MICHELLE G. Cuaresma of the Filipino American Student Union (Fasu) and Deb Ellis, program manager of Diversity, Inclusion, Community & Equity (Dice), which encompasses the Unity Multicultural Education Center (Umec), invited the Filipina Women’s Network (FWN) to do a DISRUPT 3.0. Filipina Women: Rising book reading and leadership conversation. The event was held on March 19 at Gonzaga University (GU). GU is a Jesuit university in Spokane, WA.
Fasu is one of about 150 student-initiated clubs at and was created “to spread awareness and understanding of the Filipino heritage and traditions through social, educational, and cultural activities.” Umec’s vision is to affirm human difference by creating a “diverse and inclusive community” by utilizing the “principles of critical dialogue, reciprocity, and solidarity to facilitate learning that cultivates cultural engagement, enriches mindfulness, fosters a sense of belonging, and challenges systems of privilege and oppression.” The purpose of Umec is to support the academic and co-curricular experiences of African, Latina/o, Asian, and Native American students at GU).
Under the guidance of Deb Ellis, Michelle, who is a student in business administration and Spanish and who is also a Umec programming student intern, organized the event and invited guest readers from the GU academic community and the Filipino community in Spokane. Maria Beebe, Ph.D., book editor, who came as a guest for Impact spearheaded by Raymond F. Reyes, Ph.D. Associate Academic Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, lent a helping hand. A new twist in this FWN event was for the guest readers to reflect on why the chapters resonated with them.
Melina Benjamin, president, Asian American Union and writer for the Gonzaga Bulletin, is a second-year International Relations and Journalism major with a Spanish minor. She has taken on student activism and social justice efforts while at GU through programming, presenting at conferences, and cultural club representation. As a writer and reporter, her focus is on bringing justice. Melina chose to read “Dreaming Big, Giving the Best” by Joji Ilagan Bian. Reflecting on Bian’s chapter, Melina writes: “I got to think about and eventually talk through my experiences relating to leadership as a student working towards my own career. I realized how foundational and generational my experiences when I was younger are to the choices I make now, putting myself out of my comfort zone on my daily life and working towards my dreams. Our purpose is shown through our actions as a leader. A consensus that stuck with me at the end of the event was that women must be proactive with and for each other in order to reach the goals they have and to spread that understanding to others looking in from the outside.”
Elizabeth “Liz” Perez is a Dice student intern and president of La Raza Latina. Liz is a junior from East Palo Alto, CA and she is double majoring in Political Science and Economics, and double minoring in International Relations and Spanish. She comes from a Mexican household where she is the third child out of four and the only woman. She is also the first in her family to attend a four-year university. Liz works for Umec as one of the program interns and she’s also the mentor coordinator for CCE’s Youth Program Connections. Liz chose to read “Redefining Pathways” by Rebecca Murry. Liz explains that she chose to talk about the chapter Redefining Pathways because “I really resonated with the challenges this author faced.” Liz writes that “coming from a Hispanic household, my parents always placed a lot of expectations on me to do well in school so I could go to college and get a degree. They wanted me to have the opportunities they didn’t have, but at the same time, it makes it a hundred times hard for me when I fail. Sometimes when I fail, I feel like I’ve also failed them because I am not making the most of my opportunities. I am currently working on trying to be okay with some failures and using them to continue to grow as an individual and leader and this is something that doesn’t always come easy to me.” Liz continues: “I also could relate to her experiences with racism and the feeling of disappointment and annoyance. To this day, even 50 years after the civil rights movement, there is still so much racism and it’s disappointing to see this rhetoric because immigrants have done so much to help this nation advance and grow. It’s frustrating to see individuals be discriminated against because of the color of their skin, but we can continue to have these conversations so more people are aware of the realities, especially in the classroom.” Finally, Liz points out how she “loved how Rebecca Murry was able to point out her failures and get back up each time, but also to change things when she did not like them. Murry found ways where she can continue to make an impact and in ways that she doesn’t have to compromise her morals and beliefs.”
