Adrian College’s Fair-Trade Ambition

Free Project Activist Emily Toupalik Fights for a Slavery-Free Campus

Pictured are the Adrian students and faculty of the Fair-Trade Commission.

Pictured is the Adrian Fair-Trade Commission, including Emily Toupalik (front row, left).

An abolitionist fervently working to establish lasting change by altering Americans’ consumption patterns: this might sound like the description of a nineteenth-century anti-slavery activist. But this characterization describes a twenty-first century activist, Emily Toupalik, an Adrian College senior and member of the Adrian Free Project chapter Not for Sale.

Emily first learned about modern-day slavery as the only freshman in an upper-level course on human trafficking taught by Dr. Chris Momany. Required to write a research paper, Momany suggested Emily investigate the current human trafficking laws in Michigan and Ohio. Emily traces her passion from that moment, realizing how easily traffickers can establish legal precedent for their actions. Even though the U.S. abolished slavery nearly 100 years ago, it still exists in legal forms throughout the nation, a fact that Emily found to be perplexing. In particular, the awareness that the victims of trafficking are often the individuals prosecuted in these cases struck Emily as backwards and reprehensible.

The rather ordinary task of writing a research paper in fact changed Emily’s life, both her present pursuits and future prospects. For the past several years, Emily and her cohorts in Adrian’s Not for Sale group have made fair-trade their central concern. They successfully petitioned the Adrian College bookstore to sell fair-trade greeting cards, chocolate, and other small gifts. This Free Project chapter is actively working with the college administration to bring more fair-trade items to campus and eventually turn Adrian into a fair-trade institution that works only with companies that respect human dignity.

Emily recently brought her dedication to fair-trade to the Fourth Annual President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge in Washington, D.C. The national gathering heard Emily speak about Adrian’s fair-trade efforts and conversely encouraged Emily to bring a number of innovative community service ideas back to Adrian. Her activism with Not for Sale is just the beginning, as Emily hopes to attend law school and eventually legislate for political change to help end human trafficking in America.

When asked what advice she might have for establishing successful anti-slavery clubs on college campuses, Emily urges student activists to “keep with it.” Change may not happen automatically; indeed, it requires great patience of those who pursue it. Students, Emily notes, “must be willing to put in the time.” The success of Emily and Adrian’s Free Project chapter in promoting a slavery-free campus is just one example of how the persistence of student activists can create real change on campuses and beyond.