Students Raise Human Trafficking Awareness With Red Sand Art


MTSU students poured red sand into sidewalk cracks on Sept. 2, 2022 as part of the Red Sand Project to signify the countless victims of human trafficking who regularly “fall through the cracks.” Staff from the Rutherford County Health Department hosted the event between the McWherter Learning Resource Center and the Science Building and educated students on the reality of modern human trafficking. (Photo by Bill Lickman)

Story by Serena Vasudeva

On Friday, in the grassy area in front of the Science Building, volunteers hosted an interactive art installation from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m in order to raise awareness for human trafficking.

The piece is part of the Red Sand Project, created by artist Molly Gochman in 2014 to raise awareness for human trafficking. Environmentally friendly sand is provided for free through the project to any interested group. The packets are then poured into sidewalk cracks. 

“The sand represents the men, women, and children that are falling through the cracks because we are not paying enough attention to this issue,” Kristi Stringer, an assistant professor involved with the Health and Human Performance and the Public Health Departments, said. 

In 2020 alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline documented a total of 10,583 human trafficking cases nationwide. Of those cases, a little over 7,000 were instances of sex trafficking. Locally, Tennessee had 165 cases reported in 2020, 123 of which were instances of sex trafficking.

Stringer explained that awareness can help people learn how to spot trafficking. Trafficked people usually live in overcrowded homes with their employers. They may act fearful, give responses that seem scripted or have bruises. 

Sydney Morris, the administrative supervisor of the Rutherford County Health Department, was also present at the installation. She handed out infographics about trafficking as well as answering questions for students. According to her, being aware of one’s surroundings can help prevent trafficking. Despite popular belief, traffickers are not always strange men, but they can be partners, friends or neighbors. 

“This is a way for the community or Middle Tennessee State Univeristy students to stop and just notice human trafficking. This subject, like many subjects, is not talked about enough,” Morris said.

Around 50 students participated. Some dumped sand in the grooves between concrete panels while others patched small holes in the sidewalk. The overflowing sand became a record for footprints and tire tracks as students walked to class. The installment covers the sidewalks between the Ned Mcwherter Building and the Science Building. Fringes of sand can also be found on the walkway between the David Science Building and Todd Art Gallery.

The Red Sand Project works to raise awareness of human trafficking by filling sidewalk cracks with bright red sand to signify the countless victims of human trafficking who regularly “fall through the cracks.” On Sept. 2, 2022, staff from the Rutherford County Health Department hosted a Red Sands Project event on MTSU between the McWherter Learning Resource Center and the Science Building and educated students on the reality of modern human trafficking. (Photo by Bill Lickman)

One participant, Malik Sexton, is a computer science major from Nashville. Pouring the sand reminded him of the bright billboards and public service announcements on the radio.

An MTSU student pours red sand into a sidewalk crack on Sept. 2, 2022 as part of the Red Sand Project to signify the countless victims of human trafficking who regularly “fall through the cracks.” Staff from the Rutherford County Health Department hosted the event between the McWherter Learning Resource Center and the Science Building and educated students on the reality of modern human trafficking. (Photo by Bill Lickman)

“Human trafficking was a huge problem… it was mainly due to MS13, those guys are crazy. Just snatching little girls and grown women off the streets,” Sexton said.

He noted that the PSAs helped the people of Nashville stay safe and identify warning signs. Stringer believes the state still has room to improve and should run campaigns in order to alert the public of resources and warning signs. 

Brianna Turchiano, a food science major, was walking from the student union when she passed by the tent. She participated because she wants to learn how to make a difference in her new community. 

“It really shows when you just see all the red sand going in the cracks how big of a problem that is,” Turchiano said.

She thought that it was important for MTSU to host events for social causes in order to rouse students from their studies to look at the bigger picture. 

Nashville also has a Red Sand installment that was created in July. Morris visited it recently and noted that even after a month, some of the sand still remains despite rain, wind and foot traffic.  She predicts the MTSU installation will last just as long. 

If you know someone who needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-558-6484.

To contact News Editor Matthew Giffin, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News

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