When Amber Bruns, Emily Hughes and Katelyn Vogt, all massage therapy students at Minnesota School of Business, were asked to explore social issues in their Global Citizenship class, they didn’t expect to become activists. But they also didn’t expect to learn that their chosen topic of study—human trafficking—can be found right in their own community.
“We wanted to explore how trafficking affects all of us,” Vogt said.
“Yeah,” Bruns interjected, “but we thought, it doesn’t happen here. [After researching,] we had to stop and say, wait a minute.”
“We learned we’re not invincible,” Vogt added. “That it can happen to you, your sister. It’s out there.”
“It made a big impact,” Hughes agreed.
The trio felt moved to advocate for awareness on the topic after researching and attending a panel discussion at the public library on trafficking. As a result, they invited Gracemarie Tellone Brown, founder of Gracemarie’s Song, a local nonprofit combating sexual exploitation, to facilitate a Lunch and Learn on campus to help open minds and eyes to the issue. The presentation was open to the public.
Tellone Brown shared the horrific details of her personal trafficking story and admitted, “It doesn’t matter how many times I tell this story, I get affected.”
Although much of her exploitation took place in the Philippines, Tellone Brown’s purpose is to raise awareness that the problem is local, right here in our own backyard.
She reported FBI statistics that name the Twin Cities as one of the nation’s largest child sex trafficking cities and quoted a Waite Park police officer on the state task force as saying St. Cloud is a “training ground” for child prostitutes.
After the presentation, Emily Hughes felt grateful. “This is what we wanted to do,” she said. “To open minds. Ask people to be aware and come together. We can make a bigger impact and do more on this issue.”
“Maybe some students leave today wanting to do more research and learn more,” she added.
The presentation came as a harsh reality to many in the audience; however, it moved at least one student to action, said Tellone Brown. The student reached out to her after her talk and said, “I’m a taxi driver, and I see it happening here. What can I do?”
“This is how it starts,” reflected Tellone-Brown. “We talk and spread the word.”
For students Bruns, Hughes and Vogt, practicing active citizenship and social responsibility went beyond a course objective to become a personal mission statement of action.
That’s applying your learning.