Coming Together Through Identity: Geography Major Jody Nguyen Tran and the Vietnamese Student Association at UW

Portrait of Jody Nguyen Tran

With graduation coming up next year, senior geography major Jody Nguyen Tran reflects on her three years of involvement with the Vietnamese Student Association at UW (VSAUW). While Jody "originally wanted to join" in her first year, she found that she "never had the courage to leave my comfort zone to join a new club. But during my second year, I had a friend who went to school out-of state telling me about her experience at the VSA at her university. It gave me some interest to join the VSA at the UW and I felt the need to try a new environment, looking to connect with new people." This was the encouragement Jody needed to get involved, and the result is a deepening connection to her fellow students and the broader Vietnamese-American community. "The reason that I continue to come back each year was the connections and bonds that I built with the people in the community. The relationships that I had from joining VSAUW played a large part because I really value these people a lot.  I learned more about myself, how I interacted, how I put myself out there, and what I really care about through working alongside with these people.  Although we are all students with different majors and background, we come together through our identity and that is what I really hold close to my heart."

On developing as a leader and taking on a wide variety of projects within the organization: My first year on the team was as the media intern and that position gave the chance to explore more of my creativity. I am into photography and editing but being the media intern allowed me to work with media platforms... The second year, I was the media chair and this was actually my first time in a leadership position in my life. Back in high school, I never held a leadership role because of my timid personality. So this was definitely different and I had the opportunity to work with amazing and talented individuals by leading the media team for VSAUW. This allowed me to grow as a leader, I learned how I work with different types of work ethics... [This year] I had this feeling inside me that I wanted to come back and wasn’t done with giving back. That prompted me to consider coming back as the president and so I did. I am especially excited for this year’s 12th biennial female collegiate cultural pageant, Hoa Khôi Liên Trường, because the theme is about Womxn Empowerment. We want to bring together Vietnamese female college students who are looking for an opportunity to showcase the Vietnamese culture, raise money for our philanthropy, and provide scholarships for young womxn. I love the growing concept because living in a traditional Vietnamese home, my parents had me growing up with certain gender roles like telling me how I should behave and act in public/private. Time has turned and a new generation of Vietnamese womxn are ready to become leaders. Another project that I am a part of which is coming up in mid-december is Northwest Vietnamese Student Association’s (NWVSA) leadership conference, Summit. Summit’s theme this year is "K(no)w History, K(no)w Self."  We want our generation to learn from our roots and heritage and take that knowledge to make impacts in our communities through civic engagements.  

On outreach and support with the broader Vietnamese Seattle community: Being on the VSAUW officer team for three years now, I’ve noticed our establishment with the Vietnamese Seattle community. Many organizations in the International District Chinatown are always welcoming us to be involved with volunteering and doing clean-ups in the ID. But what has always been missing was our civic duties as students in Seattle. Prior to this year, we have always considered VSAUW to be “apolitical” because of the harsh history. I felt that it was really restricting and closing doors to conversations for our generation to talk about especially with our family and friends.  The idea of re-branding and adjusting our mission statement came to me through learning from my friends and attending a UNAVSA (Union of North American Vietnamese Student Associations) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In the process of getting ready for the year, I wanted to add three important actions: learning, educating, and taking action. I want the officer team and members to learn by listening to others’ stories and starting conversations, educating themselves rather than hiding away their identity, then taking what they learn into a form of action. VSAUW had the honor to work with the Southeast Asian American Education Coalition (SEAeD) and the Khmer Student Association (KhSA) to have a one-day conference for 8-11th grade Southeast Asian students called the 2018 Rising SEAs Conference. It was a day for students to learn how to be civically engaged in their community, what it means to be empowered in their culture, and also to encourage the to seek further education after high school. We had a few guest speakers such as Joe Nguyen, the newly elected State Senator for the 34th legislative district, who came to talk about his story and experiences.

On transferring these skills to life after graduation: My involvement with VSAUW has grown my interest to working with more underprivileged and underrepresented communities, such as the Southeast Asian community in Seattle, to receive more access to resources... I hope that I leave this university with the mindset of giving. Although I am uncertain what my future will hold, I hope to use my skills in GIS to help communities in need for easier access to technology or even giving the basics of using software and programs. These communities have the lack of resources to learn technology skills because they are restricted and/or the language barriers. I hope to build a bridge between technology and the Southeast Asian community.