That's What She Said

Episode 61: Visiting with Jaya Kolisetty of Urbana, IL and her story “What are you?”

Woman stands on stage with microphone, other women sit behind her

Jaya Kolisetty, from the That's What She Said Champaign cast of 2022 That's What She Said

                                ANNOUNCER 00:00 Raising women's voices. One story at a time. 
Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.

[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]

JENETTE JURCYKZ 00:27 We are so grateful that you have decided to join us for another episode of The She Said Project Podcast. If you are a returning listener, welcome back. If this is your first time joining us, we're so excited to have you as our story sharing platform continues to grow. 

That's What She Said started as a one night live event on stage in Champaign, Illinois like 10 years ago and has grown into almost a dozen cities. This is our seventh season of the podcast. We have a teen empowerment program. We just released our first published book of women's stories. There is no shortage of stories to be shared. And I'm so grateful that you're here to listen to today's important story. This is Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project, and one of your hosts today.

KERRY ROSSOW 01:14 This is Kerry Rossow, co-founder, co-host, co-number one fan of Jenette.

JENETTE 01:19 This is live conversation. This is improv, if you will. You know, all of the stories that make it to the She Said stage are prepared in advance. They are scripted, but here on the podcast, this is in the moment. This is us just yakking it up. Yakk? Is it yakking or yucking? I never know..

KERRY 01:35 I say yucking, yakking sounds like vomiting, sorry.

JENETTE 01:39 But yucking it up doesn't?

KERRY 01:40 No. Yuck. It's like, yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck – like you're laughing and talking.

JENETTE 01:44 Well, I'm so glad I have you here Kerry, to clarify for me [Kerry chuckles].

KERRY 01:48 You're welcome.

JENETTE 01:49 But yeah. No, I love to get together with you and yuck it up when we can.

KERRY 01:52 It's so much fun. And I can't wait for today's guest because I have to say I'm pretty sure that she, you know, she's not a first time caller. She goes out and she does a lot of advocating and a lot of talking. And I love that she did this and sort of spoke from the heart. You know, for one moment we got to see behind the advocate and hear her story. So, I'm so excited. And maybe you know what, today she can take off that hat and maybe she'll drop some bombs.

JENETTE 02:16 I'm intrigued. 

KERRY 02:17 I think I just put her on the spot [Jenette laughs]. You don't really have to drop anything [Kerry laughs]. Your deepest, darkest story.

JENETTE 02:23 Well, she does wear many hats in the community. 

KERRY 02:25 Yes.

JENETTE  02:25 That is for sure. And she did get to talk about some of them in her story. So we can unpack that a little bit today. And she is live with us in the studio at the WILL Illinois Public Media studios in Urbana, Illinois. Welcome Jaya Kolisetty!

JAYA KOLISETTY 02:39 Thank you so much. I'm so excited to finally be here.

JENETTE 02:41 Now I spent a year practicing how to say that correctly. Because one of the key points in your story is how, you know, even just not taking the time to learn someone's name can be offensive or uncomfortable. And your name is so beautiful. And there is no reason, there's no excuse, to not get it correct. So I do take the time to get it because Jaya Kolisetty.

JAYA 03:05 Yep. You got it. 

JENETTE  03:07  Yeah. And I should, I should get it. You deserve that respect. 

JAYA  03:10 Thank you.

JENETTE  03:10 So thank you for joining us today.

JAYA 03:12 Yeah

JENETTE  03:12 In our beautiful podcast studio.

JAYA 03:14 Yes. Very excited to be here. Like I said, we've been trying to connect for a while. And it's always great to be back with the She Said family.

JENETTE 03:21 Yeah, it's been a year plus, a year and a half or so since you did share your story on the stage. What has it been like since, since that night?

JAYA  03:30 Well, I think one of the most interesting things for me has been hearing from family in India or family who are from the Indian side, but you know, in Canada and Australia to be like, Oh my God, we saw this video of you. And I'm like, Okay, cool! Because there are so few moments when your family live literally on the other side of the world to give them an update on, on how you're doing, what you're doing. And so I think that's been one of the really cool things that's come out since the performance was just those ways of connecting with folks literally on the other side of the globe. 

KERRY 04:01 I love that

JENETTE 04:02 stories transcend.

