Heart to HEART: Roselyn Buensuceso ’19 talks getting political with FASA, fighting human trafficking

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Roselyn Buensuceso '19 founded the human trafficking awareness organization HEART and counts her experience with FASA as one that has contributed to both her identity and academics. COURTESY PHOTO / ROSELYN BUENSUCESCO

In high school, Roselyn Buensuceso ’19 watched her friends pine after dream schools while she navigated financial aid packages. When the College of William and Mary made her the best offer, she accepted and started hoping for the best. Now, as she prepares to graduate, she said it’s the best decision she’s ever made, allowing her to bring her heart and HEART—Human Engagement, Awareness and Response to Trafficking — to Williamsburg.

Early on during her freshman year, Buensuceso got involved with the Filipino American Student Association to learn more about her history and culture. She soon became the district representative, connecting the College with universities in Virginia and North Carolina who participate in the Filipino Intercollegiate Network and Dialogue. While she said she really enjoyed getting to plan and create events that drew students from other schools, her favorite part has been serving as FASA’s culture chair.

In this position Buensuceso’s responsibilities include planning FASA’s annual Culture Night, which is the organization’s biggest event each year drawing in over 400 people. She is working to write a script for the show, titled “Sa Pagitan.” While the plot of the show will remain secret until the curtain rises, she said that this year’s theme is much more political than themes of years past.

“My freshman year I was one of the lead actors. We spotlight our new members as lead actors our freshmen year. It’s been a rewarding experience each year and now I am putting on my own show.”

“I have participated in the show through all of my years here,” Buensuceso said. “My freshman year I was one of the lead actors. We spotlight our new members as lead actors our freshmen year. It’s been a rewarding experience each year and now I am putting on my own show.”

In her first show, Buensuceso was the best friend of a researcher who had just visited the Philippines. The researcher found a relic and consulted Buensuceso’s character about whether or not she should bring it back to put in a major museum. For Buensuceso, this show highlighted a major conflict in today’s society about artifacts, like the show’s fictional relic.

For Buensuceso, FASA not only connected her to her culture, it also connected her to her academic experience at the College. After her first semester, she learned about Asian Pacific Islander American Studies and theatre professor Francis Tanglao Aguas, who at the time was the only Filipino faculty member. She took “Acting Asian American” with him later that year, and said she loved getting to learn about Asian-American history and race relations in the United States. From there, she declared a major in APIA.

“During my sophomore year, I took Intro to Asian and Pacific Islander American studies with [APIA and English professor R. Benedito Ferrao], which segued my journey to majoring in APIA,” Buensuceso said. “… For the midterm, we had a group project where we had to create a unit for the class through a creative medium. My group decided to tackle the exotification of the Asian-American body and we thought a sexy magazine like Cosmopolitan was the best way to showcase that. I ended up being the cover girl and it was such an empowering experience to subvert the narrative that Asian-American women are objects to be fetishized.”

Buensuceso said that she had never seen women that looked like her in magazines, so creating a mock magazine cover with headlines like “Exotification of the Asian American Body,” “Getting PC in the Bedroom” and “32 Ways to Smash the Patriarchy” was a powerful experience.

Along with her major in APIA, Buensuceso is also majoring in kinesiology with a concentration in public health. While she now sees intersections between her majors, she also was inspired to major in kinesiology because of her older sister who works in a public health field.

Through these academic experiences, Buensuceso built the framework to get involved with Health Outreach Peer Educators and founded HEART, the College’s first student organization that addresses the issue of human trafficking. During her freshman year, she went on a Branch Out Alternative Break Trip to the Safe House of Hope in Baltimore, Maryland, where she worked with survivors of sex trafficking.

“That was also a spontaneous decision,” Buensuceso said. “I saw the announcement in a Student Happenings email. I knew little to nothing about human trafficking. I went on a weeklong break with these other amazing women and it was so impactful to meet sex trafficking survivors that were my age. If my situation had been a little bit different that could have been me. Coming back to this little bubble was so weird. No one knew about it, no one was talking about it. William and Mary hadn’t had organizations in the past that addressed human trafficking.”

With a small group of the women who had gone on the Branch Out trip, Buensuceso began the process of creating a new recognized student organization. They wrote a constitution, picked a name and began planning ways they could bring discussions of human trafficking to campus and the City of Williamsburg. Buensuceso said that during the first year, she was HEART’s service chair, acting as the liaison between the organization and larger service groups.

“It’s very surreal,” Buensuceso said. “I admit that I get something like an imposter syndrome because everyone here is so accomplished, and they’ve done so many cool things. … It’s very cool to look back on [founding HEART] and I’m proud. That’s my proudest accomplishment here and I hope it continues after I graduate.”

Buensuceso said that she and the other founders decided to take a step back after the first year to allow new members to take leadership positions, become trained in working with survivors and learn about different factors that contribute to human trafficking. Now, she said the group runs events like Tie Dye Against Trafficking, a fundraiser where people tie-dye clothes and donate proceeds to the International Justice Mission. HEART also has a Valentine’s Day bake sale in the Sadler Center.

The activism that Buensuceso engages in through her roles with HEART, HOPE and the Orientation Aide program are important to her because of her own struggles navigating the College as a first-generation student and an Asian-American student at a predominantly white university.

“There have been times I’ve missed events because I had to work, sometimes multiple jobs, and my sophomore year I had to turn down a study abroad opportunity because the scholarship they offered wasn’t enough to offset the financial burden.”

“There have been times I’ve missed events because I had to work, sometimes multiple jobs, and my sophomore year I had to turn down a study abroad opportunity because the scholarship they offered wasn’t enough to offset the financial burden,” Buensuceso said. “That’s why now I try to make myself a visible resource to students.”

Looking forward to graduation, she’s hoping to enjoy meals at The Daily Grind and partake in more spontaneous adventures with her friends. Afterwards, she’s looking for jobs in areas of social justice, women’s health or anything involving APIA issues.

“I’ve definitely become a lot more confident in myself and more opinionated,” Buensuceso said. “… Hopefully I will be somewhere doing activism and social justice work. I didn’t expect to get this involved throughout my time here, but it’s something I have really grown to be passionate about.”