In 1973, Sophie, Vivian, Nina, Binky, Marvy and Joji enrolled in the all-male Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City—blazing the trail as the first six coeds of the Jesuit-run school.
Writing their story was like getting to know one’s older sisters. Undaunted by studying in a male-dominated college, the women were strengthened by the experience, breaking the glass ceiling in various fields they pursued after college.
Even more admirable is their zeal and passion. Forty years later, when most of their male contemporaries have slowed down, they continue to make their mark in business, education or peace-making, while maintaining happy home lives.
Here are the first six women who first held up half the sky over Ateneo de Manila University, in their own words.
Ma. Sophia (Sophie) Lizares Bodegon: To walk humbly with your God
My dad was an Atenean from high school to graduate school. As a child, I found it more interesting to sit with him and the men at parties rather than with the matrons. You should go to the Ateneo, he would tell me. You’d get a broad education and a lot of extracurricular activities to round it up. Thus, when the Ateneo opened to women, I went for it.
Alongside academic work was the pursuit of the students’ rights to organize. Under martial law, student organizations were banned, but the Ateneans, with the support of the Jesuits, defied it.
So, in 1973, we started a campaign to organize what is now the Sanggunian. The next year, elections were held for a student council established under martial law. We also organized the Socio-Anthro Society of the Ateneo (sometimes we called it the Sewing Circle).
In college we had a Concrete Theology class, an experimental course with undergrads and scholastics, which planted the seeds of my work in contextual theology. The course inspired me to enroll in a Masters in Education elsewhere, but I found the professors too traditional. I dropped out and instead worked with the National Secretariat for Social Action Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Part of my work there was to produce more accessible versions of papal encyclicals. But what was thrilling was the work in grassroots theology, under the leadership of the late Carlos Abesamis, SJ.
I returned to the Ateneo 25 years later to earn my Masters in Social Development. It was like coming home.
The combination of social science and theology as well as leadership in extracurricular activities prepared me for work with the social justice arm of the CBCP during the martial law years. Clearly I remember Bishop Francisco Claver telling a school convocation that working for justice is a constitutive part of preaching the Gospel. That has lived with me ever since.
It was more than just the ethical thing to do, particularly at a time of grave human rights abuses. It was what Christians were called to do. I remember hearing the answer to what God asked of me. It was Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, quoting Micah 6:8: “…to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
What I am doing now is so different from the kind of research and journalism I did in the mid-1970s to the mid-’90s. But I guess there are common themes.
The last 10 years have been, for me, a time of broadening and deepening, as I worked with churches ecumenically and internationally, facilitating, learning through international partnerships; justice, peace and development work; and writing and taking part in conferences.
I work with the Uniting Church in Western Australia, propelled by a passion to shape learning communities and communities of practice.
Occasionally, I write opinion pieces for the Catholic news agency, UCANews. My broad Ateneo education has served me well through the changing times, and as I reinvent myself.
Vivian Dy Gordon: Do not pretend to be inferior
After considering all other practical possibilities, an Ateneo education was superior to one from other private Manila colleges.
Some professors did not think women could perform as well as men, but Joji (Gotianun) and I proved them wrong. No one openly challenged us. It was all very subtle and elegantly done, and really quite humorous.
The students greeted us with open arms. We could not ask for more.
There is nothing to fear even if you are different. Ateneo taught me that there are no barriers to pursuing my interests. Do not be afraid. Do not feel inferior. Be yourself and learn.
Learning continues after school, as long as you live. Be honest and grow from your experiences, both good and bad. Do not pretend to be inferior just because you think men do not like intelligent women. If the man feels that way, he is an ignorant man, and you are better off without him.
As an engineer in a male-dominated field, I am respected for my abilities and contributions. If I am bothered about anything, it is that there are not more women confident enough to enjoy software engineering.
I continue to do what I love—software engineering, drivers, OS development and embedded C programming.
I love to make things work. I started in a business management course, shifted gears to work in computer science and engineering, and plan to conclude life as an artist doing oil paintings.
Who says you can’t have it all?
Nina Picache King: Able to work with all-male group
Sometime in 1972, during the latter part of my first year college at St. Theresa’s QC, we were informed by the ICM nuns that we would be the last batch to graduate.
On my second year, we were told that the following year, we would be required to cross-enroll in other schools, as some of the required subjects would no longer be offered. But I didn’t like the idea of traveling from one school to another.
This prompted me to look for another school with the objective of graduating on time. A schoolmate had advised me to try the Ateneo, which had started accepting women, even if the enrollee was already on her third year.
I didn’t expect to have many classes where I would be the only female among 30-40 males, including the professor. Little did I know that this was a preparation for the outside world.
After completing my business management degree, I found a job at Ayala Investment. The senior vice president asked me if I would be able to work with an all-male group (of 10) in the money management division. I thought to myself, “That’s such a small number!”
Living with a family in Tondo as one of the requirements under Fr. Vitaliano Gorospe’s class stands out among my memories. This was an eye-opener as I spent the day talking to the family. I began to realize how lucky I was; my resolve to be generous and share my blessings with the less fortunate has grown since then.
I continue to support various groups, such as The Women of Ateneo, in providing educational and vocational scholarships to students and young women. I believe in the value of a good education, and I hope to continue to provide assistance to bright, young people who are willing to learn and work hard in order to improve their lives.
To this day, I am involved in real estate development and management. I plan to keep myself occupied so long as I have the energy. Retirement is not in my vocabulary.
