Starting college amid a pandemic, Sophia Pelaez found it hard to connect with students online and have the same sense of community at USC that she would have had in person before she joined Troy Philippines.
Pelaez, a freshman majoring in journalism, first joined Troy Philippines to connect with others who shared the same cultural background and, despite the usual disconnection that comes with being online, said she was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of belonging when joining.
“Even though everything is online, I still feel comfortable on a Zoom call, like I felt more comfortable on a Zoom call with Pilipino club than I have in person with people I’ve known for longer,” Pelaez said. “I just think the sense of community and the upbeat energy of that club overcomes the barrier of awkward Zoom silence.”
Troy Philippines, the University’s only Pilipinx club, serves to create a safe, cultural space that promotes personal growth and cultural celebration, even for students who do not identify as Pilipinx.
Although this year presents the obstacle of members not being physically present, Troy Phi President Richelle Caday said she aims to uphold the same sense of community for new members as in years past.
“This year it’s always been my goal to recreate those spaces where people do feel like they are a community, recreate these spaces where people are able to see that family spirit or feel like they’re close to one another,” said Caday, a senior majoring in nongovernmental organizations and social change and psychology.
One way Troy Phi has made sure to involve new members is with Kuya Ate Ading, a big-little program that matches returning members with new members to create a family.
Organized by programming director Elianna Bautista, a sophomore majoring in occupational therapy, this year’s Kuya Ate Ading matching took the shape of Tinder-like profiles based on interest forms instead of the typical in-person social events Troy Phi would usually host.
“[For] a lot of our bigs, I encouraged [them] to send care packages beforehand so that their littles could open it during that day of reveals,” Bautista said. “Some people sent Postmates and things like that. So cute things that usually happen during reveals, I tried to implement online.”
For new members such as Pelaez, the big-little program has fostered new friendships and opened up the opportunity for members to make deeper connections.
“Even though I just met [my big], and I think this speaks to the entire environment of the club, she is just so welcoming and friendly, and she genuinely has felt like she wants to get to know me,” Pelaez said. “The big-little program has just been so fun and so fulfilling. It’s an awesome way to get to know new people and feel like I’m a part of something.”
But Troy Phi is much more than just a social club. It also looks to both educate on and celebrate the Pilipinx culture. Weekly meetings take on different subjects such as wellness workshops and discussions on identity.
A staple series of meetings for Troy Phi is during Pilipinx American History Month in October. Events during this month bring in a multitude of speakers and activities for students to learn about past and current events in Pilipinx culture, with this year’s online format spearheaded by co-community and culture chairs Anthony Manliguez and Gabbie Santos.
“The mission of [the community and culture chairs] this year for me and Gabbie was centered around what we call ‘island connectivity,’” Manliguez said. “We want to educate our members on the Philippines as a whole and as a country comprised of a myriad of islands, not just one collective whole.”
After growing up in both the Philippines and the United States, Santos, a sophomore majoring in psychology and law, history and culture, wanted other members to have the same cultural awareness and appreciation that she received with this year’s PAHM series.
“I realized that I kind of treasured my experience and wanted to help other people because there’s lots of Pilipinos here who didn’t have that experience [of growing up in the Philippines],” Santos said. “I want them to have the opportunity to do the same or learn about the Philippines in a way they wish they could.”
Kicking off the five-week PAHM series, former “The Voice” contestant Jej Vinson spoke on his experience and identity as a Pilipinx American immigrant. Following events included a discussion on Pilipinx representation by acapella group Filharmonic and professional NFL cheerleader Bianca Brooks, a dive into Pilipinx mythology of gods and goddesses and an exploration of Pilipinx languages with Kristian Kabuay, a calligraphy artist specializing in endangered Pilipinx writing systems. PAHM wraps up Thursday with actress Asia Jackson in a discussion of colorism and identity.
While this year’s PAHM series was not able to include events such as its usual Pilipino food feast, the online format opened up new kinds of opportunities. Manliguez, a sophomore majoring in linguistics and cognitive science, said that being online had its advantages — for instance, speakers were more accessible as they were able to call in from anywhere in the country. Celebrating PAHM over Zoom has also helped foster even more friendships with randomized breakout rooms.
“I think one of the beauties of breakout rooms is that they’re randomized, so you get to meet all these people from the organization. Whereas in person, we can stick with the people you know and circle up to them,” Manliguez said. “It’s one of my favorite things to see friendships blossom from breakout rooms and it’s one of the things that was so unexpected.”
With a growth in membership to about 150 students, Troy Phi has served in educating more students this year, coupled with strong family-like connections. Caday hopes to continue growing the Troy Phi community in both quantity and quality by constantly welcoming new members and advocating for the greater Pilipino community.
“Definitely the motto of Troy Philippines is ‘For the culture, for the love,’” Caday said. “We’re here for the love, for the love for each other, for the love for the club, for the love for our culture, like how that’s something that we really emphasize on and just being a community for folks.”
Disclaimer: Sophia Pelaez is part of the Daily Trojan staff.