Anthony Talbott

Anthony Talbott, executive director of Abolition Ohio, speaks to First-Year Seminar students about the state of human trafficking around the world and specifically in Ohio.


Collaboration Leads to Deep Reflection, Passionate Reaction

Three sections of First-Year Seminar combine for multidisciplinary study of Human Trafficking

25 November, 2014 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — First-Year Seminar (FYS) is designed to help new students at The College of Wooster acclimate to the academic rigors of higher education. Each section (consisting of approximately 15 students) endeavors to cultivate thoughtful reflection and critical-thinking skills, but there is also a much broader objective — what Leah Mirakhor, assistant professor of English at Wooster, describes as a process of deciding "who you want to be and what type of world you want to live in."

With that in mind, Mirakhor and colleagues Matthew Krain (political science) and Amyaz Moledina (economics) joined forces this fall by combining their sections of FYS for a brief study of a serious problem — human trafficking — from a multidisciplinary standpoint.

"What we tried to do was get students to observe the same issue from different angles, and to help them understand the value of research when used outside of the classroom [in an effort] to affect change," said Moledina. "It was really interesting to bring these perspectives together and collaborate on the issue."

Moledina's FYS, "Black Markets and the Underground Economy," shed light on that aspect of the issue; Krain's seminar, "Human Rights," provided insight into individual consequences of the practice; and Mirakhor section, "The Graphic Novel," focused on how victim's stories are represented.

"We envisioned this as a way to expose students to interdisciplinary research," said Mirakhor, who discussed how graphic representations of torture, violence, and oppression can have a powerful impact on the viewer. "The goal was to apply what we discussed in the classroom to create a more responsible, ethical, livable world.

"I think there are enormous possibilities in these types of collaborations," added Mirakhor. "The students' level of engagement was really strengthened by the three of us together. This is another example of what a liberal arts education can do."

Krain, who came up with the idea to combine the three sections, also saw great value in the project. "FYS is [by nature] interdisciplinary," he said. "We wanted our students to see how we could look at the same issue from different angles; in this case from journalistic, economic, and political points of view.

"What this does is force students to look at an issue in other ways," added Krain. "[As a result,] we believe they have a much better, much deeper understanding about slavery and human trafficking...[especially] in our home state. It's not just a matter of studying a particular problem but also thinking about what can be done to come up with a solution. It has been an exciting process, one that has succeeded beyond what I had hoped."

In addition to the expertise of the three faculty members, several guest speakers were invited to broaden the discussion, specifically Anthony Talbott, executive director of Abolition Ohio, an NGO based in Dayton, and Dan Archer, a graphic journalist who recorded testimonies from human traffickers and put them in comic form, which turned them into something very accessible.

To further expand the conversation, Krain, Moledina, and Mirakhor reached out to the campus chapter of Amnesty International and Cross Cultural Connections (the living and learning program in Babcock Hall).

Through their collaborations, the three faculty members sought to break down the walls of the traditional classroom. "We realized that this serious issue of human trafficking can only be understood with a multidisciplinary approach," said Moledina. "It's a complex issue and requires several different lenses."

The sessions were also interactive with regular tweets from the students, and follow-up blogging to summarize what they had learned. By the end, everyone seemed quite pleased with the results. "I think we achieved our goals," said Moledina. "We got the students to come together and think about how to approach this very serious and complex topic from many different perspectives and to realize that there are things they can do to help solve the problem."

To learn more about the seminar, visit the group's blog and follow the discussion on Storify.