Ma. Lorenza (Binky) Dalupan Palm: Male domination was found in two things
Before Ateneo turned coed, I was already cross-enrolling subjects for my major. So there really were no major hurdles or adjustments. I was well-prepared by my years at St. Theresa’s College.
Everyone at the Ateneo—the Jesuits, faculty, students, staff—was very welcoming. The administration went out of its way to ensure that we were comfortable and treated well.
They met with us regularly to ask how things were going, and were responsive to our needs and requests (i.e., ladies’ lounges with electric fans—simple lang buhay namin noon). I got used to being the only female in a class of 40, although I recall we had humorous and uncomfortable moments in our marriage and family class, and that included the Department of Education and Culture’s required family planning course.
What I discovered at the Ateneo was that male domination was found in two things—numbers and policymaking—which was expected, after decades of being a men’s university. I learned to be confident of who I was and my own ideas; to hold my own and not feel threatened by numbers and strong voices; to appreciate diversity and respectful expression of differences; to understand how sometimes our differences in perspectives could be transformed into complementarity when addressing a shared issue of concern.
Ateneo provided an intellectually exciting and stimulating environment—doors opened to new knowledge; opportunities for exchange of ideas with fellow anthropology majors and professors both in and out of the Ateneo; interactions that encouraged questioning with respect for different views; mentoring that nurtured critical thinking.
At the same time, it was a spiritually stimulating environment, infused with the ethos of being a “person for others” and the challenge of liberation theology to be a witness for social justice.
Theology of liberation as the basis for linking faith to the reality of the world, addressing poverty, oppression and social injustice, and the value of critical thinking to break away from oppressive structures—these are what underlie my commitment to contribute to the attainment of a just peace, which is more than just the absence of armed conflict, as it requires the continuing effort to remove various forms of violence and injustice from society.
These lessons have guided and inspired my work, whether in peace negotiations, internal reform advocacy within government to address issues of conflict, or supporting peace zones and other people’s initiatives to remove armed violence from their midst or resolve issues of conflict affecting them directly.
I have been a consultant on peace building and conflict transformation processes since I left government service. This is both a profession and a passion for me.
I have tried to balance my work with the life and responsibilities of being married to a Dutch diplomat, particularly when we are on posting abroad. We live in Warsaw, Poland, where my husband, Adriaan, is deputy chief of mission at the Netherlands embassy.
Today, I am focusing on my work as a consultant for the government’s peace process.
I hope and pray that, within the next 10 years, there will finally be peace in the Philippines, and then peace work can focus on such processes as post-armed conflict peace building, reform, reconstruction, reconciliation, education for nonviolent resolution of conflict.
In a few years, after living through long, cold winters, I hope to return to the warmth and sunny smiles of family and friends.
Ma. Barbara (Marvy) Jacinto Pineda: Having an Atenean boyfriend helped
My exposure to student activism in the ’70s led me to take up sociology- anthropology at the Ateneo. I must admit, though, that having an Atenean boyfriend (to whom I have been married for almost 38 years) helped in my decision to spend college in the Loyola campus.
Four Atenean daughters later and working with the Jesuits for almost 20 years—at the Ateneo Admissions Office with Fr. Ting Samson, SJ; as executive assistant to the president of Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu with Fr. Ernie Javier, SJ, and later Fr. Manny Uy, SJ; and now living La Vida Lola in North America—I give thanks to the Lord every day for all that I am today, for the things that have happened in my life, both good and bad.
The spirit of Magis grew in me after graduation. As life got better for us and the more blessings we had, the more we were able to share them with others. Mine was a journey, too, in Ignatian spirituality. It became a constant and most important resource in the trials in my life and in the joys, too. I emerged a better person after each experience.
My spirituality deepened as I encountered trials and tribulations. In fact, I have become so dependent on the Lord, and luckily now, at the crossroads of my life, I have more time to talk with Him. I look at the birds in the air and I am reminded about God’s constant love for me, especially during my retirement years. Then I am at peace.
Josephine (Joji) Gotianun Yap:
It definitely colored the world I live in today
My parents had a close friendship with the Jesuits, who started the Sacred Heart School in Cebu and Xavier School in Echague. I was always envious of my brothers, who had the chance to get a Jesuit education.
When the Ateneo finally opened its doors to women, it was a natural and easy decision for me.
I remember our very first class—Accounting 10—and very soon after classes started, Vivian Dy and I became the natural go-to resource persons for questions about assignments. We were always very cooperative, so the boys welcomed us and treated us with kindness and respect.
Being an only daughter, with three brothers and a mother very much involved in the family business, I didn’t find it difficult to adjust to a male-dominated environment. Ateneo created an environment that allowed women to thrive and excel. I never felt any gender bias throughout my stay there.
I have to admit, though, that socially, my self-esteem improved a lot with having so many guys around and just a few of us girls.
The value of an Ateneo education is in nurturing critical thinking. Whether it be philosophy, theology, civilization, business policy or Rizal, the Ateneo education makes you question, think, analyze and not readily accept what is, but wonder what should be, what can be.
It also makes you see beyond just the business world. Theology of liberation, moral philosophy—these subjects opened doors to understanding people and lives beyond those you deal with day to day. They have definitely colored the world I live in today.
I am now a happy, content wife and a mother of three. I am president and CEO of the Filinvest Group of Companies.
In the next 10 years, my role is to mentor—whether it is my successor in business or my children toward finding their own voice and the family joy that I have found. My main role will be to guide and allow others to use the experience I have garnered.
Once I reach retirement age, I intend to do more work with our foundations. The next few years will still be very busy; but it’s also a period when I hope to seamlessly ease into the next phase of my life.