JAYA 04:04 They do.

KERRY 04:04 And connect.

JAYA 04:05 Yep

KERRY 04:05 And that's especially across the world. 

JAYA 04:07 Yeah

KERRY 04:07 That's, that's just so great. And they were probably just so happy to see you you know

JAYA 04:11 Right!

KERRY 04:11 It wasn't just a you know, an email or a text or an update, they got to see you and and see what you're doing. That's that's amazing 

JAYA 04:18 For our family too, like my dad was very theatrical. Like he did amateur theater when he was in college and you know, things like that. So for, for a lot of my family I think it really is like oh, yeah, okay, there that makes sense. There's Nagesh's daughter doing that thing [Kerry laughs]. So that's been really fun just to kind of see that that continuity. If he was still living, I know he would have loved that 

JENETTE 04:38 But now we know where some of that brave,  bold performance comes from, which I love. You also really did embrace your Indian culture…

JAYA  Mm-hmm.

JENETTE  … in your story. I mean, you wore the most gorgeous sari-inspired dress.

JAYA 04:52 Yes. So it's, and it's interesting. So it's a more North Indian dress.

JENETTE 04:55 Okay.

JAYA 04:55 Even though my family is South Indian, and I have to admit that part of that was because one of my friends was having a VERY big Indian wedding. Like I talked about my wedding, but hers was like, WHOOPH and so I was like, Okay, well, I can wear this for that too. 

But I did get corrected in that I did not have the scarf part correctly. She was like ”So maybe next time, like, make sure you wear that differently.” 

So that's very Indian too, very direct, like, Yeah, but also you could do this thing better. So yeah, [Kerry laughs] that was some of the feedback that I got from one of my lovely friends.

JENETTE 05:25 Love and support. And yet!

JAYA 05:27 And Yet! [Kerry laughs] Yes.

KERRY 05:29 Oh, that's great!

JAYA 05:30 So, for her wedding. I made sure I wore it the correct way. 

JENETTE 05:32 Thank goodness

KERRY 05:33 Noted!

JAYA 05:34 One of the days of her wedding [Kerry chuckles].

KERRY 05:37 It was multiple days?

JAYA 05:38 Yes. Yep. 

KERRY 05:39 That's wonderful.

JENETTE 05:40 How many days was your wedding, Kerry?

KERRY 05:43 Well, it was one. I was just thinking it would have been a little foggy if it went past one. I was exhausted. After one day, I don't have that kind of stamina. And I was I was young then.

JAYA 05:52 Indian weddings are an adventure. 

KERRY 05:53 I Love it [chuckle].

JENETTE 05:54 So let's just expand on that a little bit for our listeners. So you live here in Urbana?

JAYA 05:59 Yes

JENETTE 05:59 And you made a journey and we're gonna get into your story more in depth. But you made the journey to India to have a traditional Indian wedding. And your husband. 

JAYA 06:10 Yeah,

JENETTE 06:10 Not Indian.

JAYA 06:11 Not Indian, but oddly, has traveled in India, he's been to parts of India that I had never been to. Which honestly, was part of the reason I was like, Who is this white boy? Right? [Kerry laughs] Like he's traveled in parts of India, I've never even been to and you know, and then it went from there. Yeah, it was an adventure for both of us. For me, when we go to India, it's very much about the family. And for him, he'd only traveled in the northern part of the country. And culturally, it's very different between the North and the South. And so we got to explore a little bit more, just the two of us. But then also he got the full, you know, the family is going to feed you until you can't eat any more piling food on top of your hand when you try to say, Please no more! experience that you don't get if you're traveling as a visitor and we can't, you can't get better food than homemade Indian food. 

KERRY 06:55 I'm comin' over.

JENETTE 06:56 I love Indian cuisine. So this is extra special. But let's cue our listeners in on some of the fun and funny things that happened during the course of this trip to India. We're gonna play Jaya's story and let you guys hear [Jenette chuckles] exactly what we're talking about. And then we'll reconnect in just a moment. So here's Jaya Kolisetty on stage in That's What She Said from February 2022, in Champaign, Illinois with her story, "What Are You?"

(originally recorded February 26, 2022 at the Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL.)

