Students head to India to study modern-day slave trade


Students trying on saris.SUNY Oswego students are visiting India to learn firsthand about the major international challenge of human trafficking.

For the “History of Human Trafficking” course taught by Dr. Geraldine Forbes, distinguished teaching professor of history, the students visit Kolkata (Calcutta) and Delhi to speak to academics, activists and those victimized by this activity.

Economic globalization led to an increasing migration of labor, some of it via trafficking that is a new form of slavery, Forbes said.

“Estimates differ, but some scholars argue that as many as 27 million people are enslaved around the world, and it is estimated that at least half of them have been trafficked,” some involved in sex slavery or working as domestic servants, she noted.

The United Nations has declared trafficking a human rights issue and the United States has officially condemned it. “This international issue commands a great deal of attention from world leaders,” Forbes said. “Nationally, it commands attention and resources, and affects the United States’ foreign relations.”

The course, offered for the first time this fall, looks at the issue in context with slavery from ancient times to today. The culminating study-abroad portion runs Jan. 9 to 19.

Student interest

Students with a range of majors and career plans will make the journey. “This experience in Kolkata will give them an opportunity to explore how academics and activists in India conceptualize and try to combat one kind of human trafficking, sex trafficking,” Forbes said.

Senior anthropology major Diane Ortiz will conduct an independent study of HIV in India. “I’m looking forward to speaking to people there and learning what they’ve gone through,” said Ortiz, who is specializing in medical anthropology.

Her classmates include Lauren Sordellini, a junior adolescence education major with a social studies concentrate who plans to join the Peace Corps; junior history major Brianne Welser who plans to attend graduate school for studies related to slavery; Meredith Lafferty, a senior global and international studies and Spanish major, who brings her experience working with refugees at a summer internship to the trafficking study; and Jill Hyland, a junior global and international studies major, who said she hopes to learn more about nongovernmental organizations as a possible career.

Academic partnership

The course is a first concrete step toward what Forbes hopes will become an active research and teaching partnership between the Oswego women’s studies program and the Women’s Studies Research Centre of Calcutta University, which will organize and run the lessons in India.

Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta of that university came to Oswego as a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence in fall 2006, and her visit spurred discussions of an academic partnership. A summer 2007 visit and talks by professor Ishita Mukhopadhyay created further interest in developing joint projects between the two institutions.

“Calcutta University’s women’s studies faculty, which includes individuals who have written and published on sex trafficking and others who are currently engaged in research relevant to this, is ideally suited to host and discuss this topic with students,” Forbes said. “In addition to presenting lectures to the students, members of the Women’s Studies Research Centre have agreed to set up field trips, which will show the students some of Kolkata’s amazing anti-trafficking projects.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: Trip preparations—SUNY Oswego students will travel to India in January to learn more about the country and the global challenge of human trafficking. Trying on the sari, the traditional garb of India, are junior adolescence education major Lauren Sordellini, senior anthropology major Diane Ortiz, junior history major Brianne Welser, Distinguished Teaching Professor of History Geraldine Forbes, and senior global and international studies and Spanish major Meredith Lafferty.

(Posted: Nov 24, 2009)

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