Although Remi Pomaranski, ’16, always felt a calling to work for human rights, she had a hard time focusing how to best use her own skills and abilities to make a real difference until she began working with local organizations.
Her interests led her to Monti Datta, who teaches a Sophomore Scholars in Residence course called Human Rights and Modern-Day Slavery. Pomaranski, who was president of the campus chapter of Amnesty International, served as the resident assistant for the class in 2013–14, and interned with The Gray Haven, a local nonprofit for victims of human trafficking in Virginia. This summer, she went home to Michigan to look at the issue in her own community with the Michigan Abolitionist Project in Utica, thanks to the Chaplaincy Summer Internship program.
“We met so many survivors,” Pomaranski said of Datta’s SSIR course. “Hearing their stories, it breaks your heart. But seeing their strength, it gives you strength to support them in their journey forward. It made me realize we need more people aware and educated about the issue so we can fight it.”
While at Gray Haven in Richmond, Pomaranski helped with publicity by organizing a Monument Avenue 10K crew to raise awareness, organizing a purse drive with two of her SSIR classmates, and collecting food for victims. She initially worried that her work wouldn’t make enough of a difference, but she learned that “all these little things were building up.”
“It was something perhaps frustrating but such a good thing to learn — I’m not going to be on the front lines,” she says. “I’m not seeing direct results. But when it’s engaging with such a large, complex issue, you have to take a step back and say, ‘that was a little success.’”
Her work this summer as a communications assistant included planning a fundraiser for a residential safe home for adult trafficking survivors in Michigan, and promoting the organization on social media and other communication channels, as well as researching local resources in the area to compile a database to help provide services for survivors. Through her work, she says she has developed her communication and teaching skills, in addition to exploring how her faith is intertwined in the movement. That lens, she says, allowed her to connect to new parts of the community and build authentic relationships.
In his SSIR, Datta’s class traveled to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio; the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking in Los Angeles; and the State Department in Washington, D.C. They also met with Kevin Bales, an internationally-renowned scholar on slavery. As the class RA, Pomarasnki would meet with Datta weekly; he says she played “a key leadership role” in the course. “She has a strong blend of intelligence, compassion, and civic mindedness that is exemplary,” he says.
For their capstone, Pomaranski and her classmates creating a mini documentary around their own definitions of slavery and their hope for the future. They interviewed each other, along with Datta, Bales, University President Ed Ayers, contacts they made on each of the trips, and several survivors. Although she met with each of her peers throughout the year as their RA, she said it was “amazing to see such varied perspectives and experiences” once they put all the pieces together.
“We all ended up at very different places,” she says.
Pomaranski’s own research — tying into the “anthropology nerd” in her — has focused on the “warping of normal,” whether it’s the distortion of masculinity through popular culture and the pornography industry and how men are taught to buy girls, or how girls and women can be vulnerable because abuse has twisted their concept of sexuality and sex. “There is never one story for these women,” she says, “but rather a gut-wrenching interwoven tale of heartbreak and abuse.”
Working directly with survivors has weighed on Pomaranski’s heart, and she learned from her work this summer that her skills were best suited for supporting the movement through communications, research, and teaching.
“I have witnessed how one conversation can change everything for one person,” she says.