JAYA  07:22 Good evening! [Audience whoops in encouragement] My name is Jaya Lynn Susheela Kolisetty. Yes, I know it's in the program. But my full name is important for this story, because it's emblematic of my multiracial and multicultural identity. 

My mother is a white American, of primarily English and German descent. And my father came to the US for graduate school from India in the late 1970s, and became a citizen post 9/11, during one of the many times where it felt unsafe to be brown in the United States. 

My name also carries the legacy of the strong women who came before me, Lynn, for my mother, and Susheela for my paternal grandmother. With these deep cultural and familial connections, you may imagine how surprised I was when at 23 years old, I was told by a complete stranger that I was saying my name wrong [laughter]. It was during my first year of graduate school, I had just moved to Washington, DC to start a program at THE George Washington University. And I was introducing myself to a woman who worked in the Women's Studies Department. I told her my name, Jaya. She quickly corrected me, "It's Jai-a. I'm a yoga instructor and we say, jai." [audience chuckles]  I kindly explained that, while some people might pronounce it jai-a, I was pretty sure that my father from India, and all my family in India had this one figured out.

09:12 Now this strange interaction is part of a pattern I have seen throughout my life, as people have tried to define my race. More than once I've been asked the bizarre question, What are you? What. Are.You. It's like a strange cousin to where are you from? And when I say Chicago, the equally problematic follow up: No, where are you reaaalllly from!? Well, while there are respectful ways to ask about heritage and identity, often the implication with “what are you” is, [said with sass] I can tell you're not white, and I need to know what box to put you in to.

09:59 As a person of Indian descent in the US, I often find myself being pushed into a box as people try to figure out what to make of me. When I travel to India as an American person of Indian origin, I find less of a need to define what I am and more curiosity about my fair skin and American lifestyle. Now, this curiosity was especially evident when my blue eyed white husband and I traveled to India to hold a wedding ceremony in my father's native village, the small coal mining town of Yellandu in the southern state of Telangana. At that time, my father was living there with some of our extended family. My then-fiance and I saw an opportunity: celebrate with family who would be unable to make the journey to the U.S. and to embrace the beautiful and meaningful traditions of my father's side of the family. 

10:55 But asking to hold an impromptu Indian wedding is no small thing. It's a multiday affair, and the whole village was to be invited. But somehow with just a few months' notice, the Brahmins managed to find an auspicious day. My aunties had the saris purchased and an appointment to have my henna done was arranged by the time we got off the plane. We spent New Year's Eve driving through the dizzying traffic of the city and eating traditional sweets as we started the five hour journey from the airport to the village. Little did we know we would be arriving as virtual celebrities from a faraway land. 

11:39 Now, the day prior to the main festivities, there is a purifying ceremony, in which the couple each takes a turn being covered in a paste turmeric by wellwishers. Did I mention that my husband is white? [laughter] While people of more pigment tend to derive a beautiful glow from this holy yellow root. [widespread laughter].You see where I'm going with this. Yeah. The impact on him was more of jaundice [widespread laughter]. Fortunately, by the next day, he was back to normal, except for some very yellow feet. Now there are considerable differences regionally and culturally among different Indian weddings. I had a cousin on standby to make sure I knew what to do. The whole ceremony is conducted in the holy language of Sanskrit, and each of us had sections that we had to repeat after the Brahman. 

12:40 Now, [sigh] much to my chagrin, and the general amusement of the onlookers, my husband's pronunciation was much better than my own. Telugu weddings also incorporate a lot of games into the ceremony and there's a sheet that's held between the couple for the first portion of it. The thrill of getting to see each other when that sheet is lifted is absolutely breathtaking. And I was grinning from ear to ear. My cousin had to remind me that I should look shy to see my husband. I guess this wasn't the time to tell them we've been living together for almost a year [chuckles]. Now throughout the wedding ceremony, the photographer also tried to get me to tone down my smile with a gentle reminder: "light smile, madame, light smile." We later discovered that in addition to this official photographer, every single local newspaper was represented. And our celebrity status did not stop there. 

13:44 The day after our wedding, we woke up to a knock on the door, as we quickly aroused ourselves and threw on somewhat presentable attire. We were met at the door by my dad, a gaggle of cousins and a full news crew with cameras and microphones eagerly pushed towards us. Again, this was the MORNING after our wedding. Our room was wrecked. 

