A friend and fellow academic from Monash University, Sunway Campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia recently came for a 4-day scoping visit in Iloilo. My husband I are helping him establish connections, line up resources and connections and scout for logistics for a study tour for 18-20 students in January 2013. The “In Search of Iloilo” visit is the 8th such activity in Southeast Asia he has independently planned and carried out for his home institution. Previously, he has brought different groups of students to Saigon, Yogyakarta and Baguio. In this four day visit, I came to know more about his film documentaries (on street vendors; on informal sector workers) and the social activist streak he has successfully incorporated into his academic and artistic work. It made me reflect on the kind of scholarly path I have taken thus far, and how by comparison it lacks the kind of social imprint that my circle of academic friends have managed to pursue in their lives.
Having been elsewhere (abroad) for almost half of my 20-year academic career at UP Visayas gives me an added feeling that I lack local rooted-ness. I saw my career projected outward-- competing for international research grants and presenting local realities to foreign audiences. Being in and out every two years also made me realize how little I know of the many good local community works my colleagues are doing-- running a food subsidy program for poor students; embarking on an aggressive student recruitment drive among public high school students; providing technical assistance in coastal resource mapping for municipal governments.. My colleagues have moved in the direction of providing substance to our university’s mandate of giving back to the public that provides us tax money.
Gender concerns, which was my original advocacy passion, has evolved in my region (Western Visayas) in collaborative directions through the UGSAD, the regional gender resource center. I was recently recruited as an affiliate to attend a consultation hosted by the Commission on Human Rights on Philippine compliance to various rights treaties. The attendees, drawn from a broad sector of civil society, had such rich discussion of their work with young persons in conflict with the law, people with HIV, sex workers, informal settlers... I felt so lame having just done field work with women in the army and police. In the company of these veteran civil society actors, I was a novice whose theoretical frames and foreign comparisons have little bearing on everyday realities. Non-governmental organizations in my region have branched into action research, which are giving academics like myself a run for our money.
The sum total of my socially-conscious engagements typify that of a materially-comfortable, educated and childless middle class woman; they include participating in a book drive, providing support to a parish feeding program for children, and extending assistance and advice to those looking for scholarships and grants. Career-wise, my template follows Western standards: publish in peer-reviewed journals, attend professional conferences, apply for competitive grants and fellowships, write policy-relevant pieces. However, it has taken me almost a decade to realize I have done so little in terms of giving back.
I resolve from hereon to know more about my city and region, and to look for meaningful engagements for which I am able to marry my scholarship and social commitments. Where one is surrounded by harsh realities of poverty and marginalization, it is unconscionable to see the academic profession as an ivory tower of learning. I will get out, get connected and go local.
Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.