Other guest readers included Joan Iva Fawcett, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, Community & Equity. Prior to coming to Gonzaga University, Joan Iva worked at UC Berkeley as the Interim Assistant Dean of Students, at Saint Mary’s College of California as the Director of the Intercultural Center, and at Whittier College as the Director of the Center for Advising and Academic Success. Born in the Philippines, Joan Iva immigrated to the US at a young age and has primarily lived in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, and the San Francisco Bay Area before moving to Spokane with her family. She earned her B.A. from the University of California, San Diego in Literature/Writing and her M.A. from New York University in Creative Writing and Asian Pacific American Studies. The prologue to her novel-in-progress is published in a Filipino American anthology entitled Walang Hiya: Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory Practice. Her interests include movies, books, hiking, international cuisine (eating not cooking), and all things social justice related! Joan read Dr. Catherine Teh’s “Turning Struggles into Strengths” and highlighted the reflections of Catherine’s daughter, Joie Emelline (who was 12 at the time the chapter was written) about her mother’s chapter.
Juliane Mora, Ph.D., assistant professor of Communication Studies, has taught communication across the curriculum in the humanities, sciences, engineering, and business for 15 years at four different institutions, from California to Florida. Her research interests are in communication pedagogy at the college level, particularly the practices educators use to work for social justice through classroom instruction. She is passionate about creative approaches to teaching and strives to use innovative pedagogical practices in every class she teaches. In addition to research and teaching, she enjoys working with students outside the classroom, through student organization events, professional development workshops, alternative break service trips, volunteering, and as a faculty advisor. Juliane read “A Hymn of Praise to Failure” by Lily Torres-Samoranos.
Marilou Buan was born in Manila. Marilou represented the Philippines as a goodwill ambassador to the United States at the age of 17 with a one-year full ride scholarship with (AFS) American Field Service. Marilou worked as an executive assistant and a fundraiser for a non-profit organization for ten years. She has been a licensed real estate broker since 1980 and currently works with Exit Real Estate North in Spokane, WA. Her real estate work has included coaching on financial matters. Marilou chose to read “Delikadesa = Waves of Positive Change” by Cathy Salceda Ileto.
Christine Amour-Levar joined the participants via video-conference from Singapore. In addition to sharing a video about her work with Women on A Mission (Woam), Christine recounted about learning lessons of humility and resilience from “managing teams under pressure on challenging expeditions to some of the most inhospitable places in the world such as the Arctic, the Antarctic, deserts in the Middle East and Africa, and mountains in the Himalayas…”
The simplicity and purity of the way of life of the “Nenets reindeer herders of Siberia in minus 30 degrees Celsius temperatures,” reminded Christine of the importance of community and family for survival. When she traveled “through the Himalayas and spent time with the proud Sherpas of Nepal and with the serene people of the Kingdom of Bhutan, their kindness and generosity inspired me to be a better person.”
Christine shared that as she reflected on these “magnificent journeys that I have been blessed to undertake, I realize that some of the experiences that at the time felt like the most miserable and desolate were, in fact, the most formative and enriching.” Having understood that her” greatest achievements came in the face of the greatest adversity, and that true growth only comes from challenge, from stepping away from what is comfortable and stepping into the unknown,” she challenges all of us to “seek and find adventure by opening your mind and exploring your own limits.”
Two of the authors sent their greetings to the Gonzaga community. Joji Ilagan Bian expressed: “I am so honored. To be able to share my story to them. Please extend my greetings and love to the Gonzaga community!” Likewise, Dr. Catherine Teh conveyed her appreciation. “It’s an honor. May our life experiences bring upon others fortitude, resilience, and magnanimity!”
“Great!” “Enjoyed the space we created!” “Let’s continue the conversation!” “The stories resonate across cultures.” These were some of the excellent feedback from the participants.