More than 100 students and faculty members took part in the Stand for Freedom event outside the Mountainlair all day Wednesday.
The event was sponsored by the International Justice Mission and is aimed to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery.
According to the Global Slavery Index, slavery is defined as the condition of treating another person as if he or she is property. Forced labor refers to work taken without consent, by threats or coercion. Human trafficking is the process through which people are brought into forced labor or severe exploitation through deception, threats or coercion.
Nearly 500 universities participated in the protest in countries all around the world.
Brady Smith, co-founder and co-president of International Justice Mission, said the main purpose behind the event is to bring attention to slavery.
“You can’t work on something if you don’t know it exists,” Smith said.
In 2014, there are 29.8 million people in slavery worldwide, according to the Global Slavery Index.
“A lot of people think slavery ended in the Civil War, but that’s not true,” Smith said.
Slavery is still present in 162 countries in the world, including the United States. Nearly 400,000 people are trafficked through the United States every year, and 47 people are enslaved per day globally.
Smith joined the fight with International Justice Mission to raise awareness about slavery and help those affected by it. Throughout the year, the International Justice Mission has saved 18,000 people from forced labor.
“When I found out that people are enslaved, especially in the country I live in, it struck a chord within me to do something about it,” Smith said.
Smith said he believes he was lucky to be born in the United States where he has plenty of opportunity.
“I think that we don’t get to control what country we’re born into,” he said. “These slaves didn’t get to control their destiny.”
Smith said he believes because he has freedom of speech, he has the power to have his voice heard.
“We were born in America, and we were given the liberty of having a voice to use, and it’s a shame if we don’t use it,” he said. “When you think about every problem you have in life, it doesn’t compare to the 29 million people in the world who are enslaved.”
By the end of the event, Smith will have gone more than 40 hours without sleeping.
“Our goal is to show we care enough to give up a day, to give up sleep, to give up class or whatever it might be to stand out here,” he said.
“We want to start as many conversations as possible to let people in on the fact there are 29 million slaves in the world, and we’re not okay with it.”
Smith called upon his fellow WVU students to stand with him to make a difference.
“Our University motto is, ‘Mountaineers are always free,’” he said. “If the Mountaineers are always free, shouldn’t everyone else be?”
Katie Woodhead, a junior marketing student and member of the WVU chapter of International Justice Mission, stood outside the Mountainlair nearly all day and night with her fellow members.
She said it hits home that people in the United States are enslaved as well as in other countries.
“It’s a fact that’s really hard to ignore,” Woodhead said. “I think it’s wrong that I have so much freedom, and there are people out there who are enslaved.”
She said by standing, she’s using her voice as a privilege that others have been denied.
“I want to make a stand and speak for those who can’t,” Woodhead said. “If we’re all standing up against this, it can be something that is changed.
“Our generation has the power to make a difference and raise awareness.”