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Campus Celebrity: Janet Tso

To start off the new school year, we would like you all to meet Janet Tso, a  senior whose commitment to philanthropy is truly an inspiration to the Connecticut College community. Known around campus for her effervescent personality, Janet amazes us all with how much she has accomplished. As the President and Co-founder of COalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CoAST), a non-profit organization, she aims to combat human trafficking both globally and domestically through raising awareness and advocating legislation. This summer, Janet won an A.L.L.Y. Young Philanthropist Award at the United Nations headquarters for her years of activism and research. She is proof to us all that young people really can make a difference.

Academic experience at Conn?

At Connecticut College, Janet is a declared Gender and Women’s Studies major, with a strong focus in human trafficking. She interned with the Barnaba Institute for three years working with nationally recognized abolitionist, Frank N. Barnaba. Her research focused on  domestic sex trade of the Eastern United States. Her current research and first book focuses specifically on child trafficking in China. While many of us were using our terms abroad to do as little work as possible, Janet dedicated her semester in China towards researching for her coming book, which will be published by next year. For parts of her research, she went undercover to interview parents who have had their child stolen by traffickers, child beggars in the city of Kunming, Yunnan, and activists within the region. This past summer for her PICA internship, Janet worked for The Door, Legal Services as a law intern and translator. Her clients were Chinese trafficked victims smuggled into the United States using Snakehead smugglers. As a native Cantonese Chinese and learning Mandarin Chinese, she helped her clients file immigration forms, accompanied them to court, and translated for interviews.

Why human trafficking?

Her interest in human trafficking started 7 years ago when her 9th grade history teacher informed the class that slavery still exists in the world. Shocked by this unsettling truth, Janet and two friends felt compelled to create change by starting an anti-slavery club called Student Abolitionists Stopping Slavery (S.A.S.S.). She began by running basic fundraisers for Free the Slaves, an international non-governmental organization, hosting a state-wide Abolitionist Fair, and presentations at local venues, which fostered her passion for the cause. When she was asked to speak at an international education conference in Senegal in 2004, she started to realize the importance of her role in the 21st century abolitionist movement. She started CoAST last November, and believes that it has great potential to succeed.

Some of Janet’s achievements…

As a certified speaker of Connecticut for human trafficking, she speaks at many events to raise awareness on modern day slavery and advocate the importance of student activism in the anti-slavery movement today. In her sophomore year in high school, she was asked to organize and run a youth summit for more than fifty students at the University of Illinois to learn about contemporary slavery but also how to get involved. In the past few years, Janet has spoken at the We Are Family Three Dot Dash Peace Initiative Galas held in New York City every year. In November of this year, she will be one of two students selected in the United States to speak at National Philanthropist conference in Delaware. She has spoken at the United Nations twice, first was when she was 16 where she was asked to speak about her work in front of the Mental Health Committee of the United Nations. Second was the recent conference in August 2011, where she was one of fourteen girls from the U.S. to receive the Young Philanthropist Award.

How can people at Conn get involved?

Being that human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, Janet urges Conn students to get involved and become aware of social issues. She also hopes that students who are interested in the cause will not only attend meetings, but CoAST’s events. Within her work, she interacts with victims of trafficking. Experiencing and witnessing the effects of oppression and injustice face-to-face, Janet hopes that students of Connecticut College realize what is going on in the world around them, especially in New London. Janet says, “People may have the common knowledge about human trafficking from news sources and CoAST’s events, but what they know only hits the surface. Living in such a sheltered environment, we all take for granted the lives we lead.”

Future plans?

This year, Janet plans on kicking off CoAST with a “Slave Free City Campaign” working with New London and the state of Connecticut. She will also be dedicating the majority of the year writing her book. After graduation, she hopes to attend the London School of Economics for her masters in Human Rights and Public Policy. Her long-term goals include getting a PhD, and becoming the Executive Director of Free the Slaves or a Senior Human Trafficking Consultant for the U.S. State Department.

HC Conn Coll wish Janet the best of luck in her senior year… though, we doubt she will need it!

Elyse Lebel is a senior at Connecticut College majoring in Psychology and Sociology. Studying abroad her spring semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, she loves to travel and learn about different cultures. As co-founder of the Her Campus branch at her school, Elyse has a strong passion and interest in writing, communications, and fashion. This summer, Elyse interned at Teen Voices, a non-profit magazine based in Boston, and is excited to continue to gain experience in online publication with the HC team!
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