As we quickly tried to push the celebratory bottles of Knock Out brand beer behind the door, we realized our room was covered in flower petals. We had had beautiful garlands during the ceremony. But these now deflowered garlands, and our hastily thrown on clothing did not seem to faze our audience. The crew had a pressing question: "What do you think of Indian culture?" 

Somehow, our short positive replies turned into a long excited discourse, as my father, a retired professor, translated for us. Not sure what he said [widespread laughs]. 

Now, a few days later, as we were preparing to leave Yellandu, our driver needed to stop by home to pick up a few supplies for the trip. While we waited, suddenly, out of nowhere, once again, crowds, cameras, microphones, they literally popped out of the bushes. Microphones were pushed through the car window to try to get one last chance for an explanation from the Americans. I guess I kind of got a sense for what Lady Gaga must feel like?

15:29 When I'm in India, I'm American, but of Indian origin. When I'm in the US, I'm of Indian origin. But my, my Americanness is sometimes questioned. In reality, like many Americans, I'm a mix. I'm a mix of races, cultures, beliefs, and traditions. I grew up with potato curry and Christmas trees harmoniously blended together. 

15:57 WHAT am I? I'll tell you WHO I am. I'm the daughter of a survivor and an immigrant. I'm a wife and a sister. I'm an enthusiastic amateur skier. I'm an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. And I'm an elected official. And when just under a year ago, I took my oath to serve the people of Urbana AND to defend the Constitution of the United States. I intentionally said my full, culturally significant name. I'm an Indian-American, and I, Jaya Lynn Susheela Kolisetty will continue to define WHO I am [applause].


KERRY 16:52 Welcome back, that was powerful, Janette sort of turns into a puddle every time she watches this piece. So I'll just bring us back while she's pulling herself together [Jenette clears her throat]. Wow, what, what an amazing story. I think every time all of us watch it, how was it for you afterward?

JAYA 17:08 Honestly, the whole experience was wonderful, because I think it did really give that opportunity to embrace you know, the funny moments and you know, some of the more serious moments too, of like, what does it mean to be multiracial in the US? What does it mean to be Indian American; in the US and in India, right? And what does it mean to have white family members? It's different, right? Like, you know, if you're going somewhere, and for the first time, you are the minority, and especially, you know, as I talk about my blue-eyed husband walking through, you know, this small town in southern India, he stood out like a sore thumb. All of us did, right? I have lighter skin, my friend who was with us as a lighter skinned Indian. My family tends to have a beautiful, darker complexion. But we were very obviously outsiders, right, like, you know, I could wear the most traditional clothing and people would still be like, what, what is happening here? Who are these people? It was a wonderful adventure, and then getting to tell a story and connect with people afterwards. Right? I think that was really cool. Especially younger folks who are still getting asked those same questions, just to let them know like, yeah, you're not alone in that. And I know how painful it can be when people are doubting your, your ability to claim your, your heritage, and you know, your ability to say, Yeah, I am American. I think that's, that's important to be able to talk about that stuff.

JENETTE 18:26 I love how you handled that. You called it out for what it is, you shared some of the awkward questions that you've been asked. You've had your own name pronunciation corrected. 

JAYA 18:37 Yeah. 

JENETTE 18:38 To your face [Kerry chuckles]. Like how do you handle sorry, your name is not Kerry it's Car-ee.

KERRY 18:43 Rizhao.

JAYA 18:44 And it's I think that's one of those things. That's so interesting, too, because there are South Asians who do pronounce it Jai-a, and I have a lot more grace when South Asians say Jai-a. But yes to be corrected when someone's like, Well, actually, I think I know better than you. I'm like, I don't know about that. Let's, Let's challenge that one a little bit. It's a very odd, odd experience. Get lots of Jayla's and Jada's. But you know, when it's just being straight up told you're saying your name wrong. It's it's pretty odd.

KERRY 19:12 I've been wearing this name my whole life. 

JAYA 19:13 Yeah 

KERRY 19:14 Feeling confident about it.

JENETTE 19:16 Looks good on you. You and your husband certainly got some significant attention while you were in India.

JAYA 19:22 Yes!

JENETTE 19:22 I love the stories is that, you know, there's paparazzi popping out and and trying to get a quote and a picture and a memorable wedding night to be sure.

