It Still Exists: A professor of English directly involves students in her research that raises awareness about modern-day slavery.
Slavery - a thing of the past? Unfortunately not. Nearly 30 million people are enslaved globally, including many in the city of New Orleans, Loyola assistant professor of English Laura Murphy, Ph.D., specializes in studying modern slavery and fighting human trafficking internationally. "How can I possibly live in this world where there is slavery happening now and not address it, pretending it's a thing of the past?" Murphy asked.
Murphy gives her students the chance to research and fight slavery along with her. Junior Saramaile Tate and senior Lauren Cutuli have become deeply involved in the research and in working with survivors. Tate maintains a website, SurvivorsOfSlavery.org, an outreach project that arranges speaking opportunities for survivors who want to share their stories in the community.
"I want to engage communities and educate them socially and culturally about history, racism, and sexism." Tate said, "These institutions function in our lives every day, and human trafficking is wrapped into all of that."
Tate and Cutuli coordinate with Murphy to explore different avenues of research. The various channels provide a diverse experience tailored to each student's learning objectives and goals for the future.
"Undergraduate research is an opportunity for students to transfer what they are learning in the classroom and relate it to the larger issues," Cutuli said. "This opportunity has allowed me to combine my knowledge within the field of Mass Communication with my interest in social justice issues."
Cutuli said one of her favorite moments as a research assistant was visiting NET Charter High School in New Orleans to meet with student leaders interested in setting up an anti-human trafficking club on campus.
"The students understood prior to my visiting what human trafficking is, but they did not understand the magnitude of the issue," she said. "When I mentioned that human trafficking happens in New Orleans," she said, "each student looked up at me shocked and asked me to repeat myself."
Murphy admits research on modern slavery can be frustrating and difficult at times, but she believes the issue is far too important to ignore. And with the help of her research assistants, Murphy is able to grow and develop the Modern Slavery Research Project and give her students invaluable first-hand opportunities to combine research and activism.
"Right now I couldn't breathe if I didn't have my research assistants," she said. "They have expanded my capacity to meet the increasing demand for information about trafficking. The students keep me on task and are incredibly committed to the work."
Tate says the mentor relationship she has built being on Murphy's team is one of the best parts of the job.
"The reward is working with Dr. Murphy," Tate said. "I am honored she wants me to work with her. Everything we do is a learning experience for me, and she is an excellent example for how I want to be in this world."