Students walking between classes on Wednesday may have noticed patches of red sand overflowing from the cracks in the sidewalk. These were not the remnants of some poor student’s art project, but part of The Red Sand Project - an ongoing global demonstration aiming raise awareness about human trafficking.
On Wednesday, Oct. 24, Eastern Michigan University student organization Unmasked: Bodies Not Barcodes hosted its own installation of the project. Volunteers braved the chilly weather and moderate winds to set up tables outside of Pray-Harrold, Halle Library, and several other locations around campus. They distributed cups of red sand for staff and students to scatter on sidewalks throughout the day.
“This is the first year that we did it campus-wide. In the past few years we’ve done it for maybe an hour or so with a few people, but this is our first large-scale implication of it,” said Unmasked president Rachel Prime. “I think that because our organization is fairly unknown and young, it was a great opportunity to just get our name out there, as well as the topic.”
The original project was founded by New York City artist Molly Gochman in 2014. Participants pour sand into street and sidewalk cracks in order to represent human trafficking victims who have “fallen through the cracks” of society. Since its founding, the project has been carried out in all 50 states, as well as in 70 different countries.
When asked to approximate the number of human trafficking victims globally, sophomore Brynne Harder said it had to be a lot. Her response was certainly accurate, as the bright red sand highlights the 40,300,000 humans who are enslaved in the world today.
“I was gonna say 1 million. Oh my gosh,” said Harder, visibly shocked. Each instance of the Red Sand Project, according to Unmasked member Cosette Hood, plays an important role in shedding light on the commonly known yet uncommonly discussed issue.
“Michigan is actually in the top ten among the states in the United States for human trafficking, which is kind of scary.” said Hood, who volunteered to run a table that was set up between the Porter Building and the Marshall Building.
It is sometimes difficult to imagine human trafficking taking place so close to home. Prime, however, has witnessed the issue firsthand.
“I went on a mission trip my sophomore year (of high school). We were working in downtown Detroit, and I saw girls being trafficked that ere the same age as me. Just seeing that, I wanted to do something about it.”
Prime has since been passionate about shedding light on the issue. Unmasked has provided her the opportunity to not just be concerned and informed, but to act.
“Coming to Eastern my freshman year, learning more about it, and joining the org - I just felt that I was able to do something. With Unmasked, we are an awareness organization, so our focus is just getting a conversation started and educating Eastern students as well as the local community,” she said.
Hood was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout, and pointed to several opportunities for other students who are looking to be more active in the fight against human trafficking. She explained other projects that help raise awareness for the same issues.
“There’s another project around the area called The Soap Project,” she said. “Basically what they do is put human trafficking hotlines on the backs of soap bars and they place them in hotels, because a lot of the times, for women who are being trafficked, that’s the only time they get alone is when they’re in the bathroom. There’s a lot of cool projects around the area, so I would just say do some research and try and get involved in organizations.”
Prime hopes that the event on Wednesday helped to start conversations about both human trafficking and Unmasked as an organization.
“My hope is definitely just that people would understand what human trafficking is and that they would just start talking about that in their everyday life,” she said. “And I’m also hoping that our organization would get more members so that we can do more larger-scale events like this.”
Students interested in taking action can begin by getting connected with Unmasked. Regular meetings are held on the first and third Tuesday of every month from 4-5pm in room 368 of the Marshall Building. At the upcoming meeting on Nov. 6, students can expect to discuss another large event that the organization is hoping to host in the Spring.