Dressing to help the oppressed

GVL / Courtesy Rachael Rutkowski

GVL / Courtesy Rachael Rutkowski

Audra Gamble

On Saturday, Meghan Jordan walked across the graduation stage at Van Andel Arena wearing a dress underneath her Laker Blue cap and gown. Many other women did the exact same thing as Jordan this past weekend, but something about Jordan’s dress made her a little different.

Dec. 12 marked the 12th day in a row Jordan wore a dress, and she will continue to wear similar outfits throughout the entire month of December. This isn’t simply a fashion choice; Jordan is making a political statement through her wardrobe.

Jordan isn’t alone in this – multiple members of International Justice Mission, a student organization on campus, are joining together to raise awareness about human trafficking through their clothing choices.

The campaign, called “Dressember,” is an international effort to raise awareness about the realities of modern human trafficking. International Justice Mission, an organization with chapters all over the world, will be raising money for human trafficking-related charities during the month of December, as well. As of Dec. 11, the total amount is already more than $300,000.

Though the Grand Valley State University of International Justice Mission has raised only $395, their main goal is to educate fellow students about human trafficking.

“I’ve had people asking ‘why are you in a dress or ‘why do you look so nice?’ It’s been cool to tell people and give them information about human trafficking, even if it’s just a two-minute spiel,” said Rachael Rutkowski, club president.

Rutkowski said that when she talks about human trafficking, she emphasizes the issue on a local level.

“It gets them thrown off that (human trafficking) happens in West Michigan,” she said. “You can see the concerned look on people’s faces. It inspires compassion in them and could lead them to getting involved. We hope that people become aware that this happens close to home.”

So far, the participating women in the student organization have been lucky with good weather to aid them in their mission, but since most of the Dressember participants don’t wear dresses all the time, there have been a few challenges.

“It’s been hard. I’m more of a girly girl, so I have lots of dresses, and we’re incorporating skirts into this too,” Rutkowski said. “I also went to Goodwill and got a bunch of $5 dresses. It (was) only day 11 and I’m running low on dresses that I haven’t worn yet.”

For Jordan and Rutkowski, the extra effort they have to put in to getting ready for the day is minimal compared to the importance of the cause they’re passionate about.

“The beauty of Dressember is that it can be done anywhere,” Jordan said. “Wearing a dress every day is a simple change to make. (It is) giving us a chance to tell (people) about Dressember, human trafficking and ways they can get involved in the fight for freedom and dignity.”

After the semester ends, the women will continue to wear dresses at home, all the way until New Year’s Eve. Jordan hopes that her dedication to the campaign and cause will rub off on her classmates she is leaving behind.

“I hope that the GVSU community not only becomes more aware of human trafficking but realizes the power of a passionate person,” she said. “ Although each person in our group will only raise a few dollars, the Dressember organization raised $462,000 last year and is on their way to raising our $1 million goal this Dressember. Every person on campus has a role to play as a global change agent.”

As for Rutkowski, she’s already got her Christmas as New Year’s Eve dresses picked out.

“We’re wearing dresses all the way through,” she said.

To donate to GVSU’s Dressember fundraiser, go online to https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/fundraise/team?ftid=64159.