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Honors College Course Empowers Students to Fight Human Trafficking

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 19, 2019) – Mika Ella Rectin-Hernandez wants the millions of people trapped in modern day slavery to represent more than a number.

Rectin-Hernandez, a sophomore and intended Criminal Justice major, turned a poem she wrote into a five-minute video describing the pain felt by human trafficking victims. It features scenes shot on campus and around Albany.

The short film was her class project for a new Honors College course offered last fall by Dennis McCarty, a lecturer in the School of Criminal Justice and College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC).

The hands-on, one-credit course challenged students to come up with a unique way to fight human trafficking and/or assist trafficked survivors.

“I was immediately intrigued by this course,” said Rectin-Hernandez, who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines when she was an infant. “Through hearing stories from Professor McCarty and doing my own research online, I felt a duty to humanize victims of these terrible crimes.”

“Knowing that many children are being sold in the Philippines, a place I love, breaks my heart. This knowledge has increased my eagerness to bring justice in this area.”

Making it Their Own

The International Labour Organization estimates there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking – and one in four of them are children. Traffickers around the world, including the U.S., generate billions of dollars every year by coercing individuals into horrific situations such as providing labor or services against their will or engaging in commercial sex.

A former assistant director at the state Division of Homeland Security and School of Criminal Justice PhD graduate, McCarty has taught a more traditional, three-credit course on human trafficking – EHC 321 – for the last three years.

He said the Honors College format allowed students to make the class their own.

“This is not just another course. These projects are raising awareness on campus and in the community,” said McCarty. “The Honors College students did a remarkable job. Several even submitted extra-credit projects proposing new types of legislation, ways of reducing the importation of products that are made with slave labor and strategies to increase border security in ways that would most impact human traffickers.”

“The creativity, amount and value of the work that the students did exceeded all expectations.”

Along with Rectin-Hernandez’s short film, other projects included:

  • Four campus awareness events, including an expert panel discussion, all sponsored by the UAlbany Taekwondo Club, Mixed Martial Arts Collective Club and UAlbany Students Stopping the Trafficking and Exploitation of People (SSTEP).
  • A clothing drive for SAFE Inc., a nonprofit shelter for vulnerable youths in Schenectady.
  • Direct volunteer hours with the St. Anne Institute in Albany, a group home for troubled teenagers.
  • Free movies nights featuring films about domestic and international human trafficking.
  • Various independent study projects on topics including forced child marriages, fair trade products, and the trafficking of albino organs in parts of Africa.
Photo of UAlbany SSTEP president Ali Hansen tabling in the Campus Center.

Senior Ali Hansen (pictured above) is the president of UAlbany SSTEP.

Students Against Human Trafficking

In 2017, UAlbany Students Stopping the Trafficking and Exploitation of People (SSTEP) formed with McCarty as its advisor. Its president, Ali Hansen is a current senior and double major in Criminal Justice and Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.

Hansen formed SSTEP after taking McCarty’s three-credit course. It has since grown to about 20 students. Among SSTEP’s goals are to educate students on the different forms of trafficking and offer service opportunities to help victims.

 “We are focused on raising awareness through fundraisers, presentations, or any platform that will get students talking,” said Hansen. “Trafficking victims need our help and we are encouraging the campus to make a difference.”

Students interested in SSTEP can join its Facebook group or email uasstep@gmail.com.

Both of McCarty’s human trafficking courses will be offered again next fall. You can read more about the Honors College course in Homeland Security Today.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciencesbusiness, public health, health sciences, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.