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BW becomes first collegiate chapter of Collaborative to End Human Trafficking

A new BW student organization is providing leadership to boost community awareness and response in confronting Ohio's alarming top-five national ranking in human trafficking cases.

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Members of BW's Collaborative to End Human Trafficking student group pose for a photo in downtown Cleveland.

In December, BW became the first collegiate chapter of the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking. This latest distinction adds to the university's already impressive list of social justice and advocacy initiatives and accolades.

Spearheading the effort to address this widespread societal issue is Dr. Christy Walkuski, BW associate professor of education and co-director of the Leadership in Higher Education master's program. For more than 13 years, Walkuski has been a volunteer with the organization to help raise awareness about human trafficking and local anti-trafficking efforts. In her former role as director of BW's David and Frances Brain Center for Community Engagement, Walkuski also engaged the campus community in addressing anti-trafficking.

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Walkuski

"January is Human Trafficking Awareness month. The launch of our new organization is perfect timing," she emphasized. "I have been doing this work on my own time and have dreamed of expanding it in meaningful ways. Other faculty members also have expressed an interest in collaborating, and others want to infuse human trafficking information into their courses.

"Human trafficking is a complicated issue that intersects with sexual and dating violence, food and housing insecurity, mental health, drug use and more," Walkuski went on to say. "We need all students to be aware of it and be trained on what they can do now and in their future career paths to prevent and stop it, as well as educate them in knowing where to seek help if they encounter a trafficking survivor or situation."

She added that college students are an increasingly vulnerable population due to financial hardships as well as ease of access and manipulation via social media and other online networks. "Research on the impact of human trafficking and college students is limited, but with this new organization and partnership, we are trying to change this."

Expanding efforts for anti-trafficking advocacy

Educating students who will be in front-line career paths for exposure to trafficking, such as nursing, healthcare, social work, law enforcement, education, hospitality and sport management, is a priority for Walkuski. But her vision expands beyond the campus community to include Northeast Ohio.

"Baldwin Wallace is well positioned to serve as a key partner in this movement," she believes. "As we expand efforts on campus, we also want to be a blueprint for other colleges to develop their own sustained campus organizations to raise awareness and provide resources to their students and communities. We hope to be the connector for a regional-statewide campus network of students, faculty and staff all engaged in the anti-trafficking movement. We want to help other campuses examine their prevention resources, policies and partnerships to educate their own campus communities.

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"In terms of our own campus, we have several action steps already in place for this semester and beyond," she noted. "In addition to the launch of our student group, we have workshops planned and are developing student-led research projects and service opportunities for BW students to contribute to efforts by local organizations.

"We have hosted trainings for members of the Sexual Assault Response team and Campus Safety. I also am engaging students in my service-learning Jacket Philanthropy course, PHT 375, to work with the Collaborative to create materials for a college student audience about human trafficking and to write a grant proposal to secure funding to support the Collaborative's Survivor Advisory Council's emergency fund," she added.

Walkuski credits a 2022 Women for BW Giving Circle grant for helping her transform her vision into reality. Through the generosity of donors, Walkuski's initiative received $4,600 in funding to launch the new organization. BW's connection to social justice and the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking was further cemented in December when BW vice president for philanthropy and alumni engagement Ellen Zegarra was named to the Board of Trustees for the Cleveland-based human rights organization.

Life-changing presentation

BW junior Hayat Lachheb, a public health major from Parma Heights, Ohio, has been instrumental in launching the organization. Among her responsibilities, she is at the helm of the research team, whose role is to gather information about human trafficking and its relation to college students.

"Human trafficking is such a taboo topic of discussion in our society. I know for myself growing up, it's always been something not to be acknowledged, and people having a belief that, 'It doesn't happen in our neighborhood.' But this mentality is not reality. Ohio is placed in the top five states across the country where human trafficking is most prevalent," she said with concerning acknowledgment.

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Lachheb

"I first heard of this statistic back in August 2019 when I attended a sexual assault workshop on campus. I was shocked. Although they talked briefly about trafficking, I wanted to learn more and understand. Last year, my professor, Christy Walkuski, told us that the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking was giving a presentation on campus. That presentation honestly changed my life," emphasized Lachheb.

"I learned so much more about what trafficking is, who is impacted most and what it looks like. It looks nothing like you see in movies or TV shows. I also had the opportunity to hear two survivors share their experiences. One of the speakers talked about how she was being trafficked while going to college. This honestly hit home the reality of how many different situations students are battling with that you may not even realize," believes Lachheb.

"The biggest thing I hope the whole BW community gains from our chapter is not to be afraid of letting your voice be heard. I've been a quiet person for most of my life. By attending that event and speaking with Dr. Walkuski afterward, I had a whole new door open in ways that could let me be a voice that needs to be heard for a cause I genuinely care about," she said with confident ardor.

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