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UST Communication Class Collaborates with NTZ to Educate the Public on Human Trafficking in Houston

Human Trafficking Press Conference Participants (l to r): Harrris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, UST student Rebecca Alcozar, representative from City Council Member Abby Lee Miller's Office, NZT President Jacquelyn Aluotto, UST President Richard Ludwick, UST Director of Digital Media Initiatives Dr.  Cesare Wright, Former U.S. Advisory Council Member Courtney Litvak and NZT Board Member Bishop James Dixon, The University of St. Thomas-Houston participated in a powerful press conference in the Malloy Hall boardroom on Tuesday, Jan. 31, with NTZ "No Trafficking Zone" and NTZ Faith to announce their innovative anti-trafficking collaborative. The organized joint effort involves college students in the UST Communication Department project-based practicum course, COMM 4393, under the leadership of Dr. Cesare Wright.

NZT unites organizations, centers of faith, sports and entertainment venues, corporations, government officials, celebrities and civic leaders in the fight to end the scourge of sex and human trafficking in all forms.

Given that January was Human Trafficking Prevention Month, NTZ wanted to tout the partnership and the students' work to fight this scourge.

"All efforts to combat human trafficking are needed," Jacquelyn Aluotto, NTZ president, said. “We have invited dignitaries, guests and the media to showcase a unique model at the University of St. Thomas that is cutting-edge and demonstrates the importance of innovative and collaborative solutions. NTZ's partnerships with educators, college students, law enforcement and faith leaders are extraordinary. The community benefits from this work, which increases public safety.

“NTZ is very blessed to have incredible impact partners,” Aluotto said. “We are grateful to have UST as a partner for the Unmuted podcast and innovative iniative. It is going to take all of us uniting to prevent and combat human trafficking in America. NTZ mission is to prevent, combat, and eradicate human trafficking by creating No Trafficking Zones throughout America.”  

Participating in the press conference were: 

Ø  UST President Dr. Richard Ludwick

Ø  UST Director of Digital Media Initiatives Dr. Cesare Wright

Ø  NZT President Jacquelyn Aluotto

Ø  NZT Board Member Bishop James DixonHum

Ø  Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, MLA in Political Science, '07

Ø  Former U.S. Advisory Council Member Courtney Litvak 

Ø  UST student Rebecca Alcozar

Ø  A representative from Houston City Council Member Abby Lee Miller’s Office; she serves as chair of the Public Safety Committee.

Full press conference livestream on KPRC CH 2


Ludwick welcomed the dignitaries, guests and media to UST and praised the partnership, Wright and the students involved in the project.

Wright explained that this course engages students with industry/community partners to learn academic skills while addressing real-world problems. The approach also empowers students and gives them agency. This course is part of a series of new Communication classes designed to connect students to meaningful career paths through experiential learning and industry partnerships. Wright developed the COMM 4393 course and works externally on anti-human trafficking, rape prevention and women's empowerment programs.

UST student Rebecca Alcozar presenting at the Human Trafficking Press ConferenceWright said, "This course is driven by Dr. Ludwick's vision for advancing the Catholic notion of ‘intellectual charity’ by providing students with the academic and technical skills to positively impact the community through the responsible use of emergent technology such as digital media, social media, etc.

"For instance, the students in this course, now offered for three semesters, created a podcast with MAX Studios to raise awareness and educate the public about human trafficking," he continued. "Sophomore Communication student Rebecca Alcozar, who participated in the first COMM 4393 cohort, has enrolled again to lead the student team this semester. The podcast includes interviews with victim advocates, survivor leaders, UST faculty and experts on human trafficking, including victims of Epstein/Maxwell and the Katy High School trafficking ring."

The goal of the podcast is to educate parents, students, and the public about the realities of human trafficking and how it intersects with our lives in ways that we might not always recognize. This means challenging the myths and misconceptions associated with sexual exploitation and trafficking, and providing real-world insights that empower the community to recognize, mitigate, and confront high-risk situations. The audience will hear from advocates, survivor leaders, policy experts, and others on the front line of the battle against human trafficking.

Sheriff Gonzalez introduced his Human Trafficking Unit employees, who attended, and praised them for their work on this issue. He talked about the dignity of the human person and how saving lives is a social justice issue.

Courtney Litvak, a victim of human trafficking, was snared at her high school during school hours in Katy, Texas. "All exploitation needs to end," she said. “I was trafficked first-hand. Now, I continue to educate on how prevalent exploitation is in the community.”

Bishop Dixon (Baptist pastor and Houston’s NAACP president) marveled at the innovative collaboration that organically evolved and now includes media, technology, law enforcement, and a University working together to solve the problem through educational means. He noted that Houston is a hotbed for trafficking. Bishop Dixon urged universities around the country to replicate UST's bold model.

"We need an army to combat human trafficking," he said. “I urge all community members to take up this cause and be part of the solution. Stand with us today, and be on the right side of history.”

The UST student podcast will be available soon on UST's MAX Studio's webpage and UST’s social media channels.