The Buckeye discusses his plans for the future and his work against human trafficking.
In late November, Ohio State University announced that Henry Wu, a fourth-year philosophy and political science major, had been named a Rhodes Scholar for 2020. It’s the third time in four years that a Buckeye has received the prestigious annual award, which supports graduate studies for 32 U.S. students at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Wu, whose family emigrated from China, received the scholarship for his work studying migration patterns and fighting human trafficking, according to the release. He will leave in October 2020 for Oxford, where he’ll study for two years. Via email, he shared his plans and hopes for his time abroad.
What will be the focus of your time in the Rhodes Scholarship program?
As migration continues to increase around the world, it is more important than ever to understand human movement, the obligations of states to migrants and how to intervene to protect fundamental human rights. And I’m specifically interested in studying human trafficking.
I saw that you're double majoring in philosophy and political science. What appeals to you about those subjects?
For me, this was the perfect blend of “theory” and “practice.” In philosophy, I had the chance to think about some of our fundamental ethical principles—in political science, I have learned how these principles might map onto the real world.
You were selected because of your work fighting human trafficking. What interests you or motivates you about that work?
In my first year at Ohio State, I heard from nonprofit professionals about the issue of human trafficking, a modern-day form of slavery that was happening just a couple miles from my classroom.
There are over 20 million individuals in situations of modern slavery worldwide. It might seem like a faraway problem, and we often forget about the men, women and children who are trapped in the worst forms of exploitation right here at home. We take our own freedom for granted because victims of human trafficking are made invisible to society. That is what makes this issue so challenging, but this is also what motivates my own work.
Does the fact that your family immigrated here inform that work in some way?
Yes, definitely. My own background informs my work in a very direct way—as an immigrant, I’m extremely fortunate that I was not put in situations that would have made my family vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. For my family, the American flag represented opportunity: a chance to experience political, economic and social freedom. After I became a citizen, I saw how important it was to fight for these values.
What was the idea behind the Enlighten organization you started, and what type of work does it do?
Enlighten dedicates itself to creating a culture of compassion for human trafficking survivors in the city of Columbus and throughout Ohio. In the past, we have focused on awareness and outreach efforts, partnering with amazing survivor-led nonprofits such as the S.O.A.P. Project.
Recently, we have also worked closely with Empowerment Court at the Moritz College of Law, a specialized program for juvenile survivors and victims of trafficking. For juveniles, a day in court can be an incredibly stressful experience. We’ve been able to host mentorship and recreational activities—for example, taking the individuals of Empowerment Court to COSI for a day.
Juvenile survivors and victims of trafficking have their lives disrupted. We hope that this program provides an opportunity to reclaim a sense of normality—for kids and teens to have a happy and healthy childhood.
What sort of work do you envision doing in your career?
I hope to attend law school to develop the practical skills necessary for a career in international law and policy. I’m interested in using my experiences studying in the U.K. to lead global anti-trafficking efforts.
What do you think you'll miss most about Columbus while you're away?
To be honest, I think I’ll miss all of the local breweries. Columbus has a great craft beer scene, and I’ll miss trying new places with friends.
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