Activist Spotlight: Larissa Jeanniton
We’re very excited to announce our first spotlight of the Spring 2016 semester, Larissa Jeanniton! Larissa is a senior Acting major at Pace and the Assistant Artistic Director of The Dare Tactic, an RA and member of the Civility Team, and a performer with Girl Be Heard. Larissa has performed at the U.S. Mission at the U.N. in Geneva, helped to organize a panel of trans speakers to discuss issues affecting the LGBTQA community, met Malala Yousafzai, and more, so read on to find out about this amazing activist at Pace!
Year of Graduation: 2017
Major(s): BA Acting (International Performance Ensemble)
Minor(s): Criminal Justice
Career Aspiration: Professional Devised Theater Practitioner and/or Profession Independent Actor
What are some of the groups and projects that you have been involved with?
On campus, I have been very involved with the Pace Protests group.
I am the Assistant Artistic Director of The Dare Tactic, a non-profit theater company started by myself Giovanni Lemus, Vinny Eden Ortega, Quentin Madea, Allison Green and Spencer York. Check us out on Facebook!
As an RA, I am also a member of the Civility Team on campus that organizes Civility Week to promote awareness of diversity on campus (of race, sex & gender, economic status, etc.) and to support these differences among the student body. We carefully select activities that encourage discussion about issues relating to diversity on Pace’s Campus. This semester I was in charge of organizing a panel of trans speakers to discuss issues affecting the LGBTQA community and it was one of the most challenging and fulfilling projects I have organized in college so far.
Talking with your friends and family about what we need to do to help the environment, to help promote the advancement of people of color, to respect the rights of the female body- those are conversations that need to be had. Our generation needs your voice! Being civically engaged helps more people to hear it!
Can you tell us about any leadership roles you’ve had?
I am an RA at 182 Broadway this year for the Honors Floor! It has been very challenging at times, but I love, love, love my job. I love my residents and find that I am far more of a big sister/ mother character than I previously thought which was lovely. I was never able to do sports in high school, but I get to be on an actual team as an RA. I get to serve as the team captain of sorts for my floor, and a team player on the 182 Broadway RA team. It’s awesome!
We know you’ve engaged in activism both on and off-campus. What drew you to Girl Be Heard specifically?
Girl Be Heard sounded like a dream opportunity to further develop my voice in the theater. When I first came to Pace, I was excited to be an acting major in this awesome program but I felt I needed something else- a reason to speak or tell a story on stage. My professor, Ashley Marinaccio, was my IPE professor my freshman year (and total social justice bad ass). She turned me on to the idea of social justice theater and I ran with it. I was inspired in ways I never could have imagined and then Ashley told me about her theater company, GirlBeHeard. It was literally a theater collective that specialized in cultivating/developing the voices and stories of girls to be performed. Ashley was probably the reason I auditioned simply because I wanted to be her so bad my freshman year (and still do! haha), but I stayed because of the ways it challenged me to grow not just as an artist but as a young black woman in college in 21st century America.
We are so interested in your recent trip to Geneva. Tell us all about it!
Oh my goodness. So, so, SO amazing. Our flight, room, and food were taken care of by grants given to GirlBeHeard. Myself and 4 other girls had been working on this script about child marriages, sex slavery, education, domestic abuse and culture as experienced through girls around the world since August of this year. We had to do a lot of research and that part was definitely emotionally draining at times. At the same time, reading about the harsh realities of what so many girls go through, that so many girls live through, pushed us to finish the show. Geneva was amazing, definitely more somber given the events in Paris just 3 days before we arrived. Very clean, gorgeous mountains, delicious foods, and so many languages!
We performed for the U.S Mission at the U.N, met with and performed for the Ambassador of Switzerland, Sweden, and Pakistan as well as countless other heads of organizations and important policy figure heads. This was all made possible through an amazing woman named Meg Riggs. Meg Riggs works for the U.S. department of state/ U.S. Mission. She guided us around Geneva, fed us, and filled our heads with inspiration to last as long as we needed it. Meg is the reason we were able to make it abroad in the first place. We also got to meet with Christopher Baily the Coordinator of On-line Communications at World Health Organization and Broadway veteran.
