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Western Against Slavery Student Group Plans Awareness Programming

September 5, 2012

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MACOMB, IL - A Western Illinois University student organization that hopes to create awareness and take action against modern slavery and human trafficking has planned numerous programs during the fall semester.

Western Against Slavery (WAS) was the initial idea of WIU Associate Professor of history Tim Roberts when he saw a national antislavery group, Historians Against Slavery, at an academic conference.

"HAS is interesting as a group of academics attaching scholarship to activism," Roberts said. "We often say that slavery ended in 1865, but today there are perhaps 25 million slaves around the world, including in Illinois."

So Roberts and former WIU colleague Assistant Professor Barclay Key worked together to develop a WIU organization, which was kicked off one year ago with the film "Fatal Promises." The documentary looks at human trafficking in Eastern Europe. More than 100 students attended the screening and Roberts said the hope was to find students to join WAS who wanted to delve further into the issue. One of those students was Jessica Toops, a junior history major of Aledo, who is now the organization's president.

"I like to say I became interested by accident," Toops said. "I showed up to the documentary and I was pretty ill-informed prior to that. I started going to planning meetings and became more involved."

WAS holds weekly student meetings Wednesdays at 5 p.m. in Morgan Hall, 304. The group will also hold an annual Valentine's Day fundraiser by selling Fair Trade chocolate.

WAS Secretary Lindsey Posmanick, a senior women's studies major from Troy, said the organization has transformed from its first-year goal of providing awareness of the human slavery issue to making decisions on how to combat the issue.

Canaan Daniels, a junior social work major from Winchester and WAS vice president, said it was his involvement with a national organization with similar goals that drew him to WIU's group.

"I was working with Red Thread (a movement to end sex trafficking in Nepal) so I wanted to know what the WIU group was all about," he said. "I am very interested in social justice."

Roberts said his ultimate goal for the organization is to give those who attend WAS events "a message to take with them."

"It may impact what they buy, what they see in culture or figuring out which human rights organizations are the most effective," he said. "We hope to equip students with ideas for antislavery activism during summers, study abroad experiences and careers after they leave WIU."

Recently WAS partnered with the First Presbyterian Church of Macomb, which also has an interest in the slavery issues. From that partnership has grown a series of events this fall focusing on slavery and abolition in history and today. The series includes: (unless noted each program begins at 6:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Macomb at the corner of Dudley and Carroll streets)

Wednesday, Sept. 12: "McDonough County Presbyterians and the Underground Railroad" – Connie Deener and Melissa.

Wednesday, Sept. 19: "Trafficking in Europe and Asia – Local Accounts" – Elizabeth Harting of The Crossing Church and Sally Roberts of the Scotland Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Wednesday, Sept. 26: "Islam and Slavery" – Mohammad Siddiqi, WIU professor of English and journalism.

Wednesday, Oct. 3: "International Human Trafficking: Lessons Learned in Law Enforcement" – Vladimir Sergevnin, WIU assistant professor of law enforcement and justice administration, 5:30 p.m., Stipes 121. This program is being offered in conjunction with WIU's First Year Experience program.

Wednesday, Oct. 10: "Identifying and Helping Victims and Human Trafficking" – Rachel Ostergaard, STOP-IT Initiative Against Human Trafficking, 5:30 p.m., Stipes 121. This program is being offered in conjunction with WIU's First Year Experience program.

Wednesday, Oct. 17: "Our Role and Responsibility in Ending Human Trafficking" – Diane Mayfield, WIRC Victim Services and "Masculinity and the Sex Trade" – Sean Dixon, WIU Interpersonal Violence Prevention Initiative and Center for the Study of Masculinities and Men's Development.

Wednesday, Oct. 24: "Antislavery Among Women of Faith" – Susan Barlow and Mary Cook Jorgenson, Presbyterian Woman's Global Exchange; Nadine Hill, Ecumenical Women's Coalition Against Human Labor/Sex Trafficking and Linda Hora, Network Against Human Trafficking.

Wednesday, Oct. 31: "Modern Day Abolitionists Take Action."

All events are open free to the public. For more information on the WIU WAS organization, visit

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