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United Against Trafficking: Celebrating Change at the 2024 Polaris Star Awards and HTMS Center’s New Beginnings

UCF Rosen College hosted the 2024 Polaris Star Awards, uniting leaders and organizations against human trafficking, underscoring their commitment to education and advocacy in the fight against exploitation.
By Sarah Hall & Holly Robbins | February 1, 2024

Celebrating the intersection of advocacy and education in the heart of Orlando, the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management proudly hosted the 2024 Polaris Star Awards on January 26, 2024. This prestigious event, organized by United Abolitionists, Inc. in partnership with ‘It’s a Penalty,’ brought together leaders, visionaries, and changemakers dedicated to the fight against human trafficking. Our campus served as a beacon of hope and action, emphasizing the hospitality industry’s crucial role in combating exploitation. The Center for the Study of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery (HTMS), with its recent move to Rosen College, stands at the epicenter of this renewed focus, embodying the promise of a brighter future free from the shadows of modern slavery.

The HTMS Center’s relocation to Rosen College marks a pivotal moment in the academic community’s fight against human trafficking. Under the stewardship of Dr. Jessica Wickey Byrd, the center’s newly appointed executive director, and the research leadership of Dr. Tingting Zhang, the center is poised to leverage its new surroundings to amplify its mission. This strategic move harnesses the college’s unparalleled resources, expertise, and position within the hospitality industry, offering an innovative platform for education, research, and community engagement dedicated to eradicating human trafficking.

Rosen College’s commitment to this cause is both deep-rooted and dynamic. With over $8 million in grants secured for pertinent research and education, the college has become a formidable force in the battle against trafficking. It has enlightened more than 2,700 students, equipping them with the knowledge to identify and combat trafficking within their future workplaces, thus creating a ripple effect of awareness and vigilance that extends far beyond the campus boundaries.

The partnership between the HTMS Center and organizations such as United Abolitionists and It’s a Penalty exemplifies the collaborative spirit necessary to confront the complexities of human trafficking. United Abolitionists, with its holistic approach to rescuing and supporting victims, aligns seamlessly with the center’s educational mission, providing a tangible link between theoretical knowledge and practical action. Similarly, It’s a Penalty leverages high-profile sporting events to raise awareness about trafficking, illustrating the power of strategic campaigns in shining a light on hidden atrocities. These partnerships underscore the multifaceted strategy required to dismantle trafficking networks and support survivors, integrating Rosen College’s educational excellence with on-the-ground expertise and advocacy.

The 2024 Polaris Star Awards served as a vibrant showcase of this collective endeavor, recognizing the tireless efforts of individuals and organizations across the spectrum of prevention, rescue, and rehabilitation. From law enforcement officials like Chad Goodling to international non-profits and corporate allies such as Hilton Hotels & Resorts, the awards highlighted the diverse yet united front against trafficking.

As the HTMS Center embarks on its journey at Rosen College, its mission is clear: to educate and empower the next generation of hospitality leaders to be vigilant and proactive in the fight against human trafficking. This alignment of academic excellence with practical application sets a new standard for how institutions can contribute to societal challenges, promising not only to educate but to inspire action and change.

For an inspiring overview of the evening, watch the highlight video here

To view a gallery of photos from the 2024 Polaris Star Awards, please visit our gallery here

For more information about the UCF Center for the Study of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery housed at the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, please visit us here

For more information on the organizations involved in the Polaris Star Awards, please visit:

United Abolitionists, Inc here

It’s a Penalty here