A journey of self discovery

On June 13, 2021, Bryanna Bui achieved a generational dream. It began decades ago as the hope of her Vietnamese Chinese immigrant parents that one day their daughter would graduate from college. As Bui’s name filled the homes of Huskies around the world during the virtual commencement ceremony that dream faded and, instead, became a reality.

Bryanna Bui

For years, Bui had felt the weight of the sacrifices her parents had made to provide her with a better life than the one they had. “I could not let them down,” she said. “I refused to give up on their dreams for me to receive the education and career opportunities they could not experience.”

Bui graduated from the University of Washington Bothell with two majors, one in Media & Communication Studies and another in Culture, Literature & the Arts. She also minored in Education & Society. This, however, is just the beginning of Bui’s many accomplishments. Another is that she was named to this year’s Husky100.

Each year, the UW recognizes 100 undergraduate and graduate students from the Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses who are making the most of their time at the University. The recipients actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom, applying what they learn to make a difference on campus and in the community. Bui is one of 12 students from UW Bothell to be recognized this year.

Finding her voice

As an Asian American woman, Bui often doubted whether she was good enough. “I was held to cultural and societal standards all my life that stereotyped me to be weak, obedient and submissive,” she said. “Although I never agreed with how the world saw me, I had conformed for most of my life because I believed it was necessary for me to be successful and work my way up in the world.”

Despite having little interest in the field, Bui felt constantly pressured by her community, her teachers and even her peers to excel in the sciences. “Growing up, I was surrounded by statements like, ‘You’re so good at math’ or ‘Study biology to become a pharmacist or nurse,’” she said.

After years of internalizing these messages, Bui felt like she didn’t have a voice or autonomy over her life.

College was a chance to finally distance herself from the expectations she had been raised with and grappled with all her life. “I made it my mission once I came to UW Bothell that the shelter that bounded me needed to break,” Bui said. “I was going to find my voice and figure out who I am meant to be.”

Her second quarter at UW Bothell, she joined the Her Campus chapter, an online journalism club focused on the empowerment of women through writing and media. “The club gave me a space to talk with other women about being female in college, and it helped me find my voice by writing articles about my culture and life experiences,” she said.

Resilience and empowerment

Bui went on to become the event director for the club and later the co-president. As the event director, she collaborated with the Womxn of Color Healing Circle on campus to plan the first annual Womxn of Color Empowerment Fair. Leveraging her skills in media and photography, she also hosted the fair’s photobooth to provide free, professional headshots for attendees.

“We invited women of color to meet and collaborate with one another to share their work,” Bui said, “and to practice resilience, healing and self-care in community.

“The experience taught me to expand my goal of advocating for women to include marginalized femme-identified communities,” she said. “For the first time ever, I was with inspiring, powerful women of color leaders and feminist activists.”

Dr. Julie Shayne, teaching professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, attended the fair and said it was a deeply moving day. “That event was transformative for the hundreds of women present — and Bryanna deserves partial credit for making it happen,” Shayne said.

Sharing the spotlight

By her second year, Bui was running for the Associated Students of UW Bothell, the campus student government, and was elected as the senator for outreach. “It was a big opportunity for me to help students who may have come to the University feeling alone,” she said. “Many are first generation and don’t feel like they have the resources to navigate college.

“My goal in student government was to break those boundaries of inaccessibility and use my communication skills to let them know they belong and can shape the success of their journey,” Bui said. “It was really important to me that they felt supported by their community.”

In the spirit of honoring her peers, she revamped and restructured the ASUWB Student of the Month program. She made a point to not just give recognition to the students who were already excelling and being acknowledged elsewhere on campus. Instead, she wanted to give credit to those whose contributions may not be as visible.

“I made sure that students could self-nominate and speak on their own experiences. Lots of students work full time and are accomplishing things outside of campus. They deserve to be recognized, too,” Bui said. “Others could be battling hardships and overcoming things in their personal life. That’s just as worthy of honor. Giving light to those students was the thought behind the restructure.”

Shayne said Bui’s efforts were significant. “It brought people together,” she said. “I shared the recipients of the Student of the Month program on the Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies Instagram and Facebook pages. It let everyone on the sites learn more about their incredible classmates.”

Doing your part

Moving up next to serve as ASUWB’s director of outreach, Bui helped a lot of students through the difficult challenges of 2020. From the pandemic to the many social uprisings, there was a lot for people to process, she said. The increase in Asian hate crimes was particularly hard for Bui and others in that community.

“I posted graphics and shared resources for students to support them remotely,” she said. “I am really proud of that because despite going through it myself as a Chinese and Vietnamese student, I was still able to use my position to help others. I did my part in making a difference.”

According to Shayne, Bui has been an inspiring mentor to other women of color, especially Asian American women who deserve to see leaders who look like them. “UW Bothell has shown Bryanna what she is capable of — and it has shown her how important role models are,” she said. “She has been very dedicated to paying it forward by becoming a mentor and leader herself.”

Lessons learned

It isn’t the leadership positions, awards or even graduating from college that Bui considers to be her greatest accomplishment. It is, rather, what she “unlearned.”

“I had to unlearn all of the negative messages and stereotypes that exist in society about Asian women like me. I had to see that what others say are flaws are actually the very things that make me beautiful, empowered and strong,” she said.

“Unlearning those messages allowed me to see myself as an Asian woman in a positive light. It gave me back my voice, my power and the direction of my future.”

Now, Bui works as a youth development intern at the Port of Seattle where she strives to provide equitable opportunities for communities and youth who are furthest from advantage.

“Use your knowledge to empower and educate somebody else and make a difference, however big or small,” she said. “That’s the greatest lesson I learned from UW Bothell.”

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