JAYA 19:31 Yes. Yeah. I mean, just walking around after the wedding and trying to you know.. I talk about the Knock Out brand beer, right? Like, even just trying to find... You know, we wanted to have a drink and you know, it's not really a drinking culture, right? So the three again, the three of us just wandering around these people who were just kind of dropped in trying to find something to celebrate got lots of looks. And then yes, we woke up to a news crew at the door of our hostel the next morning was was quite something [Kerry chuckles].

JENETTE 19:59 Did your husband ever get the yellow hue out of his skin?

JAYA 20:02 Eventually, yes. His feet were yellow for quite some time. I think we had a couple little patches. But you know, he's back to normal [Kerry chuckles]. Yeah. You know, hopefully

JENETTE 20:11 How many years has it been?

JAYA 20:12 It's eight, eight years? Yeah. Yeah.

JENETTE 20:15 Congratulations and lovely, lovely. Now you are a busy lady in your community of Urbana, Illinois. You shared at the end of your story, the day you got sworn in to serve on city council. What an accomplishment, first of all, and thank you for your service to the community. How has that role been? As a woman of you know, multiple nationalities? How has that played a part in your life?

JAYA 20:40 I think that's one of the amazing things about Urbana's current city council is five of the seven members are women. And four of us are women of color. And our mayor is a woman, right? And so really, and of course, we're all different, right? We all have, you know, people say don't go into politics. That was the advice I got when I decided to run. And I get that because it can be frustrating. And it can be slow. But I think there's still such an opportunity for change. So that is something that's been really rewarding. But I think it's also been important, right? To have that diversity on our council that is more representative of the diversity of Urbana, right? I think that's something you know, we're a smaller town in the middle of the state, but we are a diverse community. And so making sure there is that representation is really meaningful. And honestly, it was a motivating factor for me when I ran. At the time I was working at the University, it was you know, shortly after George Floyd was murdered. And I was hearing from my students who were students of color that they already felt like they were being forgotten. And so I was like, I want to be part of of doing something. Right? I want to make sure that that's, that's not happening, right? That we are actually thinking about how do we continue to move those conversations for that it's not just a protest. It's not just putting a yard sign up, but it's actually looking at what are those structural changes we need to make? 

JENETTE 22:00 I got goosebumps listening to you talk.

KERRY 22:02 Yep. Yep, I'm telling... She is your biggest fan. Like every everything I get today,

JAYA 22:07 yeah, I get to compete for Jenette's biggest fan too, I want to be thrown in the ring for that one.

KERRY 22:11 Aww! We got a love fest going on over here.

JENETTE 22:13 It's true. That's what we get to celebrate at The She Said Project. When we say women supporting women, we truly do mean it. And I get the opportunity with every single show to learn something new. And I take a little piece of each one of those stories with me and I get to be a better person because of it. It's life changing work, I'm, I am a better person because of The She Said Project. But you had an opportunity to make a huge impact on the women in the room. And now the women listening to this podcast and the women in the city of Urbana, and the work that you do every single day has a powerful impact. And I'll let you introduce to our listeners the work that you get to do.

JAYA 22:54 Yeah, so I mentioned in the summary of who I am, that I'm an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, and that is my day job. City Council is a part time piece. It's an important piece of what I do. But my work that I do most of the time is around sexual violence. So I've been doing prevention and response work related to sexual violence and stalking and as well as some domestic violence related work for about a decade, in our community mostly at Rape Advocacy, Counseling and Education Services or RACES. ([url=][/url]) So I was there for six years, and then on campus at the Women's Resources Center for two and now back as the executive director for almost two years now. And it's an incredible organization. It's such a privilege to be leading a group of really dedicated folks who are doing holistic work around sexual violence and stalking. So we're, we have our prevention program, where we've got folks who are in the schools trying to change things right? 

JAYA 23:48 Of course what we're doing to support survivors and their significant others is so important. But we also want to think about what could the world look like, right? How do we change it? So I started as a prevention educator. Well, I started as a actually as a volunteer, and then a prevention educator; and then have kind of held a lot of different roles at races over the years, including actually six months during the Illinois state budget impasse where I was the only employee. And so now coming back as the executive director, it's been my mission to make sure that not only our prevention work, but all of our drug service work continues and continues to grow. Because that's free therapy, right? That's helped with it protective orders, that staffing the 24 hour hotline. 

