Forum features 'Not for Sale' founder
As a follow-up to last spring's Veritas Forum on "Science and God," 17 Rice Christian fellowships and Houston-area churches sponsored the second Veritas Forum at Rice on Wednesday. The speaker this year was David Batstone, founder of the "Not for Sale" campaign, which focuses on bringing awareness to worldwide human trafficking. The Veritas Forum is a nationwide Christian program started at Harvard University, Michael Karim, current head of the planning committee of the Veritas Forum, said. After hearing about the fruitful conversations such forums generated among students and faculty, he said he and other members of Christian fellowships felt inspired to start one at Rice, beginning with last year's "Science and God" discussion.
"We are trying to deal with the hardest questions of life, and finding ways to address them as Christians," Karim, Rice's joint campus minister, said.
On Wednesday, Batstone tried to address how his Christian faith motivates him toward the abolition of modern-day slavery, more commonly called human trafficking, and brought up examples of other abolitionists across the world.
Batsone, who is a professor of ethics at the University of San Francisco, said he discovered many years ago that his favorite restaurant was involved in slavery. He now tours the country to bring awareness to the plight of the millions of people currently enslaved.
"I wasn't looking for slavery - it found me," Batstone said.
In his talk, Batstone said that Houston is one of the major ports for the trafficking of 17,000 people each year into the United States for slavery.
"I think this year's topic speaks to different aspects of interaction between faith and the world we live in," Sherry Wang, a Jones College senior, said.
The forum at Rice must petition the Veritas Forum headquarters every time it wants to feature a speaker, Dennis Shung, a member of the planning committee at Sid Richardson College, said. Shung, a Sid Rich senior, said that the process allows the Veritas Forum to maintain the quality of its speakers on the college campuses. Last year, Francis Collins, the founder of the Human Genome Project and current director of the National Institute of Health, spoke on his experience of being a scientist and a Christian.
Shung said that since Rice has so many science majors, last year's forum drew more people than this year's event. Last year, there were around 2,000 students that filled the Shell Auditorium in the Jones School and overflow rooms across campus; this year, Karim estimates that there were well over 400 attendees, but there was no need for additional rooms.
At first, Karim said, the planning committee wanted to have a topic more related to integrating faith and science. However, when it became clear that the speakers they had in mind would not be free, human trafficking came to the forefront of the committee's discussion. Therefore, Karim said, the planning team decided to explore a new theme this year, and invited Batstone to speak.
The book-signing following the forum featured approximately 10 abolitionist organizations that let students sign up to get involved in putting what they had just heard into action. A group of underclassmen spoke to Batstone about starting a "Not for Sale" chapter at Rice, to which Batstone responded positively, mentioning he already had several plans to raise awareness. The Lutheran Campus Ministry is organizing a Spring Break trip around Texas to raise awareness in Christian churches of human trafficking, Brad Fuerst, the campus pastor for the ministry, said.
"I knew nothing about slavery before this," Wendy Liu, a Lovett College freshman, said. "Now that we at Rice know, we can do something about it."
Karim said that next year's Veritas Forum is still up in the air. Some on the planning committee have suggested more of a panel form, in which a speaker and faculty hold more of a discussion. Whatever the decision, Karim said, they hope that the Veritas Forum will continue to raise questions and encourage dialog within the Rice community.
Batsone said he was amazed at the level of enthusiasm shown by the students. When he was first invited to speak at Rice, he was impressed that the campus was looking for ways to integrate many fields - such as humanities and social sciences - into finding practical solutions.
"This university has so much to offer to Houston and to the world," Batstone said. "Activism like this is an inspiring use of the education the students here receive.
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