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Efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking earn student Monroe Prize

  • Monroe Prize:
    Monroe Prize:  Florence "Flo" Glynn '19 helped to found the student organization HEART, which seeks to raise awareness of human trafficking.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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An impulsive decision to join a spring break service trip during her freshman year at William & Mary changed the trajectory of Florence “Flo” Glynn’s life. It was on that trip that Glynn was introduced to the issue of human trafficking and talked with survivors, some of whom were her age.

“Even though we’d lived different lives, it made me very cognizant of how I could easily be in their shoes if I had been in slightly different circumstances,” said Glynn, now a senior at the university.

That weeklong experience inspired Glynn to become an activist and help start the student organization HEART to raise awareness of trafficking. Her social justice work has earned Glynn the 2019 James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership, an award presented annually to a student who “has demonstrated sustained leadership of an unusual quality, leadership combined with initiative, character and an unfailing commitment to leveraging the assets of the William & Mary community to address the needs of our society.”

"Flo has been open to learning from so many people in our communities, and her advocacy for people affected by human trafficking in particular stands out as a way that she has listened to peoples' experience with compassion, and mobilized others in support and action,” said Melody Porter, director of the Office of Community Engagement. “By co-founding HEART and co-leading an alternative break focused on trafficking in Baltimore, Flo has extended a warm invitation to others to become involved in combating trafficking and raising awareness."

Glynn will receive the award during a public ceremony at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 31 in Miller Hall's Brinkley Commons. During the event — part of the university's Charter Day fesitivities — the annual Thomas Jefferson Awards will also be presented to two professors and a student, and the Plumeri Awards will be announced. Those awards, given to outstanding faculty members, will be presented during a ceremony in May.

Combating trafficking

Glynn saw an announcement about W&M’s Branch Out Alterative Breaks in a Student Happenings email during her freshman year. She applied for the program and was placed on a trip to Baltimore, Maryland, to work with Safe House of Hope, a nonprofit that seeks to support victims of sex trafficking.

“That weeklong service learning experience pretty deeply inspired me to do activist work in the future, and it prompted a lot of my social justice work and service work throughout the rest of my time here,” said Glynn.

Glynn was inspired by her fellow students on the trip as well as the site leaders, who would become models for her development as a leader and active citizen, she said.

“All of the William & Mary students I met on that trip were just amazing people of diverse backgrounds who really lifted me up,” said Glynn.

Glynn and a few of her fellow trip participants started a student organization on campus in 2016 to raise awareness of and advocate against human trafficking. They named the group HEART, which stands for Human Engagement, Awareness and Response to Trafficking.

“We were shocked by the end of our break that so few people were talking about human trafficking or were aware of it, or if they knew the word, they didn’t know what it actually encompassed,” Glynn said. “So that started me on a journey for the rest of my freshman year and then all the way through my sophomore, junior and now.”

Glynn said that one of the main myths about human trafficking is that it only happens in big cities and in stereotypical locations, such as strip clubs. 

“But in fact, human trafficking occurs in pretty much any location,” she said. “It occurs in Williamsburg, it occurs online, in hotels, in massage parlors, hair salons, nail salons, and also it’s not just sex trafficking, it includes labors trafficking, organ trafficking – so there are different manifestations of human trafficking, but the biggest misconception is that it’s not around us on a day-to-day basis, but it is.”

HEART has organized several special events with guest speakers who have discussed varied topics related to trafficking. The organization has also hosted a fundraiser each spring called “Tie-Dye against Trafficking,” in which specially designed shirts are sold to raise awareness of trafficking and funds for International Justice Mission.

Growth experiences

In addition to her work with HEART, Glynn has become deeply involved with Branch Out, becoming a site leader during her sophomore year for the same trip that had so deeply inspired her. In early 2018, she traveled to Charlotte, N.C., to work with Campus Pride, an organization that focuses on LGTBQ+ issues in higher education. This year, she is a development coordinator for Branch Out, helping to recruit and support participants and leaders.

Glynn has also been an active participant in HOPE, Health Outreach Peer Educators, working in its mental health branch since her junior year. She is also a member of the music sorority Nu Kappa Epsilon, which works with the Songs for Kids Foundation, providing music for children in hospitals.

As a double major in psychology and religious studies, Glynn has seen her service work dovetail with her academic studies, providing her with a new lens on the disciplines. She now plans on pursuing a career in social work.

Glynn said that her service activities at W&M have helped her grow in myriad ways and shown her the importance of being intentional, thinking about all of the potential consequences of her actions.

“I think oftentimes we may have good intentions but we can cause a lot of negative consequences on our communities and individuals, especially coming from a place of not being in those people’s same shoes,” she said. “As someone who is incredibly privileged in many ways, it’s really important for me to be humble as I work with people of different backgrounds who are oppressed in different ways to make sure I’m not oppressing them in different ways in the actions I am taking to try to help them.”

For students who are thinking of becoming involved in service work at the university or elsewhere, Glynn encourages them to “just be brave.”

“Along the process, there have been scary moments, there have been vulnerable moments,” she said. “Just pushing through that to learn and grow has been the most worthwhile part of my college experience.”