JAYA 24:30 And it is a challenging time. We found out just earlier this year that our largest federal funding source is decreasing statewide by half. So sexual violence service providers are facing a nine and a half million dollar reduction in federal funding starting July 1st. And so that is a of course consuming aspect of what's going on in our office right now because I'm not willing to see another reduction of our staff like what happened during the impasse. So, you know, whether it's applying for extra grants are talking to anybody who will listen to me are encouraging folks to donate. That has been a really consuming part of, of my life, since I found out in February this reduction was happening because survivors deserve better, right? Like they shouldn't have to worry about if they're going to lose their therapist at the beginning of a new fiscal year.

KERRY 25:17 True, and the thing when you're saying, you know, what, what does that look like? I'm so grateful that my girls specifically but all the girls and women, and people in this community can see that you are a community member. You know, it isn't someone that they're seeing on TV from, you know, somewhere else, that it's someone right here that you can, that we all can, participate in that and that you're so accessible, and that you do so many different things, all while wearing that hat and that you're out there advocating. I'm so proud, like Jenette talks about the sisterhood, like when I see, see you in the news, or I see things you're doing, it just makes me so proud. And like, and that's right here. That's, you know, grassroots, that's people in our own community, taking care of each other.

JAYA 26:00 And that's really the history of our organization, right? RACES or Rape, Advocacy, Counseling and Education Services started because of grass roots organizing of women in our community in the early 1970s. So that original name was Champaign County Women Against Rape or CC-WAR. And we've been around for over 50 years, right. And it really was folks  starting with a hotline out of their homes and then continuing to expand services, initially with no funding, right. So like, we're in this moment of wanting to make sure that we can maintain the funding we have. But so much of the groundwork came from that grassroots organizing, which also I think, is really important to recognize, built on the legacy of many, many years of organizing, and work that black women specifically have done throughout our whole country; and that the rape crisis movement would not have been possible without that work. So yeah, I see, you know, our work now is very much, you know, a continuation of that. And I think it's important to recognize, you know, our foremothers and also the folks of all genders who are part of this work now,

JENETTE 27:01 I would like to point out that regardless of when this episode does air, that because of the work Jaya is doing, because of the 50th anniversary, because of the importance of the work, That's What She Said in Champaign-Urbana 2024, has selected RACES to be their official charity partner.  They will benefit financially and also from some exposure and to talk about the work that they're doing. And I think that's a great opportunity to just remind people that every single That's What She Said show partners with a local nonprofit, because we want to give back we want these voices raised, you know, at this grassroots level, at this organizational level, we just celebrated 10 years in Champaign Urbana from when this all began. And Kerry, if you remember, we put together a video summarizing these 10 years and to date, She Said has created or contributed over $50,000 in the communities where we have performances. And so it's an honor that we get to continue that with you in this coming year. And we want that work to start right away. And definitely raise some awareness because this is an important issue. And it should not go unfunded. And it should not go unnoticed. When you say you will talk to everyone who listens, like I know.

JAYA 28:11 Yeah

JENETTE 28:11 This is the truth. But it's also the way it works. 

JAYA 28:14 I have to say too, I think it's shocking that more people aren't talking about it. It's understandable nonprofits, many of us are understaffed, under resourced people don't have the time the capacity to reach out. They're just trying to manage the day to day. But I think it deserves more attention. I think that survivors in our community also deserve to know that there are folks who are really fighting for them. I was talking to someone just the other day, and they're like,  oh, yeah, I just heard you on 217 Today. And I'm like, oh, okay, great! Right? Like, it's, I think that's so important, right, that people know, like, this is something that is happening in our community, and statewide. And it actually isn't just sexual violence services, it's Children's Advocacy centers, it's domestic violence services. These are services that are needed now more than ever, because of the impact of the pandemic. You know, we talk about the health, the direct health impacts, but there were increased rates of domestic violence, there were increased rates of child abuse, there were increased rates of sexual violence or the pandemic. And so it's just not okay for us to even have a question of whether these services should continue at their current levels. We should be expanding, not being worried about maintaining. 

