In a world where instances of hate, judgement, and mental health issues are seen within society everyday, one UCA student works to spread kindness, acceptance, and a smile wherever she goes.
Junior Brianna Vongvilay, originally from Fort Smith, AR, has been involved in multiple student organizations and interactions since her freshman year including UCA’s Young Democrats, UCA Student Ambassadors, Social Justice League, and most recently, Feminist Union, where she serves as the president.
“I chose [to come to UCA] because - I’ve always said this and will still say it even after I graduate - the people here are so opening,” Vongvilay said. “Not even just the campus, but the Conway community is what really drew me in.”
Even before coming to UCA, Vongvilay knew that she had a passion for helping and supporting others through activism and volunteering.
“I feel like my life is for others, if that makes any sense,” Vongvilay said. “I live so I love.”
Vongvilay credits the 2016 presidential election as one of the factors contributing to her current motivation to make a difference.
“I came from my campus tour at UCA the day after the 2016 elections, so the morning after the results came out, I left Fort Smith at 6 a.m., got [to Conway] at 8 a.m., and I just remember that feeling of defeat,” Vongvilay said. “I remember feeling like my identity and who I am as a person didn’t matter. So when I came back to Fort Smith [that day], I just noticed the shift in people’s attitudes and the shift in the culture.”
Choosing to major in psychology and double minor in addiction studies and treatment and public relations, she jumped directly into being the type of change she wanted to see.
“I credit basically all that I know about how to run an organization and the structure of an executive team to Young Democrats,” Vongvilay said. “I made some lifelong friends in [Young Democrats], and then at the end of my freshman year, I took over the Feminist Union, and have been the president since then.”
While talking about what Feminist Union has accomplished, Vongvilay beamed with pride as she listed off events and what the organization is truly about.
“[Feminist Union] does a lot of activism work to build a tight-knit community on and beyond campus just to show students that the Feminist Union is here for them. We take people as they are, and all are always welcome.”
In her future career, Vongvilay plans to use her passions and academic knowledge to help others who are struggling with eating disorders.
“Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to go into psychology,” Vongvilay said. “When I was in junior high and high school, that’s when I really decided that I wanted to go into behavioral addictions. After graduation, I plan on going into researching eating disorders and eating addictions at UAMS or [I] might go to grad school in California. We’ll see what happens...I know it’s something I’m meant to do.”
For new students, freshmen, or even those who are still looking to be a difference on campus, Vonvilay harps on the idea to not be afraid to be yourself.
“People throw rocks at things that shine. I faced so much ridicule in high school, and you know, even now in college, people from my hometown will say things about me. [But] I’m standing up for what I believe in,” Vongvilay said. “If you are passionate about something, and you want to stand up and voice your opinion, you should stand firm in your power and know your worth.”