Culture connection

Seven family members find acceptance in diverse campus

By Sarah Lockwood

When business senior Elyzha Casaje’s younger cousin, Lannie Dasal, enrolled at VCU in 2018, Casaje started to take stock of just how many family members were fellow Rams. She called her mom, and they began to count together — there was this uncle, that auntie. Eventually they realized that seven family members had attended VCU, all within the past 10 years.

The first of her mother’s siblings to attend the university was Phillip Enriquez (B.F.A.’09/A). Then there was her uncle Brian Cruz (B.S.’12/B), aunt Leigh-Yen Manlutac (B.S.’12/B), uncle Andrew Viduya (B.S.’17/B) and aunt Ashley Viduya (B.S.’19/H&S).

Now Dasal is studying chemistry in the Honors College.

What brought so many family members to the same university? Dasal and Casaje both say that their alumni family members didn’t influence their decisions to attend VCU, however, there was a common thread.

“The diversity really pulled me in when it came to choosing a college,” Casaje says.

It was the same for Dasal, who says that was also a factor for many of her family members, whether they knew it or not.

“I think a lot of us unconsciously came to campus because of the diversity,” she says. “At a lot of other state schools, you don’t see that many people coming from different backgrounds — ethnicity, sexuality, religion. I think we all like that because we all feel pretty accepted here.”

As Filipino Americans, Casaje and Dasal both said their high school experiences had a narrow range of backgrounds and perspectives. They grew up in Yorktown, Virginia, but Casaje’s family moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, right before she started high school.

Student Elyzha Casaje has been spreading positive energy with her original drawing, which she turned into stickers.

“Meeting new and different people, gathering different perspectives and stories about other peoples’ lives and learning about other cultures is just really interesting,” Casaje says. “I was probably one of eight Asian people in my senior class, so besides my family, I really didn’t get any exposure to that in high school.”

She’s hoping to bring together people of all backgrounds at VCU through a love of bicycling. It’s something that makes Casaje happy, and with so many recreational cyclists and bicycle commuters at the city, she was surprised she didn’t find a dedicated riding club at one of VCU’s organization fairs. She’s looking for enough interested students to start her own.

After graduation, she would like to get a work-from-home job in her major, information systems. She’s also an entrepreneurship minor and began working on a startup idea through VCU’s Pre-Accelerator Program. When the world came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Casaje decided to direct her efforts toward spreading good energy.

“I realized that spreading positivity is my passion,” says Casaje, who made stickers out of her drawing to sell online and spread that positivity. She sold 173 across the country in just her first two days.

Dasal is a prepharmacy student and plans to enroll in pharmacy school for her graduate education. Next semester, you can find her at the Cary Street Gym climbing wall, working as an R.A. and attending FACT (Filipino Americans Coming Together) meetings and activities.

So will future family members add to the seven Rams?

The pair brought a cousin to campus to introduce him to the area, but both still insist that it’s entirely up to each individual whether to pick up this common thread. No pressure — really.

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