Poets swipe right on dating workshop series

Whittier College hosted Trina Tan, a dating specialist, to help students navigate the collegiate dating scene.

Elizabeth Wirtz


Love and dating can be tumultuous in college — students are busy navigating classes and jobs, and transitioning into a more independent lifestyle. Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) along with the Community Organizing Intern for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Prevention, Eryn Wells, brought Trina Tan to our campus last week on Sept. 19 and 20. Wells was excited to take part in helping shape our community. “One of my goals within this internship is to help create a more informed and healthy community,” said Wells. “If community members are learning and passing knowledge onto others, this causes for healthy dialogues to circulate. It is really important that our community be more informed and talk about issues that are important, rather than brushing them under the rug.”

Tan hosted three workshops, each focusing on a unique aspect of modern dating. She is a Whittier native and graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Bachelors of Arts in English; she received her Masters in Education from the University of Vermont, and focused heavily on her degree in interracial dating, dating anxiety and sex therapy. Currently, Tan works and resides in Chicago and travels around the United States with this workshop series for college students.

Tan’s first event at Whittier was in Villalobos Hall at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 19. Love and Leadership: A Student Leader’s Guide to Dating began with Tan asking participants what Whittier College’s dating scene looked like. One of the first words that came up in this dialogue was “cheating.” Many students were in agreement that cheating was almost synonymous with dating at the College. Tan was a bit taken aback. She said, “You have the power to both create really sweet and life-changing [relationships], or you can create trauma for someone else. Which one you decide to do is up to you.” She provided hope by assuring students that the dating scene is versatile, depending on the city you live in. 

One of the activities of this session were for table groups to write down what qualities they look for in a good leader, and which qualities they look for in a good partner. After about ten minutes of deliberation in small groups, Tan revealed that the title of both lists should be interchangeable. The same qualities people look for in a partner should also be found in a good leader. She encouraged students to take skills they apply when being a student leader and apply them to their love life. “I say every relationship is a mini-internship,” she said. “You learn what you want or you learn what you don’t want; either way, they [have] each done their job.” Relationships can help students learn how to set boundaries and to further understand themselves and what their preferences are. Those skills are transferable to all jobs and all relationships.

The second workshop was “Swipe Right: Online Dating Strategies.” This workshop was arguably the most unique out of the three workshops. Tan began the workshop asking for a volunteer, and only one student agreed to participate. When he stood up, she handed him a $20 bill and told him to sit back down. The entire purpose of that was to demonstrate how dating is a risk, and sometimes it can end in success or it can end in heartbreak. If you do not participate, you will never have the opportunity, regardless. 

Tan adapted an exercise she uses in sex therapy. Students were to pair up and decide who would be the “catch” and who would be the “initiator.” These terms serve to break traditional gender dynamics. Students practiced asking each other out on dates. Tan provided the friendly reminder that if you did not have a date, time, and location, then you were not asked on a date. The “catch” was told to accept the first date, reject the second date, and then had the freedom to decide if they would accept or decline the third date offer. Students switched roles and partners throughout the exercise. This exercise allowed students to get comfortable with face-to-face interaction and with handling both giving and receiving rejection.

In the workshop, Tan also talked about ghosting, which is a common problem with online dating. “I think ghosting, when it is not used for safety precautions, is a cop out. It is a lost art to be able to deliver bad news,” said Tan. She provided some lines students can use when telling a potential partner they are not interested or when declining a date. She suggests saying, “I think you’re great, but I’m not interested,” and closing with, “I hope you find someone special.” Tan also provided a list of safety precautions students should take when using dating apps or meeting someone for the first time. 

In Tan’s final workshop, “Race and Romance: Navigating Interracial Relationships,” she had students break apart what we define as “their type.” Interracial relationships can also be platonic friendships. In an interracial relationship, both participants are teachers and learners because there are cultural intersectionalities that influence the relationship. Third-year student Bella Mejos attended the Race and Romance workshop and said, “Trina did very well at executing the normality of dating people of other races, and the reasonings that we are attracted to specific people/have a type. I found this session extremely informative and helped me better understand why I, and people in general, often have types. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to go to this event and it was really nice to meet Trina because she taught me a lot in just the one session.” 

Fellow third-year Nati Yitayew said “the Love and Dating session was productive. It opened my eyes to a lot of patterns that I hadn’t noticed about myself. The biggest takeaway I had from it was understanding that you can only love others the same amount as you love yourself. So it is important to first have self-love before you start any relationship.”

VIP and Wells were grateful for all the students in attendance. Wells said “Trina’s workshops are all research based and educational, but also well-balanced with self-reflection focused activities and genuine knowledge about dating […] Events like this past Dating Workshop series with Trina bring together our Whittier College Community and publicly show support for healthy relationships.” Tan was especially grateful, and said, “This [healthy relationships] takes effort and learning and humility. To come to a place like this … I’d definitely say dating is an incredible experience for those who are open and willing to take the risk … I  am really grateful for those who showed up.”