The ambassador of Switzerland herself teared up at our performance. People came up to us after the show (after we, the actors, facilitated a discussion about the show with the audience) and just gushed about their lives and the injustices they had to face as a woman or what their daughter or mother had had to go through. It was one of the most beautiful theater experiences I have ever had.
Earlier that day, we had a mini sort of teaser performance of the show at a salon held for all these heads of orgs and ambassadors and whatnot. After performing, each of us took a seat at a table and got to discuss how to bring resources to girls at the grassroots level. Can you imagine: 5 young women getting to sit with world leaders and discuss the issues affecting girls, and actually being listened to as equals. That is a conversation that I will never forget.
It must be difficult to balance the work of a demanding performing arts schedule and your social justice passions. How do you do it?
The day I left for Geneva went like this: I woke up at 10am. Then around noon I peacefully protested with Bree Daniels, Nelli Agbulos, and a few others by the caf in solidarity with the pain felt for Paris, Kenya, Pakistan, and Lebanon over that past weekend. Right from that I ran to my French class, took a quiz, ran home to grab my suitcase, and then ran straight to JFK to catch the flight to Geneva. That is how much of the semester has been. Running, running, running!
It is…very hard haha. I am also an RA this year so balancing my life has been quite the juggling act this semester. I can’t help it when I am touched so deeply to fight or write or perform about a social justice issue. I’ve learned a big lesson with that though. I need to give myself time to heal- in other words I can’t be plugged into what’s wrong with the world 24/7 (maybe just 23/6 haha). If I don’t, I burn out really fast and it bleeds into my academics and acting work. I loose enthusiasm because I just want to sit and cry about how there can be so much evil in a world that is also so beautiful. Or, I can compartmentalize my emotions as best I can, facilitate that floor meeting, finish my criminal justice homework, memorize that monologue for acting class, and still have time to bang out a rough draft of a poem on (unfortunately) the most recent killing of an unarmed person of color.
I am still learning to balance it all, but the knowledge that I am on some level helping silenced voices to be heard and felt by audiences that usually do not care to hear these stories, is enough for me to keep going. Also, a phone call to mom or dad always, always helps!
Choose love. In whatever you are reading, learning, or debating, consider issues with both your mind and heart, not just one or the other.
Why do you think it is important for students to be civically engaged?
It is as simple as the fact that we all live on this planet. If we don’t think for ourselves, someone else will gladly do it. If we don’t fight for the world we want to live in, for the world we want our children to live in, we will one day soon wake up in the nightmare that older generations perpetuate as the “American Dream”. Even if it is one protest you attend, one Facebook share or like of an important issue – it is important. Talking with your friends and family about what we need to do to help the environment, to help promote the advancement of people of color, to respect the rights of the female body- those are conversations that need to be had. Our generation needs your voice! Being civically engaged helps more people to hear it!
Any advice for students that would like to become more involved?
Get involved! Try to be somewhat informed on issues! Do not depend solely on those leading or organizing a movement or protest to educate you. Read some articles, watch some Buzzfeed videos, check out Everydayfeminism, have some open conversations with people who you think can help you learn. It is okay to not know what is going on, as long as you don’t choose that ignorance permanently over being involved. Follow protest pages on Facebook, blogs, word of mouth- opportunities are always out there to help.
Also, your involvement does not have to be some huge protest. It can be as simple as donating menstrual products to homeless shelter near you. That is pretty dope.
Do NOT believe the hype that people who are politically correct are too sensitive. If being aware of the ways the white patriarchy has perpetuated the oppression of so many through harsh language, assumptions, stereotypes, and policies that often result in the mass killings of marginalized groups means we are “sensitive”, the rest of the world must be heartless.
Try not to beat yourself up when you start to realize the internalized biases you already have. We all have them and we all have to struggle with reprogramming ourselves so to speak. You are not alone!
MOST IMPORTANTLY, THOUGH: Choose love. In whatever you are reading, learning, or debating, consider issues with both your mind and heart, not just one or the other.
Larissa is the best!