There are 21 million–30 million people in slavery today. In the United States alone there are 60,000 victims of slavery, mostly for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
“So many people just don’t know that there is still slavery,” Ally Austin said. “A lot of people want to do something, but we have this idea that we are still in college and we can’t do anything, but often the greatest form of support is educating people and raising awareness.”
Northwestern is partnering with International Justice Mission in a movement called Dressember.
“It’s this campaign to raise awareness against human slavery that is still present in our world,” Austin said. “People often think that slavery happened, and now it’s done. But actually it’s very real and very prevalent still in our world.Not just overseas, but in the U.S.”
Dressember is a campaign where women wear a dress every day of December to stick out of the crowd and spark conversation.
“It’s an event that’s all about raising awareness for sex trafficking, and Dressember advocates for the value and beauty of women, specifically women who find themselves being trapped within sex trafficking,” said another Dressember participant Kristen Schuler. “It’s just a really unique way to raise awareness.”
Dressember founder Blyth Hill began the movement in 2009 as “a quirky style challenge with a clever name that spread like wildfire.” As of last year, women in 32 countries across six continents have participated in the Dressember movement and have raised $165,000.
Although Dressember is focused on all human trafficking, it concentrates on empowering women and “advocating for the inherent dignity of all women.”
Last year a few people at NW participated in Dressember. Ashley Stanislav and her daughter Maddie each wore a dress daily for the month of December.
“One of the biggest reasons I wanted to do it last year was I wanted Maddie to be aware that there are other women in the world who have a lot of oppression, and it seemed like a tame way to introduce it to her,” Stanislav said. “I thought it was a cool idea to raise awareness.”
Another past participant of Dressember, Paige Rensink, will make this December the third time she has done Dressember.
“The first time I did it, it was actually just randomly in March,” Rensink said. “I had read of other people doing the movement and thought I would try it out. The second time I did it was the December of that same year.”
During the second time Rensink did Dressember, she wore the same dress all 31 days of December.
“Materialistically I had so much identity wrapped in this dress that I was trapped in for a month,” Rensink said. “It’s a cool opportunity to put yourself in that space of not being comfortable in your own skin but knowing that this is just a small part of what those other women must feel.”
Each time Rensink committed to Dressember she began with a different mindset.
“The first time I was really selfish,” Rensink said. “I started out with the mentality of ‘ok I’m going to put myself through this experience and see what I get out of it. The second time I did it, I originally went in with the idea of ‘Hey what will people think of me after I wear the same dress for a month, or better yet, what will I think of myself?’”
This year Rensink has new goals for Dressember.
“I want to learn about the actual policies involved with why women can stay in sex slavery,” Rensink said.
This is the first year NW is creating an organized group to participate in Dressember. Students who plan to join the movement this December have high hopes for its effect on campus.
“I hope that there will be more people knowing and caring that people are enslaved in really horrific ways, and this is a small way we as a campus can help,” Austin said. “We can make changes in others’ lives.”
Schuler has high hopes for not only what the campus gets out of the movement, but what she gets out of the movement as an individual.
“I hope that it doesn’t just become a habit for myself, like everyday I just get to put on a cute dress,” Schuler said. “It’s about so much more than just looking nice; it’s about starting campus conversations and bringing this to the forefront of people’s minds. So for me individually, I just don’t want to get into it for the wrong reasons. I want it to be something that brings up conversations that wouldn’t be brought up otherwise.”
Kelsey Doornenbal is heading up the Dressember movement on NW’s campus this year.
“We are fighting for freedom and the dignity of all women,” Doornenbal said. “It’s just using our creativity and our freedom to feel beautiful to fight for other women’s rights to feel beautiful.”
Doornenbal encourages all students to get involved this year.
“I hope campus sees what they do does matter and people can be creative in how we fight injustices,” Doornenbal said. “It doesn’t matter if you wear the same dress everyday, a different dress everyday, a dress once a week. There is no ‘right way’ of doing this.”
Money is raised by having sponsors pledge to donate specific amounts of money for everyday a participant dresses up.
“You could just get three separate people to commit to a dollar a day for the month and there you almost have $100,” Schuler said.
NW’s goal for the cause this year is $700.
Men of campus are welcome to participate as well.
“NW wanted to make this available to men also, so we will be doing ‘dress(up)ember,” Austin said. “Men can wear a tie or dress in nicer clothes so they can also help with the cause.”
A Dress(up)ember NW campus page will be up soon where students can join the cause.
“We are going to set up a donation box in Ramaker for those who do not want to participate but want to support the cause,” Doornenbal said.
If students have any more questions on what it means to participate in Dress(up)ember, they are encouraged to contact Kelsey Doornenbal or visit dressemberfoundation.org. On Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. in the Fireside Room, an informational meeting will be held for those interested in learning more about Dress(up)ember.