JENETTE  It's about priorities, people. 

JAYA  Yeah. 

JENETTE 29:25 No, I agree. I agree.

KERRY 29:26 Thank you for all that you do. And in our community. 

JAYA  Thank you.

KERRY  We're all so grateful. 

JENETTE Kerry's, like, in awe over here. 

KERRY  I am. I'm just so grateful. You know, we certainly aren't the first people to shine a light for women to tell their stories. You certainly aren’t the first person to advocate. But if people don't continue passing that torch and carrying it, you know, it's easy to become apathetic or to think, oh, yeah, we fought that fight. It's done and if you think it hasn't impacted you directly, but the importance of being visible and being out there and which is what I know you spend so much of your own personal time being out there to keep it you know, on people's minds and to make sure so that people know it's available because you know, and then maybe, unfortunately, when the day comes when you need it, or someone you know, you'll have, you'll be able to call on that nugget of like, oh, wait, I saw that woman. What did she say? Where do I go? It's really important work. 

JAYA  Yeah.

JENETTE 30:15 And you know, Kerry, Jaya and I recently had a conversation and this is something we're working on internally at The She Said Project, increasing awareness at every one of our events, that there is help available. We know that our performances do carry a lot of heavy material, heavy topics, we certainly want our audiences to know that going in. But we're having some conversations about taking it a step further and even providing some resources or some language, or letting people know that there are potentially triggering topics being talked about on the stage. And if something does come up for them, especially in this post-COVID world, like where do they go for help; and not having to walk out of that theater, wondering, 

KERRY  Really 

JENETTE having it right there. Because we know, we know the power of sharing stories is going to spark things within you that can be healing. What we never want to do is spark things that can be harming. We need to be having those conversations to make sure we have the parts and place, the pieces in place, that our speakers are safe and protected, that our audience is safe and protected. But we're still a safe space for women to be real. We don't want to hide, we don't want to hide these important topics. That's the opposite of what we want to do. We're constantly trying to curate a safe, nurturing environment for these hard conversations to be had, where people come out the other side feeling stronger and better and more connected, and not in a place of worry, or concern, or, you know, or worse.

JAYA 31:42 Well I think that's one of the things that's so hard, because you don't know what's going to be triggering for some folks sometimes, right? So a lot of times we'll talk about creating spaces that are as safe as possible. Because sometimes it is that conversation, it is someone else sharing their story that kind of literally triggers that memory where someone's like, Oh my God, that's something that happened to me or something like that happened to me. And so making sure folks know that they're not alone, and then processing that and that there are resources. And, you know, just a little reminder, for folks who might not know the hotline for RACES is 217-384-4444. And that's available 24 hours a day. And it's not just for survivors, but also for support people, because I think a lot of us, you know, the first time someone discloses, there's kind of this like, Oh my God, what do I say I don't want to make things worse. And that's a conversation we can be there for. Right? So we're not putting that back on the survivor. There's that space for support people too to say, I want to support but I want to make sure I'm doing it in the best way possible.

KERRY 32:41 Well, when you were saying how important it is to not feel alone. And so if you think about one of our shows, and you know, let's say there are 1000 people there. So statistically, if you do that math of how many women sitting in that theater have grappled with this issue. And then knowing that you would have solidarity and support and to be in a loving space, to have something like that, because it's really jarring when you think of that. Think of every show we've had and do the math of what statistics tell us, which is, you know, on the low side, and then think of all those shows and all those women that have been there.

JAYA 33:19 Even in the show I was part of we did hear about some of those experiences that other members shared. And I think it was also really interesting to me, because as Jenette and I were talking about what I wanted to share, I think that is the piece that I tend to share more publicly, right is is my work as an advocate my work around sexual violence and stalking. Because I think that that is so incredibly important. And then also being able to find those other pieces of ourselves; right, that that we can kind of bring forward and then finding that balance, you know, within each story or within each show of yeah, there are some really tough stuff. And that's, that's part of being human right. But let's also find those moments of joy. Let's also find those moments of humor. And that's something that even my staff, we're having a lot of those conversations right now, how do we still find that joy? When there are these, you know, it's not just the funding piece, but there's a lot of you know, transphobia that's impacting our staff and our clients right? There's, you know, concerns about access to reproductive health, right, so all of those things that are impacting folks in a negative way, but then also trying to make sure there's still that space for joy.

