Larissa Favela is front and center at Ohlone College—always involved, ever-present, and never shying away from a conversation whether it’s with a student, a fellow faculty member, a member of the staff, or an administrator. Favela has a knack for engaging others and not only talks the talk while but walks the walk in all her roles—as a Professor of Communications in the classroom or behind the scenes as she moves the needle in her work on the College’s Guided Pathways team. She’s a force—embodying the strength and diversity of her native home and bringing her all as a Renegade.
I am a California girl through and through, born and raised here in the Bay Area. I am the eldest out of six in a Japeximerican family (2nd generation Japanese American and 3rd generation Mexican American). My parents have described me as coming out of the womb with something to say. I was always “talking” even before I was actually able to speak. My gift of gab, my social nature, and value for relationships have not only provided me a professional career in a discipline I love, but it led me to Ohlone.
I have always been outgoing, social, and have made friends wherever I go. As a child and through the years, it was not unusual for me to strike up conversations with complete strangers in the line at the grocery store, while waiting in line to ride the Giant Dipper at the Boardwalk, or casually inquiring about the merits of the soup of the day with my server (contrary to the opinion of my companions, I take my meals very seriously and so it was a valid line of inquiry with the appropriate amount of emotional intensity). I was obviously an extrovert – and for my more subdued parents and siblings, I was a bit overwhelming and sometimes a cause of embarrassment. I was (and still am) very opinionated, and in my youth I was more bold and unapologetic. I was the most vocal of all my friends. I was known as “loud” and “dramatic”. But as a young woman, being raised in a more conservative religious culture and community, as the eldest daughter and representative of my family, I often felt the pressure to be more quiet and demure. Additionally, my family was one of the few families of color in the community. I often felt censured by the religious community and lectured at to be a model of womanhood. In high school, I often felt silenced or criticized for voicing unpopular, unorthodox opinions and/or asking questions I had “no business asking.”
Although my family didn’t know what to do with me at times (they said that), I had parents and grandparents who loved and supported me and told me I could do (mostly) whatever I wanted, and be whoever I wanted to be. I am grateful that my parents, despite not being sure what to do with me, still supported and defended me, my personality, my boldness, and style despite not following the gender “rules and roles” of the community around us. Unlike many other young women around me, college was always an expectation in my family. I was the third person on both sides (the second woman) of the family to obtain a bachelor’s degree, I was the first person of my generation (and the third out of the whole family) to obtain their master’s degree on my father’s side, and the first person to get her master’s degree on my mom’s side. It was in college, that I found my voice and my “people.”
Similar to most college students, I changed my major three times before finding public speaking/rhetoric. I was pre-med, a business major, and sociology major, before I walked into a public speaking class and instantly discovered what I was meant to do. Plus, I was pretty good at it. Looking back, all the professors that encouraged me in my other majors all applauded and complimented my communication and presentation skills (that’s how I got so far in pre-med—I always killed the presentations!). When I found out you could major in public speaking and have a job that pays you to speak and talk to people, I was sold! I transferred to San Jose State University’s (SJSU) well known Communication Studies Department where I met some amazing women professors. I was well on my way to finding my voice again, but these women helped me to celebrate and own my voice—they gave me the confidence to roar and to roar boldly. It was in the discipline of Communication Studies that I learned the power of communication—the power to advocate and amplify the voices of those who are muted; the power of words to unite and divide; the ability of ideas to destroy or empower.
Through the encouragement of my professors, I applied to graduate school at SJSU as well as the graduate Teaching Assistant (TA) program. I only applied to the TA program because it would pay for the graduate program. The first day of class as a TA, I walked into my class as a graduate student trying to do what needed to be done to pay for grad school; but I left that classroom inspired with the goal to become a professor. Seeing my students gain confidence in their own communication skills and powerfully using their voice to share their stories or advocate for change, I changed my career goals. Rather than pursue a career in the corporate world, I turned my pursuits to academia. It was while I was finishing up this program that Kay Harrison reached out to one of my professors because the Communication Studies department at Ohlone needed someone to teach Critical Thinking/Persuasion (Comm 114). On the recommendation of my professor, Kay agreed to interview me and the rest is history. The Communication Studies department at Ohlone is the home of my wonderful, bold, badass woman colleagues, Brenda Ahntholz, Teresa Massimo, and Shelly Spratt—women who are confident, bold, and unapologetic in their own right and taught me so much about owning your own voice and in doing so, your own power. Now, I want to help the students of Ohlone to find their voice, own it, articulate it, and understand the power that comes from clear, effective communication. Because communication skills are #lifeskills.