater detail about several types of human trafficking in the United States and around the world, including sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and organ trafficking,” Norris said. “We also review relevant government policies and entities, including the Trafficking in Persons Report, the US Congress, the Department of Justice, and the United Nations.”

This course also investigates Texas directives and coalitions focused on human trafficking.

“Texas is the second state behind California for the number of human trafficking incidents,” Norris reports. “Students learn why Texas is such a popular place, including its sheer size, the border with Mexico, and the number of major interstate roads that traverse the state.”

Natalie Shelton is pursuing her master’s degree in social work at A&M-Commerce.

“This course dives deep into the undercurrents of the human trafficking epidemic,” says Shelton. “The curriculum reveals the factors that lead marginalized populations to be subjected to human trafficking and the elusive operations that traffickers use in their execution of modern slavery.”

Student Engagement

During their course experience, students are asked to complete a community project that directly addresses issues related to human trafficking.

Social work undergraduate student Neal McKenna created an awareness video for the course which is available for viewing on YouTube.

Norris said a previous graduate student who took the class became a founding member and driving force behind the North Texas Coalition Against Trafficking in Persons.

Other masters students have helped write grants for state agencies and provided corporate and nonprofit training sessions. They also make stickers for the Texas Department of Transportation to display at public rest areas. The stickers allow victims of trafficking to access rescue resources by scanning a QR code.

Undergraduate and postgraduate students can take optional training to volunteer at The Poiema Foundation. The agency combats trafficking by educating the public, engaging with the community, and empowering victims of trafficking. Poiema provides volunteer outreach opportunities throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Melissa Anguiano is a business student majoring in A&M-Commerce with a background in hospitality, tourism and travel. After working with Poiema as part of the course, she plans to continue volunteering at the agency.

“I was deeply touched during my outreach work with Poiema,” said Anguiano. “I feel there is a lack of awareness and training for frontline workers. I look forward to working with Poiema to facilitate training at the hotel where I work.”

Norris believes a key obstacle to tackling human trafficking is greater awareness and understanding of the factors involved, including deception, deception, control, and coercion. He said traffickers played on the vulnerability and desperation of their victims.

“As a university community, we often act as agents of change in society,” said Norris. “Embracing the value of service to society is something that we, as a faculty, want our students to achieve along with their degrees. We are optimistic about their ability to study and develop interventions to eradicate human trafficking in our society.”

Learn more about human trafficking at the Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center website. To learn more about the human trafficking course at A&M-Commerce, contact [email protected].

If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, chat online or call the National Trafficking in Persons Hotline at 888.373.7888 (TTY: 711).

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