KERRY 34:30 Mm-hmm. And the silver lining I think of so many of those issues right now is I think a lot of people had that misconception that like yep, we fought that fight we've moved on it's over. It's a one way street. And as we know, now that is not accurate. And so maybe it's lighting a fire and people to get out there and pick up the banner and, and get more involved.

JENETTE 34:52 Absolutely. We also talk a lot about just because you've survived that, fill in the blank that struggle you have overcame that issue doesn't mean that's your only story. We all have stories that are joyful or funny or awkward, are ridiculous, are full of love, and patience and kindness. And so Kerry and I definitely have this conversation a lot that just because you represent this population or this group of people or this identity, doesn't mean that's your only story. We're not, that's not what we're looking for. We're not trying to single anybody out, we want you to be a well rounded, fully fleshed out human with all this wonderful life experience. And then we're going to find the one that is right for you, for that show, for that cast, for that community, and hopefully, help you shine. That's at the end of the day, what we're all here to do.

KERRY 35:43 And that's why the show should be like a roller coaster, because none of us can be in any one space for very long. One time I was having a really difficult conversation, someone was sharing something really hard, they'd gone through something really traumatic. And I was having that in my mind: Do I say anything? Do I? What do I do? What do I say? And so there was a sort of awkward silence. And she goes, "You have got blackberries in your teeth." I had loved and my teeth were purple. I had blackberries. And I thought here she has been like disclosing this really traumatic thing. Also, while juggling, good God Almighty, she needs to brush her teeth, like, so it was both it was like. That's, that's the deal, right? Like, it's never all or anything. And then sometimes you have to give yourself a break. Like I just disclosed this big thing. Now I need a break, I need to give her permission that I want to be done talking in that space. And so I'm gonna make a joke. And it's just giving people space, like whatever it looks like for you that, that's the right answer.

JAYA 36:35 Yeah, I find myself making fun of myself a lot when I am on medical calls with folks, right? Because that's such an intense moment, and just finding those moments of like, Oops, I just tripped or right, like just to give them a break. Right? You know, someone's in the emergency department for six hours, right? Like, give them the chance, you know, what, what do they need? What do they want? And sometimes you know, that humor in an appropriate way, right? To give people that opportunity to catch their breath can be helpful.

JENETTE 37:05 Yeah, humor and laughter are very healing in the right moment with the right person. But it also helps to build trust. And Jaya, if I've learned anything from you, like, trust, honesty, integrity, being there for people in your community, like there is, you're one of the people I would trust with anything that could or would be. I don't know that you just exude this, this beautiful integrity and honesty that I just admire so much about you. And so as much as I hate to wrap this up, because this conversation is it's hard, but it's good. And it's it's nitty gritty, I love this stuff. But we're just so grateful that you said yes, that you you shared your story. And it wasn't all the hard stuff. But the work that you do is the hard stuff. And I'm really grateful that we can we can use our platform to shine a light on the work that you do because it's very important. I know we I feel like a broken record here. We keep saying, but anyone listening here today would have to agree. And I hope that everyone got to take a little nugget with you today, maybe thought of something something new, or thought of a way that you could reach out and help someone, or if you are going through something and you need help – ask. Ask for help: See your local crisis center the national hotlines there is help available to you everywhere. Don't be afraid to speak up and speak out because that's what we celebrate here at The She Said Project Podcast. Thanks so much for being with us.

KERRY 38:35 Over and out!


[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]

ANNOUNCER  38:39  Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to [url=][/url]

This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.


In our first episode of season seven, hosts Jenette Jurczyk and Kerry Rossow return to the the studio to speak with Jaya Kolisetty, from the That's What She Said Champaign cast of 2022. Jaya reflects on her life as an Indian American in her story "What Are You?" and shares updates on her professional work with local nonprofit organization RACES and advocacy for sexual violence awareness.

Rape Advocacy, Counseling, & Education Services (RACES) is the sexual violence and stalking service provider for four counties in East-Central Illinois. If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual violence, confidential support is available 24/7 through RACES’ hotline at 217-384-4444 and through the national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673. For information on how to support RACES’ work or to get involved, please visit