They’re calling it “a scholarship for healing and justice.”
On Tuesday, Southern Utah University announced the first-of-its-kind award for the state that will be specifically designated to help survivors and victims of human trafficking get a college degree.
The Juniper Scholarship will be open to applicants this month. And, so far, 43 full-ride grants have been funded by anonymous donors.
Kacie Malouf, the board chair and co-founder of the Malouf Foundation — the charitable arm of a northern Utah bedding company that focuses on fighting child sexual exploitation — said some survivors are trafficked by their families or lose contact with them. Then, they have no support system or financial help as they work toward recovery. That includes getting a job, finding a place to stay or pursuing higher education.
The foundation is partnering with SUU on the scholarship, and Malouf said she came up with the name based on the Utah juniper tree, which grows in the deserts around the Cedar City college.
“It’s ability to grow despite harsh conditions parallels the experience of many trafficking survivors, who despite being forced to endure cruel environments still found hope and freedom,” she said.
SUU Provost Jon Anderson added that the scholarship is meant to help students who are part of a vulnerable population but who aren’t typically assisted by other available awards applying to college. Applications for school obviously don’t ask about that kind of difficult experience. And it means those survivors can slip through the cracks, he said.
The scholarship, Anderson hopes, will change that, giving survivors the recognition for the challenges they’ve faced and a way forward at SUU, if they want it.
Students who receive the award will use it toward SUU’s new online bachelor’s program. It’s a degree in general studies, with 40 courses that can be completed virtually from anywhere in the country. You don’t have to have any previous college experience.
It will require being accepted at SUU, a copy of your high school diploma or GED, a short essay and a referral form from a doctor, therapist or social worker.
“We’re excited about what this scholarship can do for survivors,” Malouf said.
Tracking the number of people who are trafficked is difficult. A 2017 International Labour Organization report estimated 24.9 million people are in forced labor situations.
Some of those are individuals forced to work in agriculture. But experts believe most are minor girls being exploited and raped for money.
Earlier this year, the Malouf Foundation also announced that it would be funding a recovery center in Salt Lake City, focused on aftercare for survivors of trafficking — primarily working with girls between the ages of 11 and 18.