What doesn’t get talked about very often is how collaboration feels. Admittedly, my analytic, academic brain takes over most of the time and ignores reflecting on how my work makes me feel. Now that isn’t to say I don’t care deeply about human trafficking or the needs of survivors. I wouldn’t have signed on to be in school for an extra 6-ish years if I didn’t care about these issues, but it’s rare that I give myself a chance to reflect on it. However, this past week I was bombarded with “the feels” after many of my collaborative partnerships I’ve fostered since moving to Michigan came full circle.
Last week I helped plan a free community conference to raise awareness about human trafficking in the tri-county area with the regional taskforce I started working with during my practicum. Speakers presented on trauma – informed care, criminal justice perspectives and remedies, community responses, and healthcare protocols. The afternoon concluded with a panel discussion where community members could ask the speakers questions. At the conference, I saw law enforcement personnel speaking with community members, people from faith-based organizations speaking with people from DHS, academics speaking with practitioners, military personnel speaking with youth, and many more. However, the moment that truly made me appreciate the amount of collaboration and engagement occurring at the event was when a survivor of sexual assault and intimate partner violence shared her story about her ex-partner trafficking women before he dated her. She wanted to know where she could go back to school to get a degree that would allow her voice to be the loudest so she could speak out against human trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence. I was able to speak with her personally and offered to connect her with some colleagues at MSU who could be more helpful than I.
I’d be lying if I said this interaction didn’t make me beam with excitement and hope. I was so focused on creating a collaborative space to raise awareness about human trafficking that I overlooked the sense of empowerment that accompanied it. THAT’S why we continue to value collaboration. Sure, collaboration has its trying times and, maybe selfishly, it makes us feel good when things go well. However, it also has the power to make others in the community feel good and empowered and that’s a good enough reason for me to keep trying.