I had the honor of presenting my final capstone project for my graduate program. The traditional format with a project like this is often through an online portfolio, a thesis, or research presentation. I decided to go off the cuff and do something different– like a TEDtalk-type presentation on some of the greatest lessons I learned tied in with the work I’ve done through my graduate program. It was important for me to do a verbal presentation to honor the method of oral history and for me to (literally) let my voice be heard. Huge thank you to the village of people who supported me in my graduate studies and nurtured my soul through these past two years. I’m so grateful for everything this program has afforded me, especially the growing community I get to be part of. Thank you to Eric Carnaje for his videography skills in recording my talk!

Transcript: 

Today I’m talking about risk taking.

I’ll start by sharing a story about my flight home from New York City to Los Angeles for winter break. I was in my first year of graduate school at the University of Vermont and I was feeling very tired and ready to be home.

While on the flight, I needed to use the restroom, so I’m going walking into this tiny closet and in that moment…it hit me. Actually the smell hit me first– that I had just stepped in shit.Actual, squishy under my foot, freshly made shit…I was wearing sandals.

I wanted to be angry, but there was really nothing to do. I had to sit with my shit-covered shoe for the rest of the flight.

And I got to thinking that– Sometimes it’s okay to laugh about the shitty parts of your life. It’s easy to be a jerk when the world is a jerk to you. Be compassionate anyway. It’s inconvenient to be kind. Do it anyway.

This concept returned to me I wrote a blog post called “Are you with social justice bully? 3 ways to navigate it.” Often times with being an advocate within higher education, it’s easy to side-eye the people who may not “get it” right away.

I got to thinking about power, privilege, race, sexuality, gender… and the elitism that comes with using social justice language in ways that are actually divisive rather than empowering. I know, because I’ve done it.

It attracted attention nationwide and was used for college classrooms, retreats and served as inspiration for the 2014 NASPA Boise ConFab. I co-facilitated a presentation with Dr. Leslie Webb for a room full of our student affairs and higher education community– everyone from undergraduate students to vice presidents. We dialogued about why practicing justice in our daily lives is so tough.

Practicing justice requires each of us to own what we don’t know and confronting really difficult interactions. It’s a risk.

We talked about the risk it takes to confront the things that make us uncomfortable, and even the risk of advocating for yourself, like saying “I love you but I actually don’t have the capacity to help you process your White guilt today.”

It would turn out that we named this session “Sitting In Your Shit.” We learned that day that sometimes it’s okay to sit in your shit… and not okay to sit in some else’s.

I can’t go on about risk-taking during my time in graduate school without noting the risk involved with me leaving my home of Southern California for Burlington, Vermont. I went from one of the most racially diverse places to the second Whitest state in the nation. And no wonder I could relate to being a social justice bully—I was running on empty, trying to fight the good night, while experiencing the racial trauma that comes with moving to Vermont! I wasn’t finding meaning in my graduate work and Vermont was getting colder and colder into the winter months. I was diagnosed with a form of depression and my father who I had not heard from in over ten years decided this was the best time to contact me again. I had a few things going on…

I knew I had to do something and I found comfort in learning more about my Filipina history and heritage. I wrote a paper called “Decolonizing Support For Filipino/a-American Students in the United States,” and one concept I will share is the phrase “Bahala na.”

Bahala na demonstrates the cultural value of thriving in the face of ambiguity and taking creative risks into the unknown. While there is no exact English translation for bahala na, it can be interpreted as a saying proclaimed when one is about to face the unknown and is leaving the worries to a higher divine being. This value of faith and tolerance for ambiguity is historically perceived as fatalistic by Westernized researchers, but it is actually a sign of strength, faithfulness, and readiness to take on events that are out of one’s control. The concept of bahala na can also be perceived as a connection to nature and how the constant environmental changes to the island, as a result of tsunamis and typhoons, can perpetuate an attitude of recognizing one’s limitations and control. This indigenous value is significant for educators to understand, because this attitude can be interpreted as cynical or a sign of low self-esteem. In contrast, bahala na is a brave risk it carries characteristics of strength, endurance, and dutifulness.

In my own healing and search for community, I learned that as much as I can try to have everything “handled,” have the perfect hair and makeup, and frankly, get shit done– there are some things that are simply out of my control. I was scared—I didn’t want to look at my life in the eye of the storm and name all the parts of my soul that were missing. There was no way I could’ve prevented or controlled my entire experience, only navigate them, ask for help, take baby steps. The village of people who carried me to the finish line, in every big and small way, are shareholders in my success. And I’m so thankful. My risk here was letting go of the life I thought I planned, and accept the life awaiting me—in a phrase, “bahala na!

Another way risk taking has shown up has been through my dating life. I did a leadership retreat a few years ago, and I wrote for a prompt asking me“ If a robber came and stole all your memories… What is ONE memory you would protect?”

And I wrote about my romantic relationships.

I came to realize that everything I know about good communication, time management, self-care and leadership, I first learned through dating.

During my graduate studies at the University of Vermont I wrote and published an article on supporting students of color in interracial relationships and presented on Sex Therapy for my Counseling Theory and Practice class.

And in my second year graduate school I did a lot of it… dating, that is.

I’m the type of person who loves love. I’m a believer that there will always be more work to do, but we have a very limited time with the people we love the most… to experience the relationships that make us feel alive.

And when I like someone I really like them.

I’ve been on some good dates and also some really awful ones. I had one date who told me that he was so tired of dating models and that’s why he liked me.

But I’ve also been on some really incredible dates. I had one really memorable date that was so good, I wrote down everything that happens in my journal.

And I read a little bit to you all now.

On our first date he brought me big, bright, yellow sunflowers and there was definitely an instant attraction to each other.

He was an Ivy League grad with humble beginnings, and a very sweet smile.

We shared a bucket of sweet potato fries, and talked about everything from our favorite type of beer to even our shared daddy issues. We debated on gender roles, racial dynamics, and despite falling in and out of faith, how we still do the sign of the cross before driving on the freeway.

He was playful and asked permission to hold my hand. We laid in a park and he pointed out the constellations.  During our first kiss he stopped to stare at me to say, you’re so pretty especially when you look so deep in thought. I write, it felt so natural and easy, and safe. And then there’s some other stuff that happened that I won’t read out loud.

So then you can imagine I was incredibly hurt when it ended. He told me that while he could see a future with me, but he was scared of getting hurt. He called me a risk.

Well, unfortunately he hadn’t learned yet that with great risk comes great reward.

So in true Trina form, I licked my wounds by doing research on dating anxiety and risk aversion with honor students for my research methods class.

In this and other research I’ve done, the research pointed that in order for relationships to be equitable– you must practice from a place of self-worth.

I decided to turn my experiences into lessons that could benefit others. I transformed my dating life into inspiration for dating workshops at the University of Vermont LivingWell center. I collaborated with university leaders and made a curriculum ranging from initiating a date to the similarities of being a good leader and a good partner. And even a workshop called “Breaking Up is Hard To Do.”

I was invited by UVM Panhellenic and UVM Equity Week, to conduct workshops and most recently, the Dismantling Rape Culture Conference committee for a roundtable titled “#tindernightmares: navigating the world of online dating”

The overarching theme of my work is related to self-love, healthy relationships, and looking at preventative measures against sexual violence on our college campuses. I do this by teaching students healthy ways to navigate rejection, risk in all forms, and self-advocacy while dating.

Taking a risk means knowing that you will get hurt, rejected, and may not get everything you want. Taking a risk means there are no guarantees and no promise of perfection. But we’ll also never know what learning, awareness, and love could happen if we don’t take that risk.