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ASU alum's humanitarian efforts earn Harvard fellowship

Ma Ying-jeou, President of the Republic of China, and ASU alum Aubrey Doyle
May 05, 2015

Arizona State University alumna Aubrey Doyle has been using her language and intercultural skills to fight human trafficking since she graduated in 2012, and she wants to do more.

Not only does she plan to continue her humanitarian efforts, Doyle wants to expand her influence by pursuing a Master in Public Policy in the fall, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University awarded her the Dubin Emerging Leaders Fellowship to do so.

Dubin Fellowships are given to students pursuing careers aimed at changing society and offer funding for two academic years, in addition to summer support for unpaid internships. Dubin Fellows also participate in a co-curricular program of weekly workshops and speakers, where they can connect with their peers to discuss international social issues.

Doyle’s journey as a human trafficking activist began shortly after she graduated from ASU's School of International Letters and Cultures’ Chinese Language Flagship program. Following her graduation, she took a year-long Fulbright Scholarship to Taiwan, where she worked as an English teaching assistant at public elementary schools.

Doyle was no stranger to Asia, having lived abroad most of her life in cities like Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing. However, on a short trip to Cambodia, she witnessed the horrors of human trafficking first-hand when she saw young girls selling themselves on the streets. After being confronted with the trafficking problem in Southeast Asia, her worldview radically changed. She has been deeply involved in human trafficking rescue since her return to the U.S.

Before going on her Fulbright study abroad, Doyle had signed to work for IBM as a financial consultant; when she returned, she moved to Chicago to begin both her job and her volunteer work in human trafficking rescue. The Chicago Dream Center is where Doyle made the first connection between her knowledge of Chinese and human trafficking activism. On a visit to the local anti-trafficking non-profit organization, the volunteers told Doyle that one of their biggest problems is that the majority of the trafficking victims they help are Chinese, and that they had no way to communicate with them. Doyle said she instantly found her calling and how she could be of help.

At the Chicago Dream Center, Doyle worked in victim outreach, where she spoke to Chinese women to help them understand their circumstances, explain what human trafficking is (many women, she said, are not even aware that they are trafficking victims), and tell them about the center’s recovery program.

Due to her full-time position at IBM, Doyle was not always available to help Chinese victims. In response to this need, Doyle put together “cosmetic manuals” that discretely included inserts with life-skills instructions about opening a bank account, getting healthcare, buying groceries, driving, and other survival tips. This creative disguise allows women to hide sometimes lifesaving information in plain sight. The booklets come in both English and Chinese, allowing volunteers at the Chicago Dream Center and other similar organizations to reach out to victims even when Chinese speakers are unavailable.

Doyle explained that her involvement in human trafficking rescue would not have been possible without ASU’s Chinese program.

“My Chinese, without question, is where it is because of ASU and the incredible opportunities that the School of International Letters and Cultures provided me: the opportunity to have a one-on-one Chinese tutor three times a week, the opportunity to take the majority of my classes taught exclusively in Mandarin Chinese, and the opportunity to study abroad in intensive Chinese programs," Doyle said. "It is because of my confidence in my Chinese, and the vast subjects I can discuss, that we have been able to reach victims who have been confined in the United States for over ten years and unable to talk to anyone, left completely vulnerable and isolated. For that, I am so grateful.”

“Aubrey Doyle is an inspiring human being, and we couldn't be more proud that she learned her critically important language and cultural skills through ASU's nation-leading Chinese Language Flagship program," said George Justice, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "She is a perfect example of how language and cultural understanding are critical to efforts to change the world for the better.”

One of the issues that Doyle noticed during her outreach in Chicago was that many of the non-profits lacked volunteers who were fluent in foreign languages, thus limiting their ability to serve victims – many of whom are from foreign countries. In response, Doyle proposed a program called “No Borders” to the Institute of International Education.

Through this program, alumni of the Institute of International Educations scholarship programs, including the Fulbright Program, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, would use their language skills to provide outreach services for victims. If the proposal is accepted, “No Borders” is expected to reach 30,000 victims of sex trafficking across major US cities by its first year.

Doyle is also involved in the Skyway Railroad, which she and a team started up in response to the lack of connectivity between the United States' numerous trafficking rescue and rehabilitation programs. Skyway Railroad is a modern-day Underground Railroad for victims of modern-day slavery. It aims to connect law enforcement, non-profits and corporations in order to make victim outreach, rescue and shelter more effective. Since January 2014, Skyway Railroad has helped over 20,000 trafficking victims.

Doyle looks forward to involving herself in the Women in Public Policy Program at Harvard, where she will push for legislation to help eliminate the demand for sex slavery by criminally punishing buyers of women and young girls. She is also eager to participate in the Carr Center’s Working Group on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, where she will learn from leading thinkers in the trafficking arena.

The Dubin Fellowship itself also presented enticing opportunities. “Since trafficking is an international problem with no borders, I believe I can benefit greatly from the collaboration and global citizenship that the Dubin Fellowship offers,” Doyle said.

“Aubrey Doyle is a remarkable individual with a remarkable story. Her academic success and her dedication to having a positive influence on people’s lives should make all of us at ASU proud," said Robert Joe Cutter, School of International Letters and Cultures Director and professor of Chinese. "It is especially gratifying for those of us associated with the program to see Aubrey’s appreciation for the skills she gained as part of the ASU Chinese Language Flagship."

Written by Mikala Kass, School of International Letters and Cultures intern

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