Chevelle Melissa Auli‘ipunahelemakahiapō Davis
ʻEwa Beach, Hono‘uli‘uli, O‘ahu
ʻAiea High School
Bachelor of Arts in Public Health 2016
Master of Public Health (Health Policy & Management) 2018
Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health Community-based Participatory and Translational Research expected December 2024
What inspires the path for your academic major?
I ended up in public health by accident. After working hard for nine years to complete my associate degree at Leeward Community College and the prerequisites for Mānoa’s nursing school program, I was told by an academic advisor of Mānoa’s nursing school to “not bother applying, you won’t get in with a 3.4 GPA. Try public health instead.” It’s funny how words stay with you. Nearly ten years later, I remember those words verbatim. That was the quickest advising session I ever had. A five-minute conversation shattered my spirit, and I had no idea what to do next. What was public health?
As a first-generation Native Hawaiian college student who worked multiple jobs to pay for school because the federal government said my four parents collectively made “too much” money and so I didn’t qualify for financial aid, it felt like no matter how hard I worked or resilient I was, I wasn’t “good” enough. And as we have always done, we persevere and continue moving forward. Luckily, when I arrived in public health, I quickly learned that my desire to help people could be achieved on a larger scale, and I found a new passion in health policy. This shift from direct clinical care to changing systems reshaped what I thought it meant to help people, and I realized public health was a better fit for me.
Now, as a non-traditional student who is nearing two decades of being a University of Hawai‘i student, what has inspired me to continue this academic journey are all the other people in my community who look like me and share a story similar to mine. Truly, it’s no longer about the major or degree; it’s about being visible in spaces that weren’t built for us and being here anyway. I want to be a resource and part of the support system for any student who wants to pursue higher education at Mānoa. I see you, and we are enough.
What are your future goals in your work?
Defining my work is difficult because it cuts across many seemingly unconnected sectors, and it’s hard to imagine an existing job that could hold all of it in a meaningful and intentional way. As the time nears that I will leave my life as a university student behind, the pressure of what’s next starts to build and feels overwhelming. Thankfully, someone recently told a group of friends and me that if we’re struggling to figure out what to do when we’re done with school, it’s probably because the job meant for us doesn’t exist yet. And that saved me because all my goals involve systems change, which for me, means reimagining rather than retrofitting and reforming them. I aim to create truly people-centered and equitable systems that allow our communities to thrive in Hawai‘i. I don’t know where I can do that and earn a living, and perhaps I have to reimagine and create a job that can hold all of that.
How do you see your time at UH shaping the way you aloha ʻāina?
I could not have gotten through my time at UH without the people. Every time I needed help, every time I cried, every time I wanted to give up, and every time I celebrated, it was the people that showed up for me that taught me that I wasn’t in this alone, even though the journey is lonely. Their aloha showed me that the only way we get through this is alongside each other—one step at a time. And so when I think of aloha ‘āina, I think of ripples. How do I, as an ancestor in training, mālama the people in this university, who will either remain here and mālama the next generation of students or who will go out into the world and mālama our communities so that they can feel supported in the work that calls them? As a future ancestor, how do I aloha this place and its people so we can unite and aloha ‘āina? These are questions I carry with me when I show up in all the spaces I have access to and wear all my different hats because we don’t make it through this life alone.
What does UHM as a Hawaiian place of learning mean to you?
UH as a Hawaiian place of learning means that UH acknowledges and honors the history of this place and its people, and intentionally creates an environment that seeks to ameliorate the effects of colonization rather than perpetuate it. It is honoring other epistemologies and ways of knowing outside western models and creating pathways through higher education that include that knowledge. Additionally, with the recent SCOTUS decision on affirmative action and the ongoing threat of pursuing the same action in scholarship applications, UH has an opportunity to actively find ways to resist these attacks on communities of color that aim to prevent access to these spaces and provide even more resources to Hawai‘i’s most underserved communities to pursue higher education. To me, a Hawaiian place of learning means that everyone is welcome to learn, participate in, and help create a university community